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Deutschland Mohamed Rahal vom Bundesfreiwilligendienst
Image: Getty Images/S. Gallup

People of color struggling for access to German education

Ben Knight
June 17, 2016

Germany's new education report shows that children of immigrant backgrounds are gaining more access to education, but mainly in younger years. There is still room for improvement at the high school and university level.


"Could do better" was the final verdict. Germany gave itself a moderate grade in its latest education score card, presented this week in Berlin in the form of the government's sixth "Education in Germany 2016" report.

Leading with the good news, the Education Ministry pointed to the bigger picture. In general, Germans are getting a better education than ever before. Results are better - the number of young people who had not graduated from high school dropped from 8 percent in 2006 to 5.8 percent in 2014.

Meanwhile, public investment in education also continued to rise, with expenses per high school student rising from 4,900 euros ($5,500) in 2005 to 6,500 euros in 2013, while staff in child daycare facilities had reached a new high of 515,000 in 2015. Education Minister Johanna Wanka radiated positivity in the official statement accompanying the report: "The current education report shows people's unbroken interest in more and better education," it read. "That will in the future be a foundation for a successful working life, whether in the factory hall or in the office."

Pestalozzischule in Köln
The socioeconomic background is more important than migrant backgroundImage: Pestalozzischule Köln

Half the picture

But this isn't the whole story - for while the report also showed positive statistics for people of immigrant background - the growth was slower. More than half of high school leavers (56 percent) of immigrant background had achieved a "middle maturity" (roughly equivalent to a US high school diploma) - 20 percentage points more than ten years previously.

While the gap between German and immigrant children had narrowed at a pre-school and primary school level (the number of under-threes with a kindergarten place has doubled since 2009), there were still what the report called "stronger inequalities" higher up the education system.

"Although parents of children of immigrant background bring ambitious educational aspiration for their children, the children over-proportionally attend schools that offer them the maximum of a middle maturity qualification - they are particularly under-represented at the Gymnasiums [higher level, more academic high school]." the report said. This, unsurprisingly, has led to more under-representation in higher education.

"The new education report shows that in the last few years the educational disparity between people with and without immigrant background has been narrowed," said Bremen Education Minister Claudia Bogeda, who also presented the report on Thursday. "What's important ... is the insight that the educational differences apparently down to migration are rather down to the socio-economic situation."

Job half done

Tahir Della, spokesman for the Initiative for Black People in Germany (ISD), greeted the new initiative, and the government's good intentions - "as the statistics are presented here, they can be interpreted positively" - but he wondered whether the figures hid everyday racism in the system itself. Many children of color, he warned, may not be included in the figures because they have two German parents.

Tahir Della
Tahir Della says much can still be done in the classroomImage: ISD/Tahir Della

As an example he mentioned two of his own teenage sons, who, he said, had not been recommended for the higher academic schools, despite good grades. "They were basically prevented from the better schools," he told DW.

Della also said there was still a lot to do in the curriculum itself, where black issues and history, especially German colonialism, were rarely, if ever, explored. "There aren't really any class formats where things like that are discussed," he said. "In some cases they're still using textbooks that are 30 or 40 years old."

He also finds that schools tend to deal with cases of racial discrimination as isolated, rather than as a structural problem: "That means that the children are often left alone with it. In my view there is still much too little focus in schools on creating a discrimination-free society - not just on race."

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