Germany: Dealing with Migration and Social Integration

January 30th, 2014

German flag

When I research on the Internet, I can easily fall down a few rabbit holes if I am not careful. This time, I was looking for successful, real-world examples of educational and social programs in place for the enormous immigrant and migratory populations here in the EU, specifically focusing on students.

Attempting to understand the dense, and multi-layered issues facing migrant and immigrant children, their parents and teachers, is no simple task. So I decided to start the easy way–– by speaking with a friend here in Germany, who teaches 16 year olds, both German Language and Art. She instantly began to tell me about her “teacher burnout,” which is a growing syndrome here. She had a long list of issues she felt contributed to her extreme level of stress, but the most recent and disturbing one in her many years of teaching, was the constant socio-cultural walls she now runs up against on a daily basis, due to the extreme diversity of her immigrant students. In her class there are; German, Turkish, Kurdish, (that’s right––they fight over here too, in various school gangs), Syrian, Lebanese, Moroccan, Scottish, and kids from the Dominican Republic.

“Teaching German is so hard…” she said.

“Why?” What do you mean, you’re German!” I said.

“No, I mean––I choose to use literature as a multi-level vehicle––literature which conveys an important message, or enlightens them, wakes them up, and inspires them. But most of them don’t understand the content of the story itself…” She said.

“So the language is too difficult for them and it gets in the way?” I asked

“No, no…they have totally different cultural references, and cannot in any way understand or relate to a story chronicling the disintegration of a marriage, specifically, from the P.O.V. of the woman who leaves the marriage. Many of them are from traditional Turkish or Arabic households, and their women do not just pick up and leave. Their radically different cultural references for the relationship between men and women, prevents them from being able to understand, and learn from the content, therefore making it much more difficult to teach them to associate words with feelings…”

This topic of “otherness” is very ”up” over here, because as of January 1, 2014, the EU lifted work restrictions on migrants from Bulgaria and Romania, giving them the same rights as any other migrants in the EU–to live and work freely in the country of their choice.

On January 1, 2014, László Andor, European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, and Inclusion, issued a memo stating: “…The end of the restrictions for Bulgarian and Romanian workers comes at a time of high unemployment and tough budget adjustment in many European countries. In hard times, mobile EU citizens are all too often an easy target: they are sometimes depicted as taking jobs away from local people or, on the contrary, not working and abusing social benefits schemes.”

He was directly referring to the fact that across the EU, Romanians and Bulgarians are unfairly seen as interchangeable with Gypsies, who’ve earned a bad rap for being thieves, ranging from simple pick pocketing to more elaborate schemes. When times are hard…it gets very complicated.

For example, in response to Britain’s scaremongering bias against Romanian and Bulgarian migrants, the Bucharest daily newspaper Gandul, shot back with a satirical ad campaign featuring the Duchess of Cambridge, challenging why anyone would leave Romania for the UK, ”Why don’t you come over… half our women look like Kate, the other half like her sister…”

Well yes, there is still that––leaving Commissioner Ando to acknowledge that,”…the sudden influx of migrants…can put a strain on education, housing and social services…” He went on to outline several positive steps underway to address these problems, in lieu of erecting barriers.

For instance, as of January 1st, each EU country should use at least 20% of its allotted ESU funds on promoting social inclusion and combating poverty. The ESU, European Social Fund, which sets aside over 10 billion euros every year, invests capitol in creating fair opportunities for all EU citizens––young people, job seekers and workers.

There are three important issues, which are inextricably woven together when considering factors that affect successful cultural integration: Poverty and Education, Traditional Values and Morals, and Empowerment. There are also some very hopeful programs designed to address, correct, and bring about greater social equality.

Poverty and Education

Many migrants from within the EU, who have been forced by the euro crisis to look for jobs in other countries, are sitting side by side with refugees fleeing wars and persecution. Most everyone has relocated without much money––if any at all, and are completely dependent at first, on the social welfare systems in their host countries. Sweden tops the list for the best social programs, followed by Norway and Germany, so these states have a heads-up in terms of awareness, though the problems are far from over.

In a recent article in Spiegel Online International, Philipp Steinle, the president of a school in Southwest Germany, who noted that most of the students between the ages of 11 to 16 come from countries deeply affected by the euro crisis is quoted as saying: “We can sense the economic weakness of a country right here by the number of students in this class…the more students from any one country, the worse shape that country is in.”

Here in Germany, as well as many other EU countries, the children of impoverished, and socially disadvantaged families often come from rural Turkish or Arabic backgrounds, with little or no education. Their parents can offer no real role model to help them cope, and integrate, nor can they give them encouraging solutions for changing their economic positions. These children often have difficulty reading and writing in German, and do not receive enough, if any language support at home. They simply offer traditional role-playing; the father works out of the house, and the mother stays home and takes care of the children and the food. It takes an entirely new generation to accept a dual income family, if even then.

Then there is the new phenomenon of children who arrive from countries where their families were already immigrants. A recent article titled: Children of Crisis: German Schools Struggle with Wave of Immigrants, also on the Spiegel Online International website explains, “This is a totally new phenomenon, brought about by the euro crisis,” says Michaela Menichetti, integration commissioner for the school district in Reutlingen, also near Stuttgart. For many students, their arrival in Germany is their second time starting from scratch. “We have Turkish students who are coming to us from Bulgaria, Russian-born students from Portugal and Greeks from Russia. It’s an enormous challenge for the schools.”

