Graham Attwell: Refugees and the challenge for education in Germany

Graham Attwell Written by
Friday, 06 November 2015 14:17
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One of the big talking points at last weeks DISCUSS conference in Munich was the current influx of refugees into Germany and the challenges for public services. It seems up to 5000 refugees are arriving daily at Munich’s main railways station.

Most participants at the conference would agree with Marcel Fratzscher, the head of the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW), who is reported in today’s Guardian newspaper as saying  the hundreds of thousands of newcomers this year as well as the hundreds of thousands more expected over the coming years, are a major opportunity for Germany and that its strong financial position makes it ideally placed to welcome them.

“In the long run the refugees are an incredible opportunity for Germany,” Fratzscher said. “Because of the surplus in the public budget, and a labour market that’s doing incredibly well, there’s probably never been a better moment in the last 70 years for Germany to deal with the challenge.”

But the concerns expressed by participants in the DISCUSS conference were more short term. Germany has an incredibly well structured and functioning state and local government bureaucracy. But at a time when under pressure it is proving insufficiently flexible to deal with new demands, a position made worse by the rigid hierarchies common in European public services. Furthermore there is little communication between the different services involved in supporting the refugees, resulting individuals being sent from department to department and back again.

For education one of the longer term challenges will be developing infrastructure for instance the need for more kindergartens. In the short term the major challenge is developing provision for language learning and skills and knowledge for employment. Traditionally, refugees have attended language learning courses, prior to enrolment on work orientated programmes. instead now a new programme is being developed called “Living and Working in Germany” which will integrate language learning within work orientated education and training. This programme is designed to last for eight months, with five hours a day of attendance. However, at present the curriculum is still being developed (I only talked with researchers from two German Lander, or regions, and provision may well be different in other German states). Responsibility for the programmes is with the adult education services, often allied to the universities. But they clearly do not have enough teachers for these programmes. In response to this the requirement for teachers to have a special qualification for teaching German as a foreign language is being relaxed. A major pedagogic issue is that the refugees are being treated as a homogeneous group, with well qualified graduates in classes alongside those lacking basic education.

The challenge of ramping up provision is considerable. It was estimated that at the moment less than five per cent of newly arrived refugees are enrolled on courses. Just who gets a place on the courses seems to be somewhat random and this is leading to tensions. Whilst their asylum applications are being processed refugees are not allowed to work in Germany and boredom is seen as a major issue.

One of the learning cafe session groups at the conference focused on the challenge of providing education for the refugees looking for ideas for immediate initiatives and projects. Ideas included the need for better careers advice and occupational guidance, traditionally in Germany integrated in the education and training system. Another idea was to involve Meisters, qualified trade crafts people and owners of Small and Medium Enterprises, in the training programmes. A further idea was to develop mobile applications for language learning and vocational orientation. Although access to computers is limited, many of the refugees have smart phones which are critical to keeping in touch with families. A big issue is how to identify the skills and competences of the refugees and how to recognise or accredit these (I will write a further article on this). It was also pointed out that the European Commission has funded many projects for working with refugees but the results of these projects has all too often failed to be sustainable or properly disseminated.

If anyone would like to be interviewed around ideas of how to deal with these challenges or indeed about the immediate responses, please get in touch by Skype or email. My skype address is GrahamAttwell.

Source: Pontydysgu - Bridge to Learning


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1 comment

  • Comment Link Thomas Fischer Monday, 15 February 2016 17:50 posted by Thomas Fischer

    Following the thoughts and reflections of Graham, I would like to highlight some of the results of the Learning Café on Social Inclusion and Economic Cohesion I was facilitating during the Final Conference. The participants unanimously agreed that ‘Communities of Practice’ (CoPs) can play an important role to support social inclusion and economic cohesion at national level and for different target groups. The following aspects and conditions have been mentioned:

    • CoPs can support learning face-to-face as well as online;
    • CoPs are building on small, flexible and adaptable structures;
    • CoPs can often create better fitting solutions to specific problems and/or settings;
    • Learning should be combined with programmes such as Accreditation of Prior Learning (APL) or Credit Accumulation and Transfer Schemes (CATS).

    ‘Communities of Practice’ (CoPs) can contribute to social inclusion and economic cohesion in the following ways:

    1. The pre-existing knowledge of learners (of all kinds) can be assessed and accredited through communities of experts and/or practitioners of a specific field e.g. nurses, doctors, educators, engineers etc.

    2. This assessment can then contributes to the design of individual qualification programmes and thus supports new (individual and social) learning. (For migrants this assessment and the subsequent intervention planning may start already during the asylum process).

    3. Specialised CoPs are responsible for the assignment of ‘credits’ after learning and qualification activities. The accumulation of those credits over time might lead to a degree in a specific professional field.

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