A secondary school in Berlin has decided to ban Turkish and other foreign languages spoken by its pupils in an attempt to improve German language skills at the immigrant-dominated facility.
Pupils from immigrant families are required to work and speak in German only.
The ban has unleashed a heated public debate about foreigner integration in German society with some politicians arguing the move is counterproductive and discriminates against foreigners.
School authorities, however, claim their students' command of German has improved markedly over the past few months.
Until about six months ago, the mix of languages to be heard in the schoolyard of Berlin's Herbert-Hoover School was of truly Babylonian multi-tongue dimensions.
The school is located in the immigrant-dominated district of Wedding. Ninety percent of the school's students have immigrant parents, with Turks in the majority followed by smaller groups of Arabs, Croats, Russians and Pakistanis.
Since September of last year, however, they are not allowed to speak in their native tongue at school. The rule has become enshrined in the school's code of conduct, agreed to by parents' representatives and school authorities. School headmaster Jutta Steinkamp says her pupil’s command of German has improved substantially.
Language a basis for efficient integration, says school head
"We have introduced this ban to enable our students to take part in German society through speaking and understanding the language properly," Steinkamp said. "Knowing the language is a precondition for successful integration and we've been making much progress in the past few months with regard to our students' language skills."
But some politicians want Herbert-Hoover-School's "ban" on non-German language to itself be "banned." Members of the Left Party and the environmentalist Greens accuse Berlin's school authorities of discriminating against immigrants. Özcan Mutlu is of Turkish origin himself, and serves as the Green's spokesman for education.
"I think this is an inappropriate means because it says that foreign languages are not welcome at this school." he said. "It's unbelievable that parents who are aiming to register their children at this school have to sign papers that basically ban their children from speaking their own language. The goal behind all this may be correct but the way towards achieving it isn’t."
School admissions up as support grows
Herbert Hoover School has seen school the number of applications rise by 20 percent in recent months, and it enjoys nationwide support from teachers' associations. And some students believe the ban may be good for their future.
"I find this quite all right," said one student, born of Turkish immigrants, "because in later life we'll need German much more than Turkish. If you want to learn a profession and earn a living knowing German is absolutely necessary."
In spite of the criticism, school authorities all over Germany are now thinking of adopting the model of Berlin's Herbert Hoover School. They see a chance to help come to grips with the problem of rising unemployment and poverty among Turks and other large immigrant groups.
According to a recent survey the risk of immigrant pupils leaving school without a certificate is three times higher than for native German pupils. The prime reason, the report says: a lack of basic language skills.