Developments in Soil Education in Germany

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Developments in Soil Education in Germany
L. Herrmann
This contribution aims at giving an overview about soil education initiatives during the last years in Germany. The overview starts in 1997. In this year during the annual meeting of the German Soil Science Society (DBG) the “Working Committee on Soil in School and Adult Education” was founded. It is directly subordinated to the board of directors of the DBG. Task of this committee is to identify lacks and constraints of soil education on all levels in Germany – beginning in the kindergarten and reaching as far as distant learning for professionals – and to develop initiatives in order to improve the situation. So the focus is not only on teaching soil related topics in schools but reaching the whole public. Consequently, during the last years not only teaching materials were developed but also workshops held and political initiatives developed.

Emphasis in the first years was on the identification of lacks in soil education in the German school system. The search revealed that even in specialised schools, i.e. vocational schools for agriculture, soil related topics were neglected. This fact has its origin already in the teachers’ education. They are not familiar with this topic and feel uncomfortable presenting it in front of classes. In order to support the teachers three efforts have been launched. First, a media catalogue was established. It contains all available media resources (films, slides, printed media etc.) which tackle soil related topics. The catalogue is commented and gives an overview about the medium’s content, the potential target group and the scientific correctness. Second, an internet homepage was established, which gives an overview about all kind of activities of the committee, where also materials can be downloaded and national and international web links are presented. Finally, on this homepage also a list of scientific consultants from different institutions is available who are ready to actively support teachers and school curricula developers, if they search for specific knowledge or materials. For each federal state at least one consultant is listed.

In 2000 the committee assisted in developing the activities of the City of Osnabrück as a partner region for the World Expo 2000 which took place in Hannover. The topic presented was “Fascination of Soil”. Under this title a number of events took place. A soil adventure park was presented in collaboration with the “Natural Science and Environment Museum at Schölerberg” which now hosts also the permanent soil science exhibition “unterWelten” (underWorlds). Other features were the industrial cultural landscape of Piesberg hill, the exhibition “Old burdens – new ways” on the topic hazardous waste in the residential area Wüste, the project “Plant growth on salinated soils”, the archaeological park Kalkriese with soil excavations from Roman times and a desealing project in the town of Lingen. In this framework also a model school (Gymnasium in der Wüste) was promoted which ran different specialised soil science courses. In addition, specialised tours for school classes were offered.

Due to these activities the city of Osnabrück has become an outstanding symbol for engagement in the German world of soil education. So it is not astonishing, that also the “European Land and Soil Alliance” a network of European municipalities which lay emphasis on careful treatment and use of their soil resources has placed its seat in Osnabrück.

Furthermore, the “Museum am Schölerberg” is steadily increasing its efforts in distributing soil knowledge. I.e. specialised courses can be booked by school classes or private persons can order a soil event for their child’s birthday. At the moment a new project is rising, which aims to create a soil communication centre there. Beside the already existing exhibitions it is planned to establish a soil media and congress centre as a focal point for soil knowledge collection and distribution in Germany and Europe.

Since 2001 one aim of the “Committee for Soil in School and Adult Education” is to facilitate the creation of a university chair for soil science didactics, which does not exist in entire Germany so far. The reason behind is, that only professional and institutionalised treatment will lead to a reasonable soil science education in the long run. Consequently, in 2002, shortly before the German parliament’s election a political initiative was started. All political parties and all ministeries for education and science in the single states as well as on the federal republic level were adressed by an open letter, stating that soil as an environmental medium is neglected in the German education system and that this fact has to be corrected. The responses showed, that this environmental topic is only on the agenda of the conservative and green parties, whereas the left wing and liberal parties did not even know how to handle this theme.

