At the launch of the RuhrFutur initiative at Philharmonie Essen, the event’s host Ulrike Sommer has a lot of hands to shake – including those of two North Rhine-Westphalia ministers (Schools Minister Sylvia Löhrmann and Science Minister Svenja Schulze), two lord mayors (Dagmar Mühlenfeld from Mülheim an der Ruhr and Reinhard Paß from Essen), one mayor (Uli Paetzel from Herten) and the former director of Stiftung Mercator’s Centre for Education and its current CEO, Winfried Kneip. Hannelore Kraft, the minister-president of North Rhine-Westphalia, is also making an appearance: via a video message, she stresses to the 300 or so guests from politics, academia and social organizations just how vital she considers the reason for today’s meeting to be. As she explains, nothing less than the future opportunities of children and young people in the Ruhr region is at stake.
To further develop the Ruhr region education landscape so that all young people have equal opportunities to access, participate and succeed in education.
The Ruhr region is considered by many to be structurally weak, and many families of migrant background live here. At the same time, the Ruhr region has a large number of – often exemplary – educational measures and initiatives in place that tend to operate locally. In many cases, however, they function entirely independently of one another and achieve impact at the local level, but generally do not have any wider effects. This was revealed by the Ruhr Education Report, which was published by academics in 2012. RuhrFutur now offers new opportunities to further develop the Ruhr region’s education landscape by combining and consolidating its strengths: it serves as a platform upon which the existing programmes can be interlinked. The idea is to improve the sharing of knowledge and experience between educational institutions, between the five participating municipalities, and between the municipalities and universities, thereby making existing knowledge generally accessible.
What are the objectives?
How will this be achieved?
Four networks – overseen by a steering group of experts – will focus on the four key stages of education: pre-school child care, primary schools, secondary education and universities. Furthermore, the initiative will identify operational targets and indicators that will be used to highlight developments at various points of measurement along a person’s educational path. The aim is to make longer-term improvements visible by using meaningful data. Strategic input is provided by an executive group comprising senior representatives of the partners involved.
How is the project organized?
Based in Essen, the offices of the non-profit RuhrFutur GmbH support, coordinate and advise all the initiative’s bodies, including the four networks and the participating municipalities and universities.
The event marks the start of the operational activities of a non-profit organization that is designed, according to Kraft – the project’s patron – to ensure “better access to education, better opportunities for education and better qualifications” in the region: RuhrFutur is an education initiative jointly run by Stiftung Mercator, the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, the cities of Dortmund, Essen, Gelsenkirchen, Herten and Mülheim an der Ruhr, and the Ruhr-Universität Bochum, TU Dortmund University, Dortmund University of Applied Sciences and Arts, the University of Duisburg-Essen and the Westphalian University of Applied Sciences. “The educational success of young people in the Ruhr region is determined to a considerable extent by their background – and a comparatively large number of children and young people find themselves at a disadvantage right from the outset due to the social standing of their families”, explains Ulrike Sommer, the initiative’s director, in an interview a few days before the launch event. “There are also too many young people here for whom the points of transition within the education system become the fracture points within their personal educational biographies.” Or, to put it another way, too many drop out.
RuhrFutur aims to change this. The initiative, which is being funded by Stiftung Mercator to the tune of around 15.3 million euros up to the end of 2017, intends to strengthen the education landscape in the Ruhr region in a sustainable and systemic way. The director is sitting in a meeting room whose walls are adorned with posters emblazoned with headings such as “Pre-school Child Care”, “Primary Schools”, “Secondary Education” and “Universities” – thus outlining the main focal areas. As Ulrike Sommer explains, the Ruhr region has a large number of – often exemplary – educational measures and initiatives in place that tend to operate locally. In many cases, however, they function entirely independently of one another and achieve impact at the local level, but generally do not have any wider effects. As a matter of fact, this is one central finding of the Ruhr Education Report, a scientific analysis of the education system in the Ruhr region co-initiated by Stiftung Mercator and published in 2012. What now needs to be done, says Sommer, is to act upon the report’s findings.
This is precisely where RuhrFutur comes in: the initiative serves as a platform upon which the existing programmes can be interlinked, allowing knowledge and experience to be shared between institutions, between municipalities, and between municipalities and universities. In short, making existing knowledge generally accessible so that actors can learn with and from one another. So what exactly can such education networks achieve that individual actors and institutions cannot manage on their own? “Instead of having institutions which, although aware of one another, tended in the past to work independently, the idea is to promote systematic cooperation and networking between different actors in the education sector, thereby contributing to the success of individual paths through education”, replies Sommer. She has in front of her a caricature showing an amusing take on the somewhat abstract concept of a “network” – it is depicted as a piece of playground equipment with children climbing enthusiastically all over it. The director smiles.
The entire project is extremely ambitious and unprecedented in Germany – especially since RuhrFutur intends to identify operational targets and indicators that will be used to scientifically highlight developments at various points of measurement along a person’s educational path. The aim is to make longer-term improvements visible by using meaningful data. Any undesirable developments could then be specifically countered, explains the Essen-born director who headed departments in various state-level ministries before getting involved in RuhrFutur. What is the vision for the education landscape of the Ruhr region in 20 years? Ulrike Sommer and her team have ambitious plans: “My vision is for an educational region to have become established by then that regards itself as being in a continuous learning process and is thus able to deal with new challenges, such as the current influx of migrants from Southeast Europe. An education landscape in which individual education paths are closely supervised and which ensures that every child and every young person has the best possible chance to exploit their potential and talent and to participate in democracy.”
In her video message to the guests of the launch event, Hannelore Kraft sums up the state’s education policy in a way that also reflects the objectives of RuhrFutur: “We want no child to be left behind.”