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‘German, not Arabic!’ – POLITICS

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 'German, not Arabic!'  - POLITICS

BERLIN – The huge problem facing Germany in the fight against the influx of refugees is nowhere to be seen as in the school system, which will have to cover tens of thousands of school-age children, most of whom do not speak German.

The government expects about 800,000 refugees to relocate here this year, possibly about a million from Syria, Iraq and beyond. Heinz-Peter Meininger, president of the German Association of Secondary Education Teachers, estimated for POLITICO that about 300,000 of them would be children, almost half before compulsory school age.

Newcomers can attend special classes to learn the German language skills needed to move to school for one year. This is an ambitious goal driven by the need to demonstrate to an increasingly skeptical nation that it can successfully integrate and avoid the nascent backlash against Chancellor Angela Merkel’s short-lived policy of open doors.

But skeptics, including teachers at the forefront, don’t see it.

“It’s unrealistic,” says teacher Sabina Letl. “You need at least two years.”

“We want to give them a good future” – Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The transformation taking place throughout Germany is evident in classes such as Letla. She teaches absolute beginners at a high school on a tree-lined street in Berlin, where 478 “Welcome Classes” were launched this year. Other states have similar initiatives.

Teacher Sabina Letl teaches refugee children German in the so-called “Welcome Class” in Berlin (Janos Delker)

“German, not Arabic!” – shouts Adnan, an Albanian teenager, entering a class where nine of his 14 classmates from Syria and chatter in Arabic fills the room. “German, not Arabic!”

“German, not Arab,” Letl repeats, trying to reassure the students. “Are you new?” She asks the two Korean brothers at the end of the U-shaped group of tables. “Welcome! Now I don’t have enough hands. “

Usually a 47-year-old teacher of German, English and soft drama read Paul Oster’s “Moon Palace” in an English class in high school. She now teaches children who speak almost no German to speak and write words such as “pen”, “ruler” and “scissors”.

Two of her students cannot read or write, which she understood after they did not rewrite what was on the board, but imitated what she said. Letl never learned to teach German as a second language.

However, like other teachers at her school, she took on refugee child classes.

Congratulations on the culture

Merkel, attending one of last week’s classes, admired her distinctive scientific language and said it was a “promising concept” and then spoke favorably to the students themselves, saying: “These children are so enthusiastic and they are so eager to teach. We want to give them a good future. “

That was the day before the so-called “September Tale” – with images of German citizens who greet refugees with applause, impress the world media and make Germans proud of their Welcome culture – sour. The government’s promise to accept refugees, even if it meant a budget collapse, faced opposition from its Bavarian conservative allies, and it had to back down.

“The mood is changing fast,” said one of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s high-ranking officials from the Christian Democratic Union.

Bavarian Prime Minister Horst Seehofer, leader of the Christian Social Union, a sister party of Merkel’s CDU, has poured cold water on the idea of ​​an open door policy for refugees, although asylum seekers from countries such as Syria and Afghanistan. who have already reached Germany will probably be able to stay.

“We are at a stage where we are facing a huge problem, both for the states – for example, in schools, teachers and social security – and for the federal government in Berlin,” – Gerda Hasselfeldt, said in an interview with the head of the faction. CSU in the Bundestag in Berlin. “After all, it’s a huge challenge for Germany.”

Despite the drama, this is not an unprecedented event for Germany.

Since its founding in 1949, the Federal Republic has twice experienced similar – or even greater – waves of immigration: in the early 1970s with the arrival of mostly Turkish “guest workers” as part of hiring for Germany’s economic boom; and in the early 1990s, when a combination of “late repatriates” (ethnic Germans, mostly from the former Soviet Union) and refugees from the war in the former Yugoslavia flocked to the country.

The right skills

This time there are serious differences.

“The so-called ‘guest workers’ already had jobs in the 1970s when they came, and there were no attempts to integrate them,” said Stevan Sievert of the Berlin Institute for Population and Development, a think tank focused on demographic change.

The plan was for the workers to return home in a couple of years, but many of them stayed forever, changing German society.

Despite this, Germany is still one of the fastest aging and shrinking populations in the world, and one of Merkel’s arguments for welcoming this wave of migrants is that they can solve the country’s demographic deficit.

“The so-called” guest workers “in the 1970s already had a job when they came” – Tanker

“It’s not that simple,” Sievert said. “People need to be properly qualified and speak the language.”

He referred to this year’s survey by the Lovech Foundation, which showed that two-thirds of refugees already in Germany had never received vocational training and were therefore considered low-skilled workers in the German labor market. Even at this level it can be difficult to find a job.

“Legally, asylum seekers can work in three months, but who hires a person whose asylum status is not yet being considered?” Said Democrat Sievert. “The most important thing is to speed up decision-making in the asylum application process,”

A spokesman for the Interior Ministry said the goal was being pursued “with great vigor”.

“I come from Berlin”

At the same time, every school-age child in the country, regardless of the status of their family’s asylum application, is entitled to education, but depending on the state in which they receive it, it may appear immediately upon arrival or through six months “. residence.

This will require an additional 10,000 teachers a year in the coming years, said Maidinger of the Teachers Association, calling for new funding for the school system to avoid a deterioration in education that could cause outrage among beginners.

“If it seems that our existing education system is getting worse for students who are already here, because of the refugee children who get into the system, there may be a problem of acceptance. This could go beyond the problems of parents who complain that their children cannot use gyms, ”said Maidinger, referring to local authorities who use school gyms as emergency shelters for refugees.

Back in the classroom, Sabina Letl and her colleagues deal with practical issues such as finding age-appropriate textbooks for teenage students.

“You can’t use children’s textbooks with ladybugs, and at the same time you can’t use adult textbooks that ask students about their training,” she says.

When the German lesson comes to an end, Letl walks around the room from one student to another, asking them where they live. “Ich komme aus Berlin,” they say one after another, “I’m from Berlin.”

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