In Germany, education lies in the responsibility of the single states rather than in the hands of the federal government. So changing the situation means to convince the local governments. Actually, during the last years some changes happened with respect to the school curricula and a number of states incorporated soil topics at the primary school level as well as in higher education. However, the nowadays trend is to slimeline the higher education from formerly 9 to eight years. This means a novel reform of the curricula. And in many cases there is the threat that the recently introduced topics, i.e. soil, fall out of the list again. At least, complete soil science study courses could be established on the Bachelor and Master niveau at two universities in Germany (Osnabrück and Hohenheim).

With respect to media a number of new products have been developed during the last years. These include a set of playing cards with the most important soils and their properties, a CD with soil music, a calendar with soil art etc.. But more and more emphasis is given to electronic media. Consequently, two of the last three committee meetings werde dedicated to “Distribution of soil related topics through the Internet” and “Sustainable concepts of e-learning”. Meanwhile several Internet portals have been established which address different target groups. The project “Hypersoil” ( supports teacher of primary and higher education schools with materials including experimental setups. The portals “Webgeo” ( and “Pemo” ( are dedicated to students of physical geography. Finally “Forest ecology online” was developed for forestry students at the University of Freiburg. This is just to mention a few.

Apart from these university initiatives, also other institutions are active. I.e. parallel to the German Soil Science Society exists a professional federation called “Bundesverband Boden” (BVB) which also includes a specialised “Working Group on Profession and Education”. Major activities of the BVB in the last years were the promotion of of the really outstanding internet resource “bodenwelten” (worlds of soils) which covers all relevant fields of soil science and adresses the public as well as education professionals and pupils. Furthermore, a soil trail was opened for the public in Southern Germany. The trail combines information on landscape, soil formation, and environmental relevance of the sites. Apart from direct information via singposts a brochure is available, covering the major topics. Meanwhile soil trails are en vogue. At least fifteen exist all over Germany, with very different approaches. Some are more traditional, addressing adults with signposts, others are dedicated to families and include thematic playgrounds.

Especially in the so-called “Geo-Science Year 2002” a number of geo-institutions worked out activities adressed to the public. These reached from exhibitions in cities, over guided tours in the field to thematic education in schools. This tradition is envisaged to be continued in the frame of the World Soils Day which was proposed to be celebrated each December 5th during the World Congress of Soil Science in Bangkok 2002.

In Germany the tradition exists that the single states organize a so-called garden fair every year in a different region. It turned out, that these fairs are a very important environment to transport soil knowledge to the public, because people interested in gardening have already a relation to soil as a productive environment and it is much easier to reach there interest. So during the last years the fairs in the states of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Rhineland-Palatinate and others dedicated one part of the fair ground to soil related presentations and activities which included playgrounds, soil profile presentations and concerted actions with school classes or other groups. It turned out to be important not to try to present scientific knowledge but to catch the interest at a point of personal interest or experience. This means the soil related content must have to do with the direct environment of the person contacted. This might be the conditions of the school yard, specific problems with gardening or the home landscape. Establishing the first interest this way transferring further knowledge is much easier. The good experiences led to the conclusion that these kind of activities have to be continued.

A task for the future is to get in more close contact with teachers as multiplier of knowledge. Though first efforts have been made, they failed. It will be tried in the near future to establish a dialogue between university and school teachers in order to exchange knowledge and to elaborate which are the real needs of school teachers in order to develop successful soil related teaching modules. The dialogues are thought to take place in the framework of the national soil science society as well as school teacher association meetings.

An attractive mean to distribute soil knowledge to the public is the so-called children university. In order to attract future students and to raise awareness for universities a number of universities in Germany meanwhile have established so-called children universities. This is in fact a seminar series taking place once a month which is directly dedicated and prepared for children of the region. The experiences from the Universities of Tübingen and Hohenheim in Baden-Württemberg show, that the classrooms are jampacked everytime with children hungry for knowledge and experience. And soil is a good topic in this framework, since one can show a lot of simple experiments and soil itself can be made a sensitive experience.

In conclusion, a number of efforts have been undertaken and were successful in Germany. Nevertheless, activities have to continue and it is still a long way to go to introduce soil as a matter of survival into the public mind.

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