Migrant education neglected: knowledge gap at school authorities

Lower Saxony’s Ministry of Education wants to give refugee children the best possible support – and doesn’t even know their numbers. Supporters demand better chances for school-leaving qualifications.

Every child should be supported in learning German: No one in Lower Saxony knows how many there are. Picture: dpa

Lower Saxony’s Education Minister Frauke Heiligenstadt (SPD) has rejected criticism that the red-green state government is neglecting the German language skills of refugee children, laying the groundwork for their lack of integration. "In the schools, every single child is supported," a spokeswoman for Heiligenstadt said. "We support each student individually."

Bjorn Thumler, head of the CDU parliamentary group in the state parliament, had previously accused the red-green coalition of "still not taking seriously the important task of promoting the language skills of refugee children." Many of these children speak little or no German, the Christian Democrat complained. Above all, there was a lack of so-called language learning classes, in which students with weak German skills are taught together.

There are currently 274 such intensive German classes in Lower Saxony – in the first half of the current school year, there were only 118. A total of just under 78,000 students statewide receive some form of language support instruction, including courses such as "German as a second language."

However, no one in the Ministry of Education knows how many of these students are refugees: "In the lessons, it is not recorded whether there is a migration background, and if so, what kind," Heiligenstadt’s spokeswoman had to admit. For Christian Democrats like Thumler, this is further proof of red-green disinterest: "The fact that these important figures are missing speaks volumes," the CDU said.

In response to the CDU’s question as to whether "German language skills are the most important means of integration and orientation" for refugees, the Lower Saxony Ministry of Education answered simply "Yes."

But how many refugees actually attend Lower Saxony’s schools, however, is not known. The only thing that is clear is that 2,676 children between applied for asylum in 2014.

Currently just under 78,000 students receive some form of language support – at a cost of around 112 million euros.

Heiner Scholing, spokesman for school policy for the Green Party in the state parliament, was also irritated by the lack of data. Nevertheless, Christian Democrat Thumler’s sole fixation on the instrument of language learning classes is populist, Scholing said: "Measures like individual remedial classes create more opportunities for social contact with children whose native language is German." After all, he said, intensive courses offer good opportunities for language acquisition as quickly as possible, but immigrants often remain among themselves. In rural areas in particular, they also have to put up with long distances to the school center in the nearest town.

In general, learning the German language is only one part of educational integration, said Kai Weber of the Refugee Council in Lower Saxony: "Many young people between the ages of reach Germany only after a years-long odyssey, during which they naturally did not go to school." Nevertheless, it is assumed that their compulsory education has been fulfilled – thus school-leaving qualifications are missing as the most important prerequisite for professional integration. "The CSU-led Bavaria set up a special program years ago that leads refugees to school-leaving qualifications," Weber said. "Red-Green in Lower Saxony should take an example from this."