How difficult is school in your country

Welcome classes for refugees : Difficult start in German schools

Marlis Tepe has been out and about a lot in the last few weeks. The chairwoman of the teachers' union GEW traveled across Germany. She wanted to know: What ideas do teachers and politicians across the country have to help refugee children get started in the German education system? Which school, which state has the best concepts? Tepe attended welcome classes in Berlin, transition classes in Bavaria and language learning classes in Lower Saxony. Where do the lessons for refugee children work best?

The question is urgent, because the number of refugee children is rising steadily: 173,000 asylum applications for children and young people were submitted in 2014, 58 percent more than in 2013. They all have the right to attend school in Germany, which is in regulated by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. But the basic right to attend school is interpreted differently in each federal state. "The random distribution determines the educational success," says Tobias Klaus from the human rights organization Pro Asyl.

No national law regulates schooling

In Germany, education is a matter of the state. No nationwide law regulates the schooling of refugee children. Each federal state decides itself on the maximum number of students, teacher training and language support. How long refugee children have to attend school is also regulated differently in each country.

The educational injustices begin at the start of school: in some places newcomers quickly get a place in a welcome class, in other places there are long waiting times: only after three to seven months, often later, are children and young people allowed to learn, a study by the Federal Association of Unaccompanied Minor Refugees recently found .

In some districts of Berlin refugee children are repeatedly turned away because there are not enough places in the overcrowded welcome classes. In Kreuzberg, on the other hand, it usually doesn't take more than a month to find a place. In rural areas, integration classes and language courses often don't even come about because there is too little demand. Some accommodations for asylum seekers are many kilometers away from the nearest school.

How do you teach such heterogeneous learning groups?

If the school place is safe, the teachers' pressing questions arise: How do you teach a study group in which the students come from different countries, speak no or hardly any German, are sometimes not literate and are often still traumatized from their flight?

Visiting someone who should know: Michael Stenger founded the Schlau School in Munich 15 years ago, where young refugees can catch up on their school-leaving qualifications. While teachers in Hamburg-Wilhelmsburg, Berlin-Kreuzberg or Munich-Hasenbergl are still looking for a formula to lead their students to graduation, Michael Stenger seems to have already found it. 95 percent of his students are successful, he says.

Lessons are taught in small classes at the Munich school, analogous to the subject canon of Bavarian secondary schools. After a placement test, the students are picked up directly at their level of knowledge. Those who need longer to learn German receive more support and individual support. The common goal: to join the German mainstream school or training system as quickly as possible. In most cases, this takes two to three years. In public schools, refugee children usually only have one year before they start a regular class. In 2014, the Schlau School won the German School Prize for its concept.

There is not yet a specially developed language learning book

One might think: an initiative that other schools could also follow as an example. However, with his expertise and experience, Headmaster Stenger feels that he is not being heard enough. "All federal states cook their own soup," he says annoyed. “I would like to see a better exchange with one another.” Who has good teaching materials, who has the best educational concept? The Schlau School is already offering further training courses for teachers nationwide and sharing its know-how at congresses. There is one topic that is particularly in demand: when it comes to the question of suitable teaching materials for the integration classes. "The situation is catastrophic," says Stenger.

A call to Cornelsen Schulverlag in Berlin. Yes, it is true, the publishers are already developing concepts for the migration society, but there is still no perfect book for welcoming classes. "The situation in the classes is very complex, the publishers don't cover that yet," says publisher spokeswoman Irina Groh. Finally, children of different ages are taught together in integration classes; they come from all over the world. Some have already learned English in their home country, others have never attended school.

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