The school system is poorly equipped to serve the number of children in Germany, a study has found. Nearly 100,000 minors moved to the country in 2014 - and even more are expected in 2015.
More and more families with school-age children are moving to Germany. An education study conducted by the Mercator Institute for Language Training and German as a Second Language has concluded that mass immigration will change the school system in the long term. The number of immigrants aged 6 to 18 has quadrupled since 2006. In the past year alone, the number of children and adolescents from abroad has risen from 22,000 to about 100,000.
For years, the question of how to integrate immigrant children into the German school system has been neglected, according to Mercator Institute director Michael Becker-Mrotzek. "The numbers are growing rapidly, and the fast pace is what poses great challenges for schools and teaching staff," he said.
The study found that the school system must be revamped. A key recommendation is that children be integrated into the school system as soon as possible. German schools are run by the states, so practices vary. The Mercator study recommends that standards be harmonized.
'Heterogeneous student groups'
New methods must be found to respond to the learning needs of refugee children with no knowledge of German. States should set uniform criteria for deciding how much language instruction children must receive before transitioning to standardized school classes. Furthermore, schools must decide whether parallel classes that provide language instruction are the best way to integrate students into the standardized study program within a year or two. It is also foreseeable that the need for additional support in language acquisition may differ in the different types of school within the education system.
Younger children, for example, can be integrated into standardized classes more quickly with supplementary language instruction. "Elementary schools have much more experience with heterogeneous student groups than secondary schools," Becker-Mrotzek said.
Older children have greater differences in knowledge and skills. That is why older refugee children are often placed in parallel classes that cater to their needs. There is no standard recipe for success, Becker-Mrotzek said. One thing is certain: When they first arrive, refugee children cannot take part in standardized school lessons without supplementary support and instruction.
The study also found that the children's countries of origin are changing. Until 2014, about 60 percent of students came from Poland, Romania, Russia, Bulgaria or Serbia. Since 2014, however, Syrians are increasingly coming. "The influx of young Syrians has increased tenfold in the past three years," said Nora von Dewitz, the author of the study.
According to the study, secondary schools in particular will face new challenges. Figures for 2014 showed that many 18-year-olds were among the school-age immigrants. In Germany, education is not compulsory for that age group, and it remains unclear whether the 18-year-olds would be sent back to the standardized school system or officials might create more flexible compulsory education linked to minimum standards of language acquisition. Only this much does seem clear: In the future, language instruction must become standard practice at German schools.