German for refugee children – is language the only criterion? (Archive)

By Claudia van Laak and Kemal Hür

Language is the key to integration, it is said again and again. But there is often a lack of implementation. German for everyone right from the start – that sounds good and is politically wanted, but it sometimes takes months before refugee children are even allowed to go to school.

"I am Saria, I am 10 years old, I come from Syria, I speak Arabic, English, a little Turkish and a little German."

"Hello, I’m Dionys. I am Albanian."

"Arnel. 11 years old. Bosnia. Speak German, Russian, Bosnian."

"I am arman. I am 11 years old. Armenian, Russian, and a little bit of English."

The welcome class of the Catholic St. Franziskus School in Berlin-Schöneberg. They have been learning German together since October. 8 children, 5 mother tongues. Good day!

Original collage, everyone says hello in their mother tongue

The fact that their children play kicker on the wall under the strict gaze of the crucified Christ initially irritated the Muslim refugee parents. That colorful sticky notes hang everywhere on them "Toilet", "mirror" or "sink" The St. Francis congregation had to get used to it, in whose rooms the lessons take place.

Throughout Germany there are so-called welcome classes in which children learn German. (picture alliance / ZB – Britta Pedersen)

Schooling varies from state to state

These notes with the German terms throughout the house help enormously when learning German, explains teacher Aniko Ramshorn, a Hungarian by birth who worked as a German teacher in her home country. Saria, Arnel, Farshad, Arman, Dionys and the others still do not have a common language, but it will not be long, the teacher is convinced.

"They are waiting for new German words, for new German sentences that they can use. I really notice an empty spot. They use what they have learned so far, the little things, and they will use them much more intensively in the future."

Dialogue children: "So what is that? I do not know. Man, Ute. There, look, Ute, quickly, come with me. A UFO. (Applause) You said that nicely."

Germany is an educational patchwork – it is therefore not surprising that the schooling of refugee children is regulated differently from country to country. In Saxony there is no corresponding law at all, in Baden-Württemberg compulsory education applies after six months, in Berlin from the first day. Theoretically. The practice looks different. In the best case it takes weeks, in the bad months, for the children to see a class from the inside for the first time. Claudia Reuber, principal of the Franziskus school:

"It is also a prerequisite that the children receive the registration certificate, have passed a health check, these are things that must have been done beforehand."

Around 10,000 school-age refugees came to Berlin last year – 4,000 of them without their parents. They do not live permanently in one place yet, sometimes change their accommodation and thus the school districts. The administrations find it difficult to keep an overview.

For example, the Franziskus School had a list of 15 students at the beginning of October. On the first day of school, 10 children were at the door, but their names were only partially on the list, says Claudia Reuber.

"Working in the welcome class requires a lot of flexibility. That couldn’t be properly planned in advance. I also found it important that at the beginning we focused on saying that we really offer the children a place, a space, and that they see: there is someone for me."

German for refugees right from the start is a consensus

Children sing: "So now it starts, everything is up. Laurentia, dear Laurentia mine, when do we want to be together again? On Monday Tuesday,…"

Tepe: "Education is a human right and applies to everyone. And especially in war and in refugee situations, children suffer particularly and sometimes have no school for years. For us – as I think for everyone now – the acquisition of the German language is the key to integration. "

"Education is a human right and applies to everyone", says Marlis Tepe, Chair of the Education and Science Union (GEW) (dpa / picture alliance / Federico Gambarini)

says Marlis Tepe, federal chairwoman of the Education and Science Union (GEW). German for all refugees from the beginning if possible – that is a consensus among the education experts and across party borders. Cemile Giousouf, integration policy spokeswoman for the CDU / CSU parliamentary group, puts it this way:

"It is very important that from the hour we offer opportunities to learn the language, because of course, and this is not a surprise, it is the way to education, work and social integration."

Cemile Giousouf speaks from her own experience, her parents immigrated to Germany as guest workers, and her father still speaks poor German. The Federal Republic must not repeat the mistakes of the past, says the 37-year-old CDU member of the Bundestag from the Ruhr area.

There were no language courses for the first generation of guest workers. Turks, Italians and Spaniards were supposed to work in Germany and return to their home countries after a few years – integration was a foreign word in the 1960s and 1970s.

Güzel (in Turkish) "There was no one who suggested a German course to us that recommended it to us. There were no opportunities to attend German courses. We didn’t have time for that either."

