Young refugees at a German school
Young refugees at a German school

Hundreds of thousands of children have fled to Germany since 2015 and they are entitled to receive an education. How have German schools, universities and education authorities handled the demand?

School administrator Sibylle Clement is optimistic: "Many children can already make themselves understood quite well in only a few months time, although they couldn't speak any German at the beginning," she says. 25 refugee children are being taught at her primary school in the Northern part of Bonn, Germany.  She receives support from support from students who study German as a foreign language at Bonn University. The children also help each other. Even with the help of these volunteers, the size of the teaching staff has not changed. Nonetheless she says, "I can't complain."  

One can only estimate the number of children and teenagers that have arrived in Germany as refugees over the past few years. According to the German Federal Office of Migration and Refugees (BAMF), there were around 300,000 asylum applications from minors between January 2015 and December 2016. The actual number of children and teenagers in mid 2017 is likely higher.

Quotation Sibylle Clement

The influx of refugees in 2015 and 2016 means a lot more work for schools. The obligation to attend school in Germany also applies to refugee children: with a bang thousands of new children have come in. The German states have therefore created many new teaching positions. According to a DW survey, North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), the state that has taken in the most refugees, has added 5,800 positions, with 1200 positions for those who teach German as a foreign language. In addition, 3.5 million euros have been made available for further education, learning materials and temporary staff. The education ministry in NRW estimates that around 42,000 students have immigrated in during the 2015-2016 school year.

Additional teachers for refugees in Germany

There were also investments being put into the Southwestern state of Baden-Württenberg. The state has created 1,000 additional teaching positions for around 40,000 refugee children. In Bavaria there were 1,100 new positions allotted. Keep in mind that Baden-Württemberg had 87,000 asylum applications submitted, while Bavaria had 84,000 and NRW 203,000.

Waiting time and missing standards    

Despite these efforts, not all children can go straight to school. In some German states, compulsory school attendance sets in already when the asylum application has been submitted, while in others there is a months-long waiting period. That means that minors who live in reception centers have to wait a while before they go to school. This is a loss of valuable time that could be used to learn German.

Quotation Wilfried Bos

The situation in the schools itself is in need of an improvement, Wolfgang Bos, an education expert at the Council of German Foundations for Integration and Migration notes. The current teachers are not trained sufficiently to instruct refugee children with poor German skills. "It's not enough for the teacher to repeat explanations to the students - just twice as loud," he stay. It's also not regulated how long children have to stay in preparatory classes. There are also no federal assessment tests for the refugee students.

Level of education in country of origin

Young adults over the age of 18 are not subject to compulsory education and have to score points with their completed education qualification. The good news: according to a survey conducted by the BAMF of around 25,000 asylum applicants, most of them went to secondary school - more than 65 percent. 17 percent even have a university degree. The bad news: only one-fifth of respondents had only attended primary school and ten percent of those surveys did not have any education at all. For them it would be very difficult to break into the German job market.

At the universities, the German federal government is expecting a small surge in attendance: around 70,000 applications of refugees are expected to flow in during the coming years. However, residence restrictions significantly restrict the selection of universities for high school graduates ("Abitur" in German).

Quotation Nariman Hamchoro

The German vocational training model is popular - a practical field of study requires less German proficiency than courses on a university. According to a study commissioned by the Institute of the German Economy, 10 percent of German companies employ refugees. In large companies of more than 250 employees this may be as high as a third. However small companies also offer training or internships. Nariman Hamchoro, for example, is a hairdresser and owns a salon in Bonn-Bad Godesberg, where she offers vocational training. She can still remember the difficulties of the job search. She arrived in Germany in 2004 from Syria. "Good language skills are key," she said.