Education reform -- Is Austria entering a new Dark Age?

The education strategy of ÖVP and FPÖ is under heavy criticism. Will the future coalition’s hostility towards science and transparency push Austria into a post-truth reality?

Christine Tragler
Christine Tragler Der Standard, Austria
Source: Der Standard
reform -- Is Austria entering a new Dark Age? - NewsMavens
Sebastian Kurz. Image from Wikimedia Commons

Why this story matters:

It is not easy to be optimistic about the planned education reform of the two parties, which are about to form the future government of Austria, often called the “turquoise-blue coalition” from their traditional colours -- turquoise (ÖVP) and blue (FPÖ). The reform is under heavy scrutiny as a step back in education policy.

In her commentary, Der Standard editor Lisa Nimmervoll criticizes some of the announced changes. For instance, the plans to close down the Federal Institute for Educational Research, Innovation and Development of the Austrian School System (BIFIE) -- a research institute that collects comprehensive empirical data on the education system in Austria. After all, we no longer need scientific data about education, right?

"Well, it’s a mindless affirmation of the 'post-truth' discourse as a policy strategy. Thus, the future coalition cements its image as a remarkably anti-intellectual and anti-scientific government of a modern, enlightened, Western country," Lisa Nimmervoll comments.

The turquoise-blue reform plans remind Nimmervoll of the politics of Donald Trump, who considers climate change to be a "rumor" or a "Chinese trick".

The hostility towards science and transparency runs like a dark thread through the turquoise-blue Austria project. Hence Nimmervoll’s recommendation to return to the writings of Immanuel Kant. In 1784, Kant defined enlightenment as “man’s departure from his self-inflicted immaturity." Immaturity, he wrote, is the “inability to use one's intellect without the guidance of another”. No wonder the philosopher subscribed to and popularized Horace’s motto:

"Sapere aude -- Dare to think for yourself!"

Selected aspects of the education program of ÖVP and FPÖ at a glance

  • Teachers -- Salaries for teachers are to be regulated by a new bill. They will depend on their performance and output.
  • Compulsory education -- The ÖVP and the FPÖ want to define basic knowledge and basic skills that pupils, at the end of their school career, must obtain in reading, writing and arithmetic. Students must attend school until they meet those standards or come of age.
  • Penalties for Parents -- If students do not fulfill their legal obligations, including compulsory education, parents will have to transfer part of their social benefits to children.
  • Grades -- At the elementary school level students will be once again marked with 1-5 grades. Verbal reviews will be allowed.
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