The Internet has long been the first place that holidaymakers turn when looking for a clean and comfortable hotel, or where diners search for a restaurant with tasty food and pleasant service. There are a host of rating sites that can provide them with other consumers' evaluations to help them make their choice.
Now, however, the online judgement game is being applied to education, with German pupils using the anonymity of the Internet to rate their teachers. And some of those educators are far from amused about being graded by their own pupils on competence or coolness.
On Tuesday, though, a German a teacher who objected to the low marks she received lost her battle against one such Web site. The Federal Court of Justice supported a lower court ruling which struck down her bid to have the site, called spickmich.de, shut down.
The Web site -- its name roughly translates as "check me out" -- aims at turning the tables on teachers, by grading them in categories such as "cool and funny," "popular," "motivated," "gives fair marks," and "teaches well." The pupils use the same grades that their own work is rated by, ranging from 1 for excellent to 6 for unsatisfactory.
The teacher objected to the site after receiving the low grade of 4.3 for her teaching of German, claiming that her right to privacy had been violated. Her lawyers argued that the site was unfair and inaccurate because the students could rate the teachers anonymously.
The judges, however, thought otherwise. "The right of students to exchange opinions and communicated freely outweighs the right of the teacher suing to determine information about her, " the court, based in the western German city of Karlsruhe, said on Tuesday. "The opinions expressed are neither abusive nor insulting," the court said in a statement, adding that the plaintiff had failed to show that she had been harmed in any specific way.
Tino Keller, editor-in-chief of spickmich.de, welcomed the court's decision. "The judges clearly said that the teacher herself is not being rated, but rather her job performance," he told reporters. German editorialists on Wednesday generally support the ruling, with many pointing out that the service is obviously filling a need among students to express their opinion about their teachers.
The conservative Die Welt writes:
"The site spickmich.de is channelling --- in a fair and controlled form -- the justified and obvious need of pupils to tell their teachers what they are doing well and what they are doing badly. Schools have unfortunately not developed any such forums of their own. It is only parents who attend the parent-teacher meetings and they don't get any idea of the classes. For most young people, a personal discussion is too much of a challenge. Like other professional groups who provide a service, teachers should be grateful when they are rated. It should be their aim to have the content of their class understood and respected."
The left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:
"Today there are no sectors in the economy that have heroes who can do everything alone. We need problem-solvers, who work in a team to meet new kinds of challenges. We need self-confident people ... who can approach their boss on an equal footing. Children should learn at an early stage to take a critical look at authority figures, in this case teachers. The rating of teachers is an important step in the new culture of learning."
The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
"The Internet is not just the biggest information machine there has ever been, it is also the biggest rumor machine. On the one hand, the Internet provides an unbelievably large forum for freedom of expression. On the other hand, the protection of freedom of expression and Internet anonymity cannot give bullying and other effronteries free reign. The law has to clearly set the limits for freedom of expression on the Internet. It is particularly important to make sure that there are consequences should these limits be overstepped."
"The rating of teachers, doctors, journalists, professors or car mechanics is acceptable, even if those being rated don't like it. However, if these broad limits of what is allowed are overstepped, then the legal system must be able to take measures against those breaking the law. That means, either it must be possible to lift the anonymity -- or the operators of the Internet forums should be arrested. The Internet is a huge freedom. However, there is no freedom without responsibility."
The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:
"The Federal Court of Justice has ruled in favour of (the rating of teachers) and has given an honorable reason for its decision: the freedom of expression. And that is fully correct. Nothing intimate about the plaintiff was ever published. And the rating -- of 4.3 for her teaching of German -- was, according to the judge, 'neither shameful nor insulting.'"
"There is undoubtedly a legitimate public interest in the activities of those who work with the public. Neither lawyers nor doctors are untouchable and should also be compared -- although there should be measures and limits. The last word on the issue of ratings sites has not been spoken."
The Financial Times Deutschland writes:
"If a hotel is rated in the Internet, then it is very likely to have a direct effect on its business. Similarly a patient is unlikely to go to a doctor that has been negatively rated. This is the market working. Service providers make an effort to treat customers well, so that they get good ratings."
"This instrument does not work when it comes to teachers. A pupil cannot simply change to a teacher with higher marks. And the ratings have no consequences for the teachers' career."