Dursun Güzel – a well-groomed elderly gentleman with a white mustache – has lived in Germany for 46 years. He has worked in construction and in the automotive industry in Ulm, Pforzheim, Sindelfingen and most recently in Berlin. Güzel spent two thirds of his life in Germany and only a third in Turkey – but the 73-year-old only speaks broken German.

"Today I would do it differently, of course. I would learn the language first. Because I know how important that is. Without language you can do not make themselves understood, not even at the doctor."

Comprehensive "integration courses" only since 2005

Only with the Immigration Act of 2005 did the federal government introduce the so-called integration courses across the board. The federal government largely covers the costs, participants with their own income pay themselves – for 600 hours of German plus a 60-hour orientation course. This is sufficient for participants with a high level of education and some previous knowledge of German. Foreigners who are not educated and have no experience in learning foreign languages ​​usually need more time.

The course is open to all foreigners. It is mandatory for those who receive social benefits and want to stay in Germany permanently. Until now, asylum seekers were only allowed to attend the integration courses after completing their procedure – this can take months, sometimes years. However, given the influx of refugees, the courses have been opened – now people from Syria, Eritrea, Iran and Iraq who have just arrived in Germany can also take part in an integration course.

"Good morning – please take a seat."

Martina Kaminski welcomes her students from the integration course at the Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg Adult Education Center. 14 men and women came more or less on time this morning – they brought 12 mother tongues with them. From Arabic to Czech, from Hebrew to Spanish, only Asian languages ​​are not represented.

Lecturer Martina Kaminski uses the German language to teach the idiosyncrasies and customs of the host country. Very important for the newcomers: the office.

Kaminski: "Ramon was in office, why? Right. The driver’s license was not valid. What else are we doing in the office? We get a passport at the office."!

Lama Habib and Abed Dahla sit side by side at a table, occasionally whispering in Arabic. The two Syrian refugees came to Berlin about a year ago. Although the 44-year-old teacher’s homework is perfect – my sons help me with German, says Lama Habib – Abed Dahla speaks better than she does. The 20-year-old shares an apartment with German friends – that helps.

Abed: "For me, when I came to Germany, I couldn’t speak German or English. But very well now. I have a lot of German friends. I live in a flat share for a month. Now I only speak German. And great."

Abed Dahla has a goal in mind. He absolutely wants to pass the exam at the end of the integration course. German is not enough for studying, but it is for an apprenticeship. The Syrian dreams of an apprenticeship as a car mechanic. Before that, however, the complicated German grammar, on which he regularly fails, is on the agenda. Just like Lama Habib. Today’s learning material: dative prepositions.

Dialog / both / teacher: "I live at my Man. No, they live with their husband, I think. I go to work. No. I go after work. No. I go home."(Laughs)

Among the 14 participants in the integration course at the Volkshochschule Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg are just two refugees – Lama Habib and Abed Dahla. The others come from EU countries, Russia and Israel. Only two asylum seekers – this is irritating – are politically touted these courses as essential for all refugees.

Refugees struggle with bureaucracy in language courses

But bureaucratic hurdles are currently blocking access for people who have just arrived here from Syria, Eritrea, Iraq and Iran. Because only those who are entitled to attend the course receive Not have previously registered as a refugee in another European country. The Federal Office for Migration and Refugees – BAMF for short – carries out this check. As is well known, the authority is overloaded, so the process takes time.

The heavy workload at the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, BAMF, also limits access for refugees to language courses. (picture alliance / dpa Armin Weigel)

This counteracts the originally good idea of ​​learning German from the start, says Bärbel Schürrle, director of the Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg Adult Education Center.

"The fact that the exam lasts also means that people have formal theoretical access, but it is not feasible for the integration course organizers because they then do not have the BAMF approvals for the people. That means it does not work that way in the division of tasks in the state of Berlin, between the federal and state governments."

The state of Berlin – like many other federal states – has launched a special program for German courses at adult education centers. The shortage is the staff – the schools lack teachers who have special training in the field "German as a foreign language" have completed. Private and public educational institutions are also desperately looking for German lecturers – the demands on staff are falling.

Particularly well-qualified teachers can currently look forward to permanent positions or official positions in the school service.

Adult education centers and other educational institutions continue to rely on freelance lecturers – the education and science union GEW has long complained about insecure employment relationships and low fees. Christoph Schröder, professor of German as a foreign language at the University of Potsdam, also calls for permanent positions for German lecturers.

