Together instead of Alone – Inclusion at German Schools
Germany is on the way to inclusive schools in which children with and without disabilities sit in the same classroom. A system that can benefit school children with immigrant backgrounds, from socially disadvantaged families and the intellectually gifted. The goal: the education of all children should be fostered equally.
Kevin stuck out already in kindergarten. He could hardly sit still, did not obey the rules and fought with the other children. He spoke little, and then usually in incomplete sentences. When it was time for him to go to school, his path was already mapped out: while other children in the same age group entered elementary school, Kevin was sent to the special school. He never graduated – like nearly 80 percent of the children in this type of school. The German school system wrote stories like this one for decades. No other country in Europe has special schools. Regarded as the fourth pillar of the German school system, there exist such schools for children with “disabilities” and learning difficulties, for the blind, the deaf, the mentally handicapped and children with social disorders.
Success at an early age is decisive
This also increases the opportunities for immigrant children who begin school with learning and language problems. Above all, after kindergarten, elementary schools assume a social balancing function. Education experts agree that the success in early years is decisive. Yet more money per pupil still flows into secondary schools than into early education.
No chance for the losers of the educational system?
Numerous support programs, prize-worthy projectsAlthough the number of young people who leave school without graduating has slightly decreased, 6.5 percent of each entering class are still affected – and according to the statistics of the Federal Statistical Office, 57 percent of them are from special schools. But there have also been positive developments for the approximately eleven million school children in Germany. Numerous support programs look after disadvantaged pupils, including the federally funded “Alliance for education” that helps with holiday activities, musical and theatrical productions and mentoring programs. In addition, there are programs to ease the difficult transition from school to the work world.
There are now also many exemplary projects: for example, since 2009 the Bertelsmann Foundation has honored successful concepts for inclusive school with the Jakob Muth Prize. One of the prize winners was the Heinrich Zille School in Berlin, which has been promoting inclusion for two decades. The open day school has about 400 pupils and focuses on the creative-artistic field. Among the prize winners in 2012 was the Langbargheide Elementary School in the Hamburg district of Lurup. About 80 percent of its pupils are of non-German origin, less than one percent of the parents have an academic degree, and more than a third receive Hartz IV welfare benefits. Thanks to intensive encouragement of all the children, the school has succeeded in balancing out in many cases the learning lags.
The formula: raise everyone’s potentialSince PISA, empirical research has dealt intensively with the issue of educational opportunity. A new study by the Berlin Centre for Social Research recently refuted for the first time studies according to which teachers recommend for high school fewer immigrant pupils with the same performance and from the same social background as non-immigrant pupils. This is at least a glimmer of hope. Inclusive schools, which encourage the education of children independently of the background and disabilities of the individual, could eliminate some inequalities. Yet the path is bumpy because money and personnel are lacking for the professional realization of the idea. Nevertheless, the formula for a successful school system is no longer “pass on downwards” but rather “raise everyone’s potential”. Children like Kevin can no longer be shunted off.
is an education and science journalist with the “Frankfurter Rundschau” and the “Berliner Zeitung”.
Translation: Jonathan Uhlaner
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion
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