Rolf Roew

Quick facts

Independent ethics course
Compulsory for those students that do not attend religious instruction
6-19 years old
About 281.000 (sum of all grades)
In all grades: 75 lessons of 45 minutes per year
Written tests and oral marks in each grade; final exam at state level (if chosen by the pupil)

In Bavaria, ethics is taught two lessons a week in all grades (1-13). For those pupils who refuse to attend religious instruction for conscientious reasons, ethics is a compulsory subject. About a third of pupils in Bavaria actually attend ethics. The legal framework for the subject is expressed in article 47(2) of BayEUG:

“The subject ethics serves for educating the pupils to judge and act in a value-oriented way. Its contents are oriented at the core values that are expressed in the German Basic Law and the Bavarian constitution. For the areas that are not determined by these core values it respects the plurality of confessions and worldviews.”

So the subject ethics in Bavaria has an educational mandate to foster core values. It is competence-oriented (the competence to “judge and act in a value-oriented way”) and action-oriented, which means that the teacher hasn‘t completed his task when the students come to moral judgments, because the ultimate objective is moral action.

Representative for all types of schools in Bavaria, in the following the profile of the subject ethics at the Bavarian gymnasium (grades 5-13) will be characterised (cf. Selbstverständnis des Faches Ethik” in the Bavarian curriculum; link at the bottom.)

The subject ethics at the Bavarian gymnasium supports young people in their search for moral orientation in today’s world by introducing them to concepts and theories that have emerged from a long development of philosophical thought and scientific research. The young people compare these models with their own ideas and come to their own picture of a good and just life and of the person they would like to be.

However, insight alone often does not lead to the appropriate action. The motivation to act in a value-conscious way must also be strengthened, e.g. through a change of perspective and, in particular, empathy with the situation of others. But students will also have to be able to adequately carry out the action which they have recognised to be right. In selected fields of action, therefore, opportunities for practice of value-conscious action are offered, e.g. in communication and violence prevention. A sufficient consolidation of newly acquired competences will be a prerequisite in order to make them available to pupils spontaneously in everyday situations.

Respect for human dignity is an indispensable foundation of ethical education. Education to tolerance, self-control and respect for the beliefs of different-minded people, as well as the assumption of responsibility, are further examples of this orientation. By guiding students to consciously perceive themselves and their fellow human beings, not only the development of their self-awareness and self-esteem is promoted, but also awareness of the self-worth of others and respect for their needs and justified entitlements. With regard to inclusion, the respectful treatment of people with disabilities also plays an important role.

The teaching of ethics encourages attentive listening and an open, constructive discussion. Students are encouraged to argue coherently and comprehensibly on ethical and moral issues, to support their arguments and to rationally examine the reasoning of others. Students are taught non-violence as an indispensable principle for coping with disagreements and conflicts and are enabled to deal appropriately with the challenges they face in such contexts.

Learning together with pupils from different cultural backgrounds is intended to give individuals the opportunity to recognise their own cultural roots as well as to assume responsibility for living together respecting the convictions of others. Students therefore also acquire knowledge about important values in different cultures and the religions that shape them. This lays an essential foundation for a co-existence of people of different origins and beliefs, characterised by appreciation and tolerance.

Ethical questions that arise, for example, from man’s relationship to nature, from the world of business and work, and from new developments in medicine and the media, call for a reflective judgement based on thorough information. This must already be initiated with the adolescent. The teaching of ethics makes an essential contribution here by creating an awareness of the connections between one’s own actions and the problems of the modern world, and by supporting pupils in developing their ability to find ways of coping with problems.

The subject ethics supports the pupils’ search for meaning, suitable concepts for a happy and self-determined life and a coherent view of the world and the human being by enabling them to deal with diverse ideas and giving them opportunities for a lively exchange with others.

An adequate and effective methodology for achieving the aforementioned objectives comprises traditional rationality-oriented as well as action-oriented methods.