Home » Mining in German School Education – Status and Developments

Mining in German School Education – Status and Developments

In fact, schools are not enviable – a large number of studies indicates a continuous criticism. The comments range i. e. from a poor performance in basic subjects such as mathematics to an inadequate preparation of school leavers for vocational training and suitability for STEM-subjects. Thus, this article follows a further examination of the school-based approach. The central question which is focussed now is what is intended for mining in basic education. Due to the fact that all 16 federal states in Germany have their own curricular, they all were analysed concerning differences and similarities. This investigation is part of a PhD thesis at the TU Bergakademie Freiberg, Freiberg/Germany, on the public awareness of raw materials.

Authors: Dipl.- Geoökol. Kirstin Kleeberg, Prof. Prof. e. h. Dr.-Ing. Dr. h. c. mult. Carsten Drebenstedt, Technische Universität (TU) Bergakademie Freiberg, Freiberg/Germany

Various opinions points at the duty of school education

Originally, the title of the contribution was intended to include the terms acceptance or at least attitudes. But in the end it is impossible to derive any conclusion from educational directives to one of both. Nevertheless, some studies point out that knowledge is an influencing factor for the attitude towards an object, but this is not an aim of this article. In recent years, the social debates about mining, particularly with regard to the use of lignite and hard coal as energy sources, have not only become increasingly intense. In Germany, the political decision was taken to use coal for energy supply only for a limited period of time in order to protect the climate. Numerous protests up to civil disobedience activities related to climate change were and are opposed to the argumentation of the stability of energy supply. Further, economy associations and institutions provide facts and information on the current significance and consequences of a timely coal-fired power plants shutdown.

On a local scale, any activity that changes the environment encounters protests and that conflict often seems insoluble. A new mining field cannot be developed, a new industrial plant or a new infrastructure cannot be built, but either renewable energies cannot be expanded, or in best case are only delayed. Consistently, there have been calls what is happening in school education. In addition, the economy has been warning for years that school leavers are becoming less and less prepared for professional life. Accordingly, school graduates are worse in the natural sciences and less people are interested in technical professions and STEM related studies. These brief examples show that different and diverse ideas come together: schools are often seen as scapegoats and saviours.

At least once a week, a new report on shortcomings in school education appears. Accordingly, the nobel prize winner Edmund Phelps has recently stated that false values are already conveyed at school. He refers to negative consequences for future entrepreneurship, which are a result from the valuation of capitalism as brutal and start-ups as reckless (1). Within this area of tension, the question arises what recently the state of mining is in school education.

A brief explanation of the investigated object and methodology of the study

As a result of the federal system in Germany, each of the 16 federal states has its own curriculum. Different names, e. g., educational plan, are accompanied by different orientations. In some federal states they are only basic guidelines and should be specified by the schools. This also differentiates the degree of details that can influence the results in this article. Since it only affects few federal states, it is referred separately and “curriculum” is used as an uniform term in this article. In any case, curricula are on the one hand a defined framework in which expectations are formulated. On the other hand, central demands on knowledge and competences are defined in a sense of instructions for planning the teaching activities in order to ensure quality issues (2, 3). Social issues such as environmental awareness since the 1970s or climate change since the 2000s are constantly being integrated (4). The curricula in Germany are fundamentally revised at intervals of about ten years. Minor adjustments, such as currently digisation, take place more frequently.

Due to the free availability on the one hand and the obligatory specification on the other hand, the school curricula represent a manageable and sound object of investigation. The detailed analysis was carried out with the curricula of the subject “Geography”, which is named differently or is integrated in interdisciplinary subjects under the name social studies in some federal states. Geography is regarded as an obvious subject for an adequate knowledge transfer for mining, because it aims at the interrelations between environment and society in different areas (5). The analysis includes the two main educational pathways in Germany of intermediate secondary education. With the fifths grade the students have to decide to go either to the grammar school, called “Gymnasium” to graduate with the Abitur or to attend a secondary school mainly called as “Oberschule” to reach an intermediate school leaving certificate. The intermediate certificate qualifies students to start vocational training and the Abitur to study at an university. This education system is permeable. The school can be changed i. e. in the first years and there are schools where the pupils are not divided into these groups. This means for the presented analysis that some federal states do not have separate curricula for both paths but only for the Abitur grades eleven to twelve respectively 13. The documents of curricula were systematically searched for the use of the word “mining” and related terms.

