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Berlin schools 'racially segregating' children

Published: 26 Oct 2012 17:30 GMT+02:00
Updated: 27 Oct 2012 15:00 GMT+02:00

The report, drawn up by the international NGO Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI), noted that children of immigrants are being segregated from native-born German pupils on the putative grounds that their German language skills are inadequate for regular classes.

“In fact, although they speak German as a second language (in most cases), their language skills generally are adequate for regular classes, but serve as a proxy for discrimination on the basis of ethnicity or other suspect criteria,” the OSJI reported.

“The discriminatory practices stigmatise migrant students, undermine their potential to integrate and participate fully in German society, and violate Germany’s obligations to prohibit discrimination,” the report concluded.

Serdar Yazar, of the Berlin Brandenburg Turkish association (TBB), which helped gather data and parents' testimonies for the report, was unsurprised by its conclusions, but said that active segregation was a new development.

"This is a new tendency," he told The Local. "We've had a lot of negative references for children of immigrant background who want to go to other schools, but in the last two or three years we've had more and more cases of separated classes."

He cites one particularly well-known case of a primary school in the Kreuzberg district of Berlin.

"There was a parents' initiative from German parents, who said, 'We're worried because our children won't get a good education, and will have difficulties with the German language. We live in an area with a large number of children with immigrant background. So we have to find a system where there are so-called immigrant classes, and classes with native German speakers.' And the school directors bowed to their wishes," Yazar explained.

The NGO found that school directors were creating separate classes - “with preferential conditions, better teachers, and additional learning projects” - specifically to attract ethnic German parents.

The report added that school administrators were colluding with teachers to keep classes closed to children of immigrants, in order to “guarantee” elite groups to ethnic German parents.

The report also made clear that this segregation was helped by Germany’s three-tier education system, which funnels children into either a Gymnasium, Realschule, or Hauptschule straight after primary school.

This system was criticised by the UN two years ago as encouraging "de facto racial segregation." "The system is still very non-transparent," said Yazar.

"What we find is that children with immigrant background often don't find a place in the popular, attractive schools, apparently because of lack of capacity. And a lot of people don't believe that. There's a very strongly-felt discrimination, and sometimes evidence for it appears."

Yazar also thinks the problem is not just confined to Berlin. "I know cases from North Rhine-Westphalia, and I know a few cases from Hamburg too," he said.

The NGO called on the German government to expand its discrimination laws to include public education, and on teaching authorities to provide additional support for children of immigrant backgrounds to ensure they are integrated into regular classes.

The report was commissioned by the UN for its 106th Human Rights Committee session in Geneva, which runs until November 2.

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Your comments about this article

19:32 October 26, 2012 by raandy
The German system of separating students into Gymnasium, Realschule, and Hauptschule always appeared discriminatory to me.
19:53 October 26, 2012 by gorongoza
Comment: The report by OSJI is no news at all. The issue of language is the pretext used to block intelligent kids with foreign backgrounds from out-performing native German kids. If there is anything the Germans resent is competition of any sort posed by a foreigner. Anybody can argue with me on this one till cows come home but can not convince me otherwise - I have clear evidences to that effect. I presume its one of the hidden secrets of the education curricullum in Germany and for anybody foreign to contest it will be a futile effort. To all the doubting Tomases get it from me: Don`t be fooled. Your German Language skills may be excellent but this is no passport to landing you chances on a job contested by the native Germans - your foreign background will be used against you. Whilst proficiency in the local language is part of the creiteria for a succesful integration , it is not the main determinant - personality is but all what is required. I am disgusted by the way language is being labelled by all and sundry as the main hinderance to successful integration by foreigners. Funny enough people in positions of authority has hooked on this thinking. I believe they know what they are doing.
20:14 October 26, 2012 by Englishted
Personally if you can't speak the language correctly then naturally you will hold back the rest of the class.

My child's mother speech is German and I would want that there would be no waiting for non-speakers to catch up.

