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Goethe-Institut pledges education for refugees

15.4 million people worldwide are learning German. Increased interest in the language is a boost for the Goethe-Institut, which has reaffirmed its commitment to offering education to refugees.

The Goethe-Institut is boosting its efforts to support refugees, it announced this week at its annual press conference. "Language is the key to integration," President Klaus-Dieter Lehmann told reporters, adding that German classes need to be expanded.

"Adequate and differentiated German courses are of central importance," Lehmann said, pointing out that this was the Goethe-Institut's core business, including the training of German teachers.

Lehmann, who was recently re-elected to another term, said he plans to focus on strengthening civil society structures abroad, integrating refugees in Germany, and promoting civil participation.

Currently, there are 159 Goethe-Institutes in 98 countries. Germany's Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier welcomed Lehmann's re-election: "In a world in transition, foreign cultural relations and education policy play a key role in building bridges."

Watch video 02:25

Refugees - investing in language skills

Education in refugees' countries of origin

Goethe-Institutes are bridging cultural differences on several levels, which has been made possible by an international network. In addition to offering German language classes in many countries, the institution also offers opportunities for cultural exchange.

The idea is to offer cultural and educational opportunities - particularly in refugees' home countries - that give people better prospects for the future.

But it's not only in these countries that "the world has become obscured," as Lehmann puts it, because nationalism is on the rise in many regions. Furthermore, restrictive laws are making the work of NGOs increasingly difficult, he added.

"The parameters of our work have changed worldwide," Lehmann commented, "but so far, fortunately, we are still free of state influence."

Foreign cultural and educational work is now much easier in many key African countries, and artists there have gained confidence in their work, particularly in southern Africa. Myanmar, where elections were recently held, is also opening up.

In Cuba, where social change seems to be taking place, developments were not yet quite as clear, said Johannes Ebert, secretary-general of the Goethe-Institut.

Digital programs compensate for teacher shortage

Ebert made it clear that the current refugee crisis requires swift action: "Educational and cultural programs are important in order to prevent a lost generation. Our work in the countries neighboring Syria helps to provide opportunities there."

School in a refugee camp in Cameroon, Copyright: AFP/Getty Images/R. Kaze

School in a refugee camp in Cameroon

The Goethe-Institut also intends to expand its programs for refugees in Germany. There is a high demand for qualified teachers, especially in German schools, which is why the institute is putting more emphasis on online courses.

Educational apps, videos and exercises have been developed, as well as an entire German learning platform for refugees. There is no intention to replace traditional classroom teaching, according to the institute, but to complement it.

Learning German is in vogue

On the whole, interest in the German language is growing all over the world. According to the Goethe-Institut, around 15.4 million people are currently studying the German language, and the tendency seems to be on the rise. While in Russia fewer people are currently learning German, interest is increasing in countries such as China and India, but also in South America.

Secretary-General Ebert called this trend "gratifying" and attributed the growing interest to "the continued economic strength of Germany and the attractiveness of its culture."

Looking at the finances of the Goethe-Institutes, President Lehmann presented a mixed picture: The organization's budget rose to 387 million euros in 2015, as both government spending and revenues derived from language courses grew significantly. However, that growth has been partially affected by global inflation.

Lehmann, 75, was formerly head of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation and, after being reelected, will remain president of the Goethe-Institut until 2020.

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