"It is then of course a scandal that this is still largely based on fee-based employees. This means that the people who do this great work in the integration courses, namely to teach German as lecturers, which is both a "German as a foreign language"-Activity is, but at the same time always a huge social work activity, that they are still actually paid on an hourly basis."

Christoph Schröder also criticizes the integration courses financed by the federal government. A one-size-fits-all course would not do justice to the refugees. On the one hand, there are academics who are underwhelmed in the courses, and on the other hand, those who are not educated are overwhelmed. In addition, the courses are too non-specific and should be much more focused on the labor market.

"If we look at the numbers: unemployment among foreigners has not decreased in the past ten years since the integration courses. I think that is problematic. Successful are those who might have been successful without an integration course, but not the others."

Only 6 out of 10 achieve the desired German level

What is also worrying: only six out of ten participants reach the desired German level in the end. That is why the integration policy spokeswoman for the Union parliamentary group advocates revising the concept – away from the standard course, towards differentiated offers that are tailored to the level of education of the students.

The integration officer of the CDU / CSU parliamentary group Cemile Giousouf was the first CDU parliamentarian of the Muslim faith in 2013. (dpa / picture alliance / Rolf Vennenbernd)

Cemile Giousouf also hopes that the CDU can assert itself for all asylum seekers by calling for an integration agreement. This makes it clear that the refugees also have a responsibility to learn German quickly.

"That we say those who make the greatest effort can get more benefits. That people say, for example, that if you complete your German course in a certain time, you will get more performance or you will no longer have to finance the course, such models would be possible to motivate people positively."

At the moment, however, the motivation to learn German is greater than the range of courses on offer. In many initial reception centers, volunteers take over German classes, and a whole range of apps – for example from the Goethe Institute – also support refugees in learning their foreign language.

A large number of asylum seekers – around 220,000 – take part in language courses financed by the Federal Employment Agency. However, the usefulness of these courses is controversial – after all, the money was freely given to educational institutions, some of which have no experience with language courses at all. Proof of quality was not necessary. The head of the adult education center Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg Bärbel Schürrle considers this fatal.

"I personally believe that in the area of ​​adult education it is very problematic to employ unskilled teachers. Because linguistic errors that are ultimately caused by untrained personnel are very, very difficult to revise later."

It’s different with children. The welcome class of the Catholic St. Franziskus School in Berlin-Schöneberg is a mess. Many children mix their mother tongue with English and German. It doesn’t matter at the moment, says teacher Franziska Zalud. You observed that yourself Germans become more and more prevalent over time.

"That was in a math lesson. The task was: How would you explain to another child what to do now? What came out was pretty gibberish for me. Surprisingly, the third child immediately knew what to do. Which made it clear to me once again that the language of the children is quite wide among themselves."

Four months after school starts – second visit to the welcome class. German is slowly but surely becoming the common language of children from Afghanistan, Syria, Italy, Albania and Bosnia. The best performers are allowed to switch to the regular classes for a few hours, initially in the subjects of sport, art and music. The first children begin to help their parents go to the authorities and to see a doctor.

Welcome class significantly further after four months

Dialogue teacher: "I am from Afghanistan. My name is Aida. I am 10 years old. Can mom and dad speak German? No. Not yet? I a little bit and my brother a little bit."

Teacher: "I spoke to a student last week who proudly said that she asked her parents to speak German. Wherever she talked, Papa always says speak Arabic, otherwise I don’t understand you. And she says: no, dad, you have to learn German."

The two children of Dursun Güzel, who came to Germany from Turkey as a guest worker 46 years ago, did not ask their father to learn German. They helped him to go to the authorities and to see a doctor – the father stayed with his Turkish. Nevertheless, the 73-year-old says of himself: I am well integrated in Germany. After all, he had never been on the pocket of the German state and always lived righteously.

güzel: "Of course, language has a lot to do with integration, but it cannot be the exclusive criterion. There are many aspects to consider when wondering when a person is integrated. (..) If only the language skills are missing, you cannot judge this person and say that he is not integrated."

Nevertheless, the pensioner living in Berlin would like to give good advice to the many newcomers. A piece of advice that he never took to heart.

"I strongly recommend these people to learn the language of this country and to live with society here as quickly as possible. On the other hand, I also recommend Germany to achieve good integration so that living together works well. Integration has to be human and people have to accept life and the rules here."


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