The term “mining” in the geography curricula

In total, the term “mining” is used exactly 25 times in the geography curricula of nine federal states. With the exception of the federal states Bremen, Schleswig-Holstein and Saxony-Anhalt, at least alternative terms such as extraction, mining industry, development (of deposits) or haulage of raw materials can be found (Table 1).

Table 1. Mining in Geography Lessons: Federal states with “mining” and with alternatives. // Tabelle 1. Bergbau im Geographieunterricht: Bundesländer mit „Bergbau“ und mit Alternativen. Source/Quelle: TUBAF

A first view at the frequency shows that the term mining is only used in the lower grade levels (Figure 1). Compared to other terms “raw materials and resources” as well as “treasures of the earth” are already discussed on all levels. Only “mining” seems to be disappeared. Due to the different usage of terms and levels, the following paragraphs describe the attendance on raw material extraction for each federal state individually.

Fig. 1. Distribution of the term “mining” among the grades. // Bild 1. Verteilung des Begriffs „Bergbau“ auf die Klassenstufen. Source/Quelle: TUBAF

Usage of the term “mining” in German curricula

The Free State of Saxony uses with six citations the word “mining” most frequently in its curricula. Thus, in the fifth grade, pupils in both educational paths should gain insights into the structure of an economy namely pointed at services, industry, agriculture and mining of metropolitan areas (6). At the same age, the raw material “lignite” is adressed, where the school students have to adopt a position on the significance of lignite and the impacts of mining (6, 7). For this, the origin, distribution, mining and use of lignite as well as recultivation are transmitted in the study area of the Lowland. While the grammar school curriculum includes an alternative for the term mining, the secondary school uses it. In addition, the Saxon secondary school curriculum refers to mining in two other passages. First, the pupils have to evaluate the anthropogenic impact of tourism and mining with its post-mining landscapes on the environment, and apply this knowledge at further areas in Europe in the seventh grade. Second, mining is recommended as a field visit destination besides dams or national parks (7). The development and extraction of the raw materials oil, natural gas and wood are subject of a spatial analysis at the second secondary level – means 11th and 12th grade- with regard to the sustainability dimensions in the boreal forests of Northern Europe (6). Already at the grade seven in grammar school, the students have to deal with the production and transport of crude oil and natural gas as well as the imporatance for the producing countries in the Arab region (6). Contrarily, a similar subject is implemented at the ninth grade of the secondary school. As one of three optional topics, the production and transport of crude oil is adressed at the example of the Gulf region (7).

The federal states of Brandenburg and Berlin have common curricula whereas, similar to Saxony in the 5th grade, they understand mining along with industry, agriculture, population, settlement and transport as a component of the economic and social area, in which the main features have to be characterised (8). In the 11th grade, the environmental pollution caused by the extraction, transport, processing and consumption of fossil energy raw materials (especially: pollution of the earth’s atmosphere) is named as one of the challenges of the 21st century (9).

In this second level, which prepares for the Abitur, the curriculum is also valid for the state Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. Furthermore, in the federal state of Mecklenburg-Western -Pomerania, in the 5th grade of a school subject named world studies mining is literally used in the subject area “From ore to steel”, in which i. e. a “Map of mining and industry” has to be used. In addition, basic terms are set for use in the lectures. These include open-cast mining, underground mining, recultivation and mining districts (10). The subjects of geography and history are combined within this subject of world studies.

The minimum requirement at the end of the 8th grade in all types of school in Hamburg is that the functional interaction of natural and anthropogenic factors in the use of space, e. g., agriculture, mining, has to be described (11).

The land usage forms agriculture, mining and tourism are connected with sustainability problems in the geographical area of Australia and Oceania in the upper secondary school of the federal state Lower Saxony. Furthermore, challenges of land use in connection with the extraction of raw materials and climate change are referred to the geographical area “Russia and former Asian states of the Soviet Union” (12).

Mining and opencast mining are fundamental terms of a separate thematic field “Raw materials and production” in Rhineland-Palatinate. In the orientation stage, i. e. in the 5th and 6th grade, the pupils should argue extensively with the object of raw materials. That includes mainly the questions where raw materials come from, how they are processed and how they are used in everyday life and how resources are handled. In addition, it is explicitly pointed at the mining of raw materials in Germany by using a spatial example. Methodological suggestions are the evaluation of thematic maps and aerial photographs of raw material extraction and processing as well as field visits to museums or mining sites to determine the raw material situation in Rhineland-Palatinate (13).

