North Rhine-Westphalia

Rolf Roew

Quick facts


Independent ethics course
Compulsory for those students that do not attend religious instruction
Grades 5-10 (10-16 years old)
Estimated 220.000 (sum of all grades)
75 lessons of 45 minutes (56 hours) per year
Marks in each grade
Part of philosophy course
Elective for all students; compulsory for those that do not attend religious instruction
Grades 11-12 (16-18 years old)
Estimated 100.000 (sum of all grades)
112 lessons (84 hous) a year for the basic course; 186 lessons (140 hours) a year for the special course
Final exam at state level

There are two courses in North Rhine-Westphalia that deal with ethical education: Practical Philosophy and Philosophy. Practical Philosophy is taught in grades 5-10 and is specifically oriented towards the teaching of ethics. Philosophy comprises practical philosophy and theoretical philosophy and is held in grades 11 and 12.

The main objectives for the subject Practical Philosophy are described in the core curriculum as follows (translation by Roew): “The subject promotes the development of the entire personality to social responsibility, to the development of a democratic society, to the orientation at basic values, to the participation in the shaping of our culture as well as to responsible activity in the world of work”. [...] “The central concern of the subject is to contribute to the development of competences in pupils which enable them to perceive reality in a differentiated way and to deal systematically with questions of meaning and values, to apply them in the search for answers to the question of the meaning of human existence and to live self-determined, responsible and tolerant lives in a democratic society. The students develop the ability to empathize and achieve a sense of value and self-confidence that is the foundation for responsible action. In the lessons, criteria for the evaluation of different ideas, values and norms are to be developed as well as one's own ability to reflect and judge.” [...]

“The reference point for the orientation of the subject is the set of values as anchored in the constitution of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, in the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany and in human rights.” […] “At the centre of this are the well-founded argument and well-founded argumentation. What counts is the unforced coercion of the better argument. The opinions, world and value orientations of others must be treated respectfully; the ‘ban on overwhelming others’ must be observed.” […] “The teaching corresponds to the current understanding of the interaction of cognitive and emotive processes by making conscious and using emotional foundations and approaches for the students’ judgement and decision-making processes. Emotions and feelings are not only related to objects of learning, but also to learning contexts. Therefore, lessons and school life must be included as spheres of experience and action.”

The subject Philosophy in grades 11 and 12 belongs to the group of “subjects of the field of social science”. Among other things, these subjects are to contribute “to the critical reflection of stereotypes, to value education, to empathy and solidarity, to the development of social responsibility, to the shaping of a democratic society, to the preservation of the natural foundations of life, also for future generations in the sense of sustainable development, and to participation in the shaping of our culture.” The curriculum continues as follows: “The task of philosophy within the subjects in the field of social sciences is to contribute to the understanding of reality as a whole in its manifold dimensions and to consider the possibilities and limits of the epistemological faculties of humans. Moreover, the subject provides insight into the normative foundations of human action. In this way, philosophy lessons in the spirit of an enlightened culture of reason can contribute to better self-understanding, mutual understanding and tolerance towards other worldviews and ideas of man. The subject also offers the opportunity to reflect on subject-specific findings in interdisciplinary contexts and contributes to orientation in individual and social situations in which decisions have to be made.”
For the subjects Practical Philosophy and Philosophy, there are binding core curricula in North Rhine-Westphalia that define the framework. Within this framework, all schools then draw up their individual internal curricula, which concretise the core curricula for the teaching.