Many German schools don't cater to foreign students. But one school in the city of Halle is trying to change that with special lessons meant to help school-age Syrian refugees learn German and continue their education.
Sixteen-year-old student Hewa Daoud comes from Hasaka in northeastern Syria. When the civil war broke out in 2011, she fled with her family across the border to Turkey. They later moved to Bulgaria, then to Greece, before finally arriving in Germany.
At first there was little for the young Kurd to do in Germany because she wasn't able to go to school. But at her new home in Halle (Saale), in the state of Saxony-Anhalt in central Germany, it's now possible for the teenager to attend classes again.
Hewa's classmate Rama Hamida also fled the war in Syria with her family. "For many Syrians, the fact that there's no longer any education is reason enough to leave the country, " said Rama, who comes from Aleppo in Syria's northwest. "Hardly any of our schools were open. We weren't going to class regularly anymore. I've had to come to Germany to complete my education."
Desperate need for special classes
Hewa Daoud and Rama Hamida should be in the 9th or 10th grade, but their German isn't good enough yet. The best place for them to be right now would be an international class for students to learn German. But there aren't enough classes on offer in Halle. Students who don't get a place in these language lessons have to attend conventional classes, even if they can hardly follow what is going on.
At one school in Halle's Neustadt, there are several Syrian children and teenagers studying alongside their German peers. When Uwe Böge, the school's special education teacher, realized the Syrian students were having trouble, he started an extra class of his own to assist them. But as he doesn't speak Arabic, he quickly hit a brick wall.
Böge decided to contact the Institute for German Studies, as well as the Oriental Institute, at the University of Halle. He then recruited students from the departments of Middle East studies and German as a second language to work as interns at the school - students who were either learning Arabic, or specializing in teaching German to non-native speakers.
"It was a positive stopgap measure for the children, because without this solution they wouldn't understand anything in the classes," Böge said. "They would go home miserable each day, and social marginalization would be inevitable."
Working with interns from the university, Böge was able to set up a special class at the school last fall. It now has 18 students from Syria - the youngest is 10 years old, the oldest is 17.
A win-win situation
Middle East studies student Sarah Müller has only had the chance to learn Arabic in the classroom at university. Now that she's working at the school in Halle, she's also had an opportunity to put what she's learned into practice. "It was a great experience to teach the children and much better than learning Arabic rigidly at the university," she said. Müller's internship has already come to an end, but she's decided to extend it.
Björn Bentlage works as an Arabist at the University of Halle, and supports the students who are interning at the school. He is passionate about the work they're doing, but stresses that they should not replace permanent, trained teachers.
"From the beginning it was planned to be a temporary solution, because a private initiative like this isn't the same as lessons provided in a proper, well-financed international class," he said, adding that it shouldn't be compared to the level of teaching that both the school and the state's education system could be offering.
Next year, the State Office of Saxony-Anhalt is willing to finance 20 more class hours for Syrian students at the school. But for Böge, it's not yet clear how this will be implemented because there simply aren't enough teachers qualified to take the special classes.
Future in Syria
For 15-year-old Rama, it's not important who her teacher is. The most important thing, she says, is to learn German so that she can graduate with good grades. Her dream is to return to Syria, attend university there, and become an engineer. The school certificates to help her get there, however, will come from Germany.