Equally to Rhineland-Palatinate and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, the pupils in the federal state Thuringia should also be able to use mining and further relevant terms properly: Drilling platform, sustainability, offshore production, pipeline, recultivation, open pit mining and underground mining. The curricula of both educational paths contain this requirement in the subject area “Energy resources as environmental and development factors” up to the 8th grade (14, 15). The secondary school education supplements the basic requirement in grade twelve that in the learning area “Natural resources and conflicts” the extraction and use of industrial minerals has to be described and ecological consequences have to be discussed (14).

In the Saarland, not only the visit of an extracurricular place of learning is recommended in the educational course of the middle school-leaving certificate, like an exhibition on mining, but also mining professions have to be presented. However, the field visits will take place under the topic “Industrialisation and its consequences” (16). At the same age, i. e. at the 7th grade, the pupils should assess the consequences of raw material extraction and processing for humans and the environment in terms of the sustainability triangle (16). With a spatial reference to the tropical rainforest, mining is a possible topic for a presentation by the pupils at the grammar school besides plantation economy, sustainable timber industry or the cultivation of plants for biofuel and feed production (17). A further geographical reference is made to Siberia in the same school year. It is said that the region is of great importance for the supply of raw materials in Central Europe, but the development of these raw materials takes place under unfavourable conditions and partly leads to high ecological burdens (17). The most important producing countries and transport routes of energy raw materials are focussed in the module “Energy industry and its geostrategic significance” at the grades of Abitur in the Saarland (18).

Federal states with alternative terms in context

The delination about the nine federal states that use the term “mining” shows that other terms such as extraction are used. The search for these terms in the school curricula of the other federal states also points at a very differentiated use. The use of the term “Montanindustry” is unique, whereby in North Rhine-Westphalia up to the 10th grade the development and structural change of old industrial areas of the textile and mining industry has to be described (19).

Equally referred to industry and along with waste disposal and energy management, the raw material industry has to be serve as an example of marine pollution in the 10th grade in Baden-Wurttemberg (20). The ecological, economic, social and political effects of extraction and use of a selected raw material have only to be discussed in grammar school education (21). The teachers can choose between mineral, agricultural, metallic or energy providing raw materials. In that regard, the terms deposits, origin or availability, but also circular economy, landscape destruction, contamination, resource curse and recultivation have to be enhanced.

In order to obtain a secondary school leaving certificate in Bavaria, reference is made in several grades to the extraction of raw materials. In the two learning areas of energy as well as transport and industry, e. g., the current developments in the extraction of fossil fuels and the automotive industry and its spatial effects – extraction of raw materials, infrastructural interdependencies – have to be addressed in the 6th grade (22). At the following class level, the extraction of mineral resources, human ways of life and subsistence strategies have to be compared and evaluated with regard to their effects (23). A clear spatial reference is made to North and South America at the 8th level, in which ecological features and natural potentials of geographical areas and its use by agriculture and raw material extraction have to be assessed (24). Finally, the Bavarian curricula of secondary school highlights the reference to everyday life through integration of extraction of raw materials as part of the product chain of consumer goods, as exemplified by mobile phones or textiles (24). In comparison, the grammar school curricula in Bavaria only use relevant terms of mining upwards the 11th class. Thus, the geopolitical significance of climate change and the raw material extraction materials is discussed with reference to the subpolar and polar regions with regard to the the Arctic and semi-Arctic regions (25). In the following school year of grade twelve, the development of unconventional deposits is part of the topic “Resources and sustainable development” (26).

Only one literal use could be found in Hessian curricula: the extraction and processing of raw materials are issues referred to European industrial areas in the 6th grade (27).

Preliminary conclusion: the context of mention mining in the school curricula

Figure 2 shows that not only mining is used in a wide range in the curricula of the federal states. Due to the high frequency of using the terms “raw materials and resources”, Saxony-Anhalt points interestingly at an high importance of ressources despite the lack of use of mining-related terminology.

