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Germany

Immigrant parents and children learn together at 'Family Literacy'

UNESCO has honored Hamburg's teacher training institute for its family literacy project. The project helps parents with migrant backgrounds and their children improve their literacy skills through storytelling.

children, a few adults at large desk in classroom

Family day comes every fortnight at Osterbrook School

Four million of the more than 750 million illiterate people in the world live in Germany, and a disproportionate number of them are immigrants or have an immigrant background. The "Family Literacy" project (FLY) focuses on that group, which makes up 14 percent of Hamburg's population, and for that reason it was singled out for UNESCO's 2010 literacy award.

FLY, a pilot project initiated and run by the Hamburg State Institute for Teacher Training and School Development, uses an intergenerational approach to ensure closer cooperation and better communication between the school and the childrens' home


"It's our goal to get the parents interested in reading more at home with their children and in engaging more strongly with language," Gabriele Rabkin, the head of FLY, told Deutsche Welle.

children's pictures tacked on wall

Sometimes aunts, grandmothers and siblings join the classes


Forty-four schools in Hamburg participate in the program, which was started six years ago. Nearly 1,000 parents and as many children take part in the project every year.


Parents welcome


Every two weeks, parents join their children, mainly preschoolers and first-graders, in the classroom. They see how their kids engage with words and storytelling - and they're allowed to help.

FLY's teachers encourage the adults to make sure their children speak in complete sentences outside of class, take time to look at picture books together or point out individual letters on the way to school.


Ute Stather, who teaches first and second graders at Hamburg's Osterbrook School, has been with the project from the start. "The parents see what we are doing and that helps them understand where they have to support their child," she said.

The families are not discouraged from speaking their native language in class. On the contrary, teachers view multilingualism as an asset, Stather said. "If people speak and read a lot in their native tongue, their children will also learn German much more easily."


Many of the parents also see FLY classes as a chance to learn German, according to Rabkin. The teachers also don't put pressure on the adults to read and speak in German with their children at home; what was important was for them to deal with language as such.

"We don't see parents as assistant teachers - they are their children's first and most important teachers," Rabkin said.


Author: Janine Albrecht (db)

Editor. Nancy Isenson

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