I have read numerous articles in "The Local" about state money being spent to help children from other lands learn German in extra classes isn't that racially segregating as well but beneficial to them .
20:22 October 26, 2012 by Berlin fuer alles
Agree with you gorongoza. It goes further than that. The whole system in Germany is designed to protect Germans from competition. Skilled workers from outside Germany cannot earn as much as Germans of the same skill because they do not have the relevant "Ausbildung". The Germans are masters of creating a free trade and movement of labour zone in the EU and availing of all its advantages but when it comes to letting the traffic flow the other way they all of a sudden have a series of red lights and barriers cleverly put in place.
20:50 October 26, 2012 by ChrisRea
I am far from arguing with you. Still, I am curios about your clear evidences. So, can you please share them with me/us? Thanks.
22:03 October 26, 2012 by lenny van
In order to solve this problem, creativity and flexibility are necessary, but these are qualities in which the Germans are deficient.

Neither I, my wife or our two year old son spoke German when my job took us to Germany. We wanted to fully integrate into German society, so instead of attending an international school our son was educated in the German educational system. Despite having an I.Q. over 130 and regular tutoring classes in German, our son was barely able to qualify for the Gymnasium, but his grades in German were always only just above passing.

He was in the last class of the nine year Gymnasium and in the eigth and ninth classes, he failed to get a 4 in German. After the eighth class he passed the qualifying tests to get in the ninth class, but after the ninth class, he was told that he either had to retake the ninth class or go to the Haupt Schule. (It was too late to transfer to the Real Schule.) Thinking like an American, I suggested that three years of Latin was enough, but, of course, substituting something else for Latin was not possible because of the way the German school system was structured.

We chose to have him take the ninth class again. since there wasn't any more ninth classes in the G9, he was put into the G8. We assumed that he would be put into the eighth class in the G8, but the "book" says that a student who fails a class has to take the same NUMBERED class over, so he was put into the ninth class of the G8. This was the equivalent of going into the tenth class in the G9 in a brand new curriculum with different prerequisite classes. It was far more difficult than continuing than if he had continued with his former classmates.

Fortunately, a place opened up in a wonderful Waldorf School in the second half of the year and and our son got the Abitur the same time that his former classmates got theirs in the Gymnasium. The added benefit was that all of our lives were transformed for the better. The enormous stress was lifted and we were all much happier.
22:15 October 26, 2012 by GolfAlphaYankee
talk about "Deutschland schafft sich ab " !

I bet writing a book about this shameful discrimination will not sell millions of copies....
22:51 October 26, 2012 by Jay Moore
Comment removed by The Local for breach of our terms.
23:43 October 26, 2012 by avinicp7
I am not here to argue :) but just want put some of my experiences here.... In a mixed society you can always expect differences, I think one need to solve them in a delicate way (as everything is linked to race and community). Neither foreigners nor locals should pin point every small mistake and look in zoom. Germany is still developing to make a good integration (superficially or wholeheartedly). One need to wait and try to improve as much they can from every aspect.

@ChrisRea: Sorry to be a bit offensive, I hope you are not going around your eyes closed and not followup the news now and then. I would be surprised if you don't find at least some evidence. The simplest example you can see is in the comment number #8 Jay Moore, If you want integration, I hope this is not a very welcoming way.

My personal experience:

Example1: I love to speak German as much as I can and try to practice now and then. I had a visa interview and I got stuck in explaining one aspect in German (or) the person is misunderstanding me. When I wanted to switch to English, they forced me to speak in German, even though they know very good English.

Example2: We have been living in a studentenwerk and they had to close down the building for some reasons on a short notice. That time we still had contact for one more year. In this case, they had to provide us some accommodation in one of the remaining buildings, if they had vacancies. We went and applied and they told that they don't have rooms. But we Knew that there were rooms vacant. We went and asked again and they they told us the vacant rooms are in a WG where German students are living and we cannot allot you in this.

If some one tells me this not called a discrimination, I would be thrilled. But in neither of the cases, we didn't make this as a big issue.

If still some educated local people cannot be able to accept that there are friendly internationals who wants to integrate into German society are facing problems due to more strict attitude from some authorities (definitely not all, it's getting better now a days, hopefully), then no one can improve the situation.

so that it buddies, take it easy. If you have any simple solutions that would be great to share here :) :)
00:03 October 27, 2012 by lovemymac&cheez
what do you people expect? Although Germans LOVE to wear Abercrombie (just look at the huge