Fig. 2. The frequency of use of the term mining in the federal states compared to raw materials plus resources and treasures of the earth. // Bild 2. Die Häufigkeit der Verwendung des Begriffs Bergbau in den Bundesländern im Vergleich zu Rohstoffen plus Ressourcen und Bodenschätze. Source/Quelle: TUBAF

The strict evaluation through the wording analysis of the current geography curricula of the 16 federal states results in eight different contexts where the term “mining” and related terms are used:

  1. An in-depth knowledge of “mining” in the context of certain raw materials and deposits can be expected by interpreting in particular the wording in the curricula of the federal states of Thuringia for energy resources and industrial minerals, in Saxony for lignite, in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Hesse and in Bavaria.
  2. The extraction of raw materials as a component of economic and social area besides agriculture and industry, which is mainly part of the orientation stages of the 5th and 6th grades in the federal states of Saxony, Berlin, Brandenburg and Bavaria.
  3. Understanding of the current importance of mining, in particular as part of the production process in Saxony, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Thuringia and Rhineland-Palatinate, and with specific reference in Bavaria to the automotive industry and consumer goods.
  4. Raw material extraction is related to certain geographical areas with their specific characteristics, in particular in Saxony to the Lowlands in Germany, the Arab region/Gulf region and Siberia as well as in Lower Saxony to Australia and Russia with former states of the Soviet Union. Furthermore, the focus in Bavaria is on subpolar and polar regions as well as North and South America, in Saarland at the tropical rain forest, in Hesse at European industrial areas and in Rhineland-Palatinate on Germany.
  5. Mining as a factor of spatial development is literally considered in Thuringia and Bavaria exemparily with energy resources, in Saarland and in North Rhine-Westphalia for the Montanindusty.
  6. The assessment of raw material extraction as an anthropogenic influence on a natural environment as Saxony and Hamburg included.
  7. Assessment of mining according to the dimensions of sustainability has to be taken in Saxony especially for lignite, and in Baden-Wurttemberg on the basis of a choosen raw material. In the federal states of Lower Saxony and Saarland, the extraction of raw materials will also be examined on the basis of ecological, economic and social arguments.
  8. The influence of mining in its effects and in particular ecological consequences is explicitly mentioned in Brandenburg, Berlin, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Lower Saxony, Thuringia, Saarland, Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria.

Less mining in German curricula – but back to the level of the 1950s

Curricula exists in Germany since the 19th century and are currently intended to implement the educational objectives of the school laws at each federal state. The Ministries of Education and Cultural Affairs are responsible to establish the school curricula (28). The comparison to a preliminary analysis shows that the literal use of the term “mining” is diminishing. Thus, the term “mining” could be found 35 times in the geography curricula in the year 2017 (29). Now, Saxony-Anhalt not only renounces this word, but has also not replaced it by extraction or a similar term. The Saarland’s curricula have also changed to the effect that there is no longer a separate topic of hard coal mining (30).For the federal state of Saarland, it can also be seen that, particularly in the geography curricula of the 1990s and 2000s, “mining” was mentioned about 40 times. However, the curricula of this period were many times more extensive. With more than 600 pages, the school guidelines were much more comprehensive and detailed in their technical specifications than they are today of approximately 150 pages. Until the 1970s the Saarland curricula were limited to less than 50 pages and the term mining was only used three times in the 1960s. The comparison of the school standards for different decades shows similar tendencies only to a different extent in North Rhine-Westphalia: in the 1970s mining was mentioned eleven times, in the 1990s only twice.

Extraction of raw materials, especially a topic in chemistry lessons

The focus on geography as a school subject does not go far enough. As the example of Saxony shows, raw materials and, at best, their extraction, are also discussed in other school subjects. In primary school from the 1st to the 4th grade, the subjects social studies and handicrafts are responsible for raw material education (31, 32). At a minimum, students learn about the need to conserve water resources in the 2nd grade, about climate change in the 3rd and, if they live in an active mining region, about mining as part of the (current or former) local industry. In the handicrafts lessons, they intensively work with the material wood, whereby the origin of wood is discussed several times in the social science subject. In the 4th class, materials are compared to manufacture a product, which is applied at wood and plastics. Further, facultative topics in the primary school are “Stones” in the 3rd grade and “Stones and stone culture in the region” and “A product of our country” in the 4th grade.

