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Germany

Integration Strategy Demands Words Against Sticks and Stones

As Germany wonders why its teenagers have become such hoodlums, the government has announced a "National Plan of Action" to counter violence in schools. Bavaria is already one step ahead of the game.

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Juvenile violence has captured public attention

Is it because immigrant children are alienated from society; is it because Germany has a system of academically segregated schooling -- or is just the rotten core of contemporary life? Either way, the country's politicians are falling over themselves to find a quick-fix solution to the problems highlighted by the Rütli high school in Berlin, where police were recently called in to monitor what teachers described as out-of-control violence.

Kindergartenkinder

Pre-school kids who fail the test will have to take German classes

"The time when we could look away and shrug our shoulders is over," warned Maria Böhmer, the government's integration commissioner.

Speaking in the Bundestag, she stressed that the first priority needs to be giving young people better prospects and announced a national initiative to boost better integration and increase young immigrants' chances on the job market.

With members of the Green party dismissing the initiative as a mere "placebo," parliamentarians present at Wednesday's debate failed to reach agreement on whether the roots of juvenile delinquency amongst immigrants are failed integration or failed education policies.

So much for the causes. As for the solutions, they ranged from deporting young offenders to slashing their family benefits. The one proposal that met with broad agreement was to focus on improving immigrants' language skills, starting at kindergarten level.

Wolfgang Gerhardt, parliamentary party chief of the free market liberal FDP party, argued that only children with adequate German should be admitted to school.

Compulsory language testing

The plan is already underway in Bavaria, which revealed earlier this week that it intends to introduce language tests for immigrant children one year before they start school.

Islam-Unterricht an Schule

Students with adequate German skills: less likely to be unruly?

Those who fail will spend 160 hours of their last kindergarten year taking German classes, and children who fail the test a second time round will be refused entry to elementary school and sent to special needs schools.

The test will be obligatory for foreign children, with parents facing a financial penalty if they fail to register their children for the exam or the extra classes.

Bavarian Premier Edmund Stoiber denied the plan was linked to events in Berlin and said it had been in development for some time. The leader of the CDU's Bavarian sister-party, the conservative CSU, he said the tests were a way of penalizing those who fail to pull their weight in the process of integration.

"It's not up to us to adapt to the customs of our guests, it's up to them to adapt to us," he stressed. "But these tests are first and foremost in the interests of the children and their families."

Not enough

Educational experts agree the tests serve a purpose, but say improving language skills should be just one strand of a more ambitious approach.

Ausländer in Berlin-Kreuzberg

Germany is desperate to improve integration

"Everyone at school needs to stick to certain rules and in that respect, demanding a certain level of language skills is a reasonable request," said Michael Strohschein from Lower Saxony's Association for Education and Economics in an interview with Tagesschau TV news program . "But the problems run deeper, what with poverty, aggression and cultural differences. Schools and social workers need to cooperate closely in tackling these problems and that costs money."

In the Bundestag, Green party parliamentary group leader Volker Beck had a similar take on the testing scheme -- and also stressed that change won't come for free.

"Language tests for school starters are not enough," he said. "It's therefore shocking that the governing coalition is planning to cut one-third of its integration budget."

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