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Mandatory German

October 15, 2010

Education ministers in Germany have dismissed calls to force immigrant students to speak German in schoolyards. Immigrant organizations warned that doing so would lead to "stigmatization."

Classroom with students
Forcing children to speak German is counterproductiveImage: picture alliance/dpa

State education ministers in Germany have dismissed calls for making German the obligatory language in the country's schoolyards.

The ministers ended a two-day meeting in Berlin on Friday saying a ban on immigrants speaking their mother tongue was impossible to enforce and would be counterproductive in efforts to integrate foreign children.

"There will be no steps taken to either ban foreign languages from schoolyards or to impose German as the only language that can be spoken there," said Ludwig Spaenle, education minster of Bavaria.

The meeting brought together ministers from all 16 German states. Education in Germany is not centralized but the responsibly of the regional state governments.

Rhineland Palatinate Education Minister Doris Ahnen said banning foreign languages from schoolyards was "in no way suited" to solve integration problems.

Her Berlin colleague Juergen Zoellner added that while there was no doubt that learning German was very important for successful integration, it was "not very helpful" to outright ban children from speaking their mother tongue.

Maria Boehmer
Integration commissioner Maria Boehmer is in favor of a banImage: AP

A number of conservative politicians, among them Maria Boehmer, the government's commissioner for integration, had previously called for German to be fixed as the obligatory language in schools to help integrate students from immigrant families.

Immigrant organizations warn of 'stigmatization'

Boehmer's suggestion was strongly dismissed by immigrant organizations. In a joint statement, they warned of a "stigmatization of the immigrant languages." Instead, they argued, multilingualism was to be supported as a basis for cultural diversity in Germany.

"Focusing on the German language alone only draws attention from the real problems - such as the selective education system, discrimination and the high levels of unemployment among those with an immigrant background," the statement added.

"Banning the mother tongue is not acceptable," said Kenan Kolat, head of the Turkish community in Germany, after talks with the conference of education ministers.

"It was extremely important to me that this unspeakable discussion about German in schoolyards was stopped," he added. "This is a good signal for our cooperation in future."

Schoolchildren in a schoolyard
The number of foreign children dropouts is down 30 percentImage: BilderBox

School dropouts on the decline

Kolat was part of a delegation of immigrant organizations who met with the ministers on Friday to discuss progress on a three-year old action plan to improve education for foreign children.

The plan includes, among other things, state-funded programs to foster children's language skills, as well as measures to stop the rise in the number of children leaving school without any degree. The average rate of school dropouts among foreign children is more than twice as high as that of German students - but the situation has markedly improved.

"We've reduced the number of foreign children dropping out of school by up to 30 percent in the last three years," Berlin education minister Zoellner said.

Both the ministers and the immigrant groups demanded better funding for education programs from the central government. More all-day schools and better language education in childcare facilities have proven successful in improving immigrants' educational chances, they said.

Author: Andreas Illmer, Uwe Hessler
Editor: Martin Kuebler