One school in the EU that has been attempting to deal with these issues is the Green Leaves Vocational School, close to Lille, France. Because of the complexity of the situation and their personal backgrounds, many young people choose to drop out of formal education. Herlé Bossennec explains, “We offer them a different approach, combining work placements with formal learning in the school. It’s a supple system that can be adapted to individual needs,” he adds. The young people want to get the necessary vocational skills for interesting work, and given a chance to progress, they often develop a desire and determination to continue.

In Switzerland, there is a similar dropout rate among low-income migrant, and immigrant students. At Unterstrass High School in Zurich, a program called ChagALL, has had a high degree of success. Partially funded by The Jacobs Foundation, and the Department of Education of the Canton of Zurich, the program “…provides targeted training and support to motivated young people with immigrant background and low-income families to help them make the transition to more advanced schooling. If the young people pass the entrance examination, they continue to receive support for the first two years so that the program achieves a lasting effect.”

Traditional Values and Morals

As my friend the teacher confided, the confusing mixture of traditional values and morals, which immigrants from Arabic and Eastern countries bring with them to their host countries, pose special, and extraordinary sets of problems for students, teachers, and parents.

One thing I never really thought about was the difficulty of communicating with parents when things are not going well in school. This is especially true when it comes to the roles men and women are expected to play in society. As the mothers are the ones at home, teachers often must use an interpreter. On the rare occasion when the women do speak some German, they are still bound by tradition, moral values, and cultural imperatives. These women simply do not see the need to assimilate, or change their ways of thinking.

In my friend’s school, all girls must complete a swimming lesson, or risk failing their Physical Activity class, which in the long run can hold them back from advancing easily into the next year. Germans do not like to fail––more than most, and therefore believe that this is enough impetus to scare someone into doing what is required. In many of the cultures the teachers interact with, much is negotiable. Here is a quick example she shared with me:

“Hello Mrs. Tilki, we have a problem with Irem. She needs to complete her swimming course but she refuses to wear the Muhajabah Plus, which is the covering popular with some of the other girls here…”

“Oh yes I know.” Mrs. Tilki said.

“Well. Mrs. Tilki––I’m afraid that is not an option. However she can submit a written letter from her doctor stating there is a good medical reason why she cannot go in the water.”

“Oh yes…she has a good reason…she does not like the water. It makes her skin itch.”

“In that case, she would not have to participate and there will be no penalty. But I’ll need a letter from your doctor.”

“Yes, well the Doctor said she is perfectly fine, in perfect health.”

“Listen, then she must complete the swimming course or else take the failure. If she does that, she must then get a perfect score in the following semester’s physical fitness class.”

“Yes, we will do it like that then,” said Mrs. Tilki.

Since 2005, the Goethe Institute in Germany has offered a unique Summer Camp based on the model created by a team of educational scientists from the Center for Educational Research at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, also in Bremen. They organized a Summer Vacation camp for children from immigrant and socially disadvantaged families with weak German skills. The camp, focused on improving language skills by combining two different kinds of language support platforms: language support via somewhat traditional language lessons, and indirect language support through theater workshops. The non-threatening role-playing in the theater groups, allows the children to gain a better cultural understanding of their new country, helps them to lose their fears of social engagement, and has the added affect of boosting their self-confidence and feeling of community. The results have been very encouraging.


Empowerment

A recent program on the German News featured a hopeful story about a project in Berlin called Heroes, which attempts to help young boys in Muslim families break with traditional behavior patterns in regards to gender roles.

The Goethe Institute website page “Migration and Integration,” currently features an article titled, “Heroes Of Berlin-Neuköll” which explains that the goal of the program is to”… help the boys in Muslim families, to stand up for an end to honor being used as a means of suppression.”

One teacher quoted in the article said, “… Her students have such a weird concept of honor that it often affects their learning abilities – even the slightest form of criticism insults their honor.”

The Hero Project, consists of groups of boys with a peer leader/mentor, which meet for a prolonged period of time, attend lectures, go to exhibitions, and participate in discussions about codes of honor, self-determination and equality.

They go into the community and visit school workshops, which involve acting out gender role reversals, and answering the subsequent questions, which usually arise. The leaders of these groups are boys that want to change these traditional ways of thinking, and give the boys in their group the understanding and help to empower them to protect and defend their sisters and girlfriends, especially in cases of perceived loss of honor.

This is great news. Heroes was the brainchild of Dammar Riedel-Breidenstein, a sociologist from Sweden, who collaborated with other sociologists and gender researchers. The World Childhood Foundation which is an organization that supports projects worldwide, aimed at preventing abuse and exploitation of children, has funded the project, since 2007.

While the problems are many, and may seem overwhelming, I found it very hopeful that the EU has begun to address the deeper layers of issues and obstacles facing integration, with creative and socially aware programs. The EU Commission seems to have realized that left un-checked and ignored; this new reality is a perfect breeding ground for social instability, and more crisis…which no one needs.

Jeannie Winston Nogai
Owner / Winston Nogai Design
www.jeanniewinston.com / E: jeanniewn@gmail.com

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Filed under Credentials, Education, History, Human Interest, Politics, Travel, Uncategorized

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