The self-understanding of the subject chemisty contains not only drawn conclusions between properties and usage, but the findings of chemistry shall serve to solve global challenges of mankind such as securing the energy and raw material basis (31). In particular, the raw materials metals, crude oil and natural gas, salt, graphite, diamond and lime are part of in-depth chemical understanding. Although the further processing steps of iron and crude oil and the choice to convey the processing of aluminium from bauxite are topics in the grammar school curriculum, mining is only to be conveyed as the history of salt extraction (32). At least, there is one hit for the term mining as an application for explosives in the 11th class, but as an optional topic. Contrarily in the secondary school, not only further raw materials such as gold or silicon are included in the lessons, but also the underground exploration for metals in the 8th grade, deposits and extraction of salt-like substances in the 9th grade and the extraction of silicon from quartz sand in the 10th grade (31). Physics are primarily devoted in the meaning of this article to energy supply, e. g., in Saxony the school students have to distinct between fossil and renewable energy sources in the 6th class (33). Therefore, the raw material education takes place in the subjects chemistry and physics and only marginally in history, biology and social studies respectively economics.

The example of Saxony shows that different teaching contents exist for the both education paths, grammar and the secondary school, and therefore from the 5th grade onwards. They are very similar at the first two class levels, but differs even in the use of terms. As last example, the subject “Economy, technics, home and social affairs” is only part of education in the path of secondary school in Saxony and dedicates on study area to the production of material goods. Some of the federal states combine history, geography and politics in one subject called social sciences. Here, the example of the curricula in North Rhine-Westphalia shows that, contrary to the linguistic use of mining terms, the topic of raw material education seems to be higher rated.

Summary and conclusion

In this article only curriculum contents are evaluated, which refer to the literal use of the term mining and similar terms. It can be statet that mining is part of the curriculum in most federal states, but in different contexts and differ between both educational paths. Therefore, this analysis does not provide an overall review of raw material education in German schools. The Saxony’s geography curricula contains a separate topic “Around Saxony’s Mineral Resources” for the secondary school leaving certificate at the 10th grade, and in grammar school “Resources and their Use” at the 11th grade. However, the first is an optional offer, so that probably a not insignificant part of the schools do not carry out due to a loss of lessons. In this regard, it has to be criticised that many raw material topics are optional and not obligatory.

Although not all federal states refer to mining terms, it does not mean that it will not be discussed in class. In order to understand the interpretation of the curricula and leeways in teaching more closely, the TU Bergakademie Freiberg is in discussion with teachers mainly in Saxony. It is known that in the Oremountains many primary schools as well as secondary schools use their interdisciplinary projects for mining.

As already mentioned at the beginning of this article, the curricula differ not only in content but also in further points. The curricula range from highly detailed content, well-formulated sentences to few key points, what is also reflected in the number between 25,000 to 190,000 characters for the geography curricula. However, a connection between number of characters and the frequency of terms relevant to mining cannot be established in any case. The development of curricula is embedded in a fundamental transformation of the self-image of learning.

Further considerations

Since 2015, the TU Bergakademie Freiberg has been carried out a wide range of activities at the mining section of, in particular

  • an almost five-year interdisciplinary exchange between universities, authorities and teachers;
  • giving lessons and further educational activities on raw materials and mining topics for school students and for current and future teachers;
  • the creation of a raw material online portal for schools with the support of the Free State of Saxony;
  • the support of the Saxon School Geographer Day on the topic of raw materials in September 2018;
  • the creation of a permanent exhibition “Vom Salz des Lebens” in Freiberg as an extracurricular place of learning in connection with the visitors mine; and
  • being part of working groups with raw material associations.

The TU Bergakademie Freiberg always meets great interest among school students and teachers on topics relating to the supply of raw materials. The analysis presents one component of the Phd thesis on the conceptualisation of the “raw material awareness” and its effects.

And no – Glückauf is not a term in the curricula either.


The dissertation in which this analysis was prepared was funded by the European Social Fund (ESF) and the Chemnitz Chamber of Commerce and Industry.



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Authors: Dipl.- Geoökol. Kirstin Kleeberg, Prof. Prof. e. h. Dr.-Ing. Dr. h. c. mult. Carsten Drebenstedt, Technische Universität (TU) Bergakademie Freiberg, Freiberg/Germany