German schools face the challenge of integration | Germany Guide for Refugees | DW | 27.04.2017
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Germany Guide for Refugees

German schools face the challenge of integration

In Germany, when a foreigner drops out of school without a diploma, they have four times less of a chance to find work as a German would in the same situation. The influx of refugee children has exacerbated the problem.

Sibyllie Clement is the director of the Jahnschule primary school in the Western German city of Bonn. Her school has around 280 students with parents of immigrant backgrounds. The families of these students are from countries like Iraq, Morocco, Jordan, some Central African countries, Turkey and Syria. Among them are around 25 refugee children who have to learn the basics of the German language. Even though the school is receiving help from volunteers, the size of the teaching staff has not changed. The staff is only managing due to their experience and teamwork. 

"We have many children of Arab or Kurdish origin who explain to the refugee children the most important things during class" Sibylle Clement said. "Because of this, the refugee children feel less different than they would if they were in school where only German was spoken and where their classmates didn't have a migrant background," she added.

'Welcome classes'

While the overall number of students in Germany, almost 11 million, has been steadily declining in recent years, the integration of nearly 325,000 refugee children has called for new initiatives. Many schools have started "welcome classes" for refugee students to learn the basics of the German language. They participate in activities such as sports, music and visual arts to help them learn.

"Since the number of migrants that have arrived in Germany has sharply declined, we can calmly assess the situation and see what type of teaching best suits these new students," Udo Beckmann, the President of the VBE Education and Upbringing Association, said.

According to him, German schools are starting "to bounce back but have not yet returned to normal." Nevertheless, Beckmann continues to push for more teachers. Over the years, Germany has not had enough teachers to fill the positions of those who have retired. The migration crisis has only exacerbated the problem.

Deutschland junge Flüchtlinge - Integration (picture alliance/dpa/M. Skolimowska)

Two refugee girls in a German classroom

Special training

Recruiting more teachers is one aspect, but the teachers also have to be trained to work with refugee children, says Marlis Tepe of the GEW teacher's association.

"They need to know about the countries of origin of the children, pedagogy and how to deal with traumatization and also to be alert to intercultural issues," she argues, adding that the school system has not proposed enough specialized training and that there is also a lack of trainers themselves.  It's a vicious circle.

At the Jahnschule in Bonn, one would say that each situation is unique and that each student is different. Sybille Clement wants to, above all, let students find themselves in a normal environment again.

"We know that some of the children have endured horrible things," she says, adding: "But we try to treat them like the other students. Obviously we give them more time and are a little more forgiving. We try to give them a normal everyday life in a safe country."

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