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Turkish schools debate

March 26, 2010

The Turkish prime minister has suggested setting up Turkish secondary schools in Germany. Dr. Ulrich Raiser from the think tank Network Migration in Europe discusses why more bilingual schools may be the way forward.

Students in a lesson in a Bremen high school
Raiser argues there should be more bilingual schoolsImage: AP

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently reiterated calls for Turkish-speaking high schools in Germany to address the needs of the almost three million people of Turkish origin who live in Germany. Deutsche Welle discussed the idea with Dr. Ulrich Raiser, a founding member of Network Migration in Europe, a think tank financed in part by the European Union.

Deutsche Welle: Why do you think the Turkish leader wants to see Turkish-speaking schools in Germany?

Ulrich Raiser: I suppose he's worried about the cultural, the language heritage of his Turkish fellow citizens living in Germany.

But isn't it the case that many Turks living in Germany have a very weak command of the German language? Apparently a third of young Turks don't finish school in Germany in part because of the poor nature of their language skills. Wouldn't going to a German school help them?

I think it should be clear from the outset that German is key to integration in Germany, and I don't think Erdogan would object to that. Anyone who wants to be successful in German society needs to be able to speak German - and in that regard you're right, this is an essential problem for many Turkish people living in Germany. Sometimes parents have a poor command of German or know hardly any German at all. Children then have difficulties learning German within their families, so the first time they really learn German is in kindergarten or school. By that time it is really difficult to learn the language properly.

Students wearing headscarves
Around 2.7 million people of Turkish origin live in GermanyImage: picture-alliance/dpa

This can only be solved by children going to kindergarten and learning German at an early age. If you look at the successful examples of Turkish immigrants in Germany nearly all of them have attended kindergarten at an early age and then gone to school with a fairly good command of German.

As you know, there are British, American and French schools throughout Germany, and there doesn't seem to be resistance to those types of schools. Why do you think the topic of schools in the Turkish language is treated differently?

I think the attitude towards Turkish immigrants in Germany - and maybe the whole of Western Europe - is more critical, probably much more resentful than towards French or American people. Nearly all Turkish people in Germany are very well aware that without success in the education system, without success in the labor market, they will not achieve and they will not be upwardly mobile.

What many families want is respect for their language, recognition that Turkish is the language spoken within families. What they would like to see is more Turkish taught in German schools, perhaps bilingual schools - these are very attractive to Turkish families. Currently there is only one bilingual school in Berlin, and I think there should be more.

I think it is a matter of cultural recognition; it's not about Turkish people wanting to live within their own little enclaves and solely speak Turkish. They are intelligent enough of course to recognize that if you want to succeed in a society you need to speak the majority language.

Interview: John Doyle
Editor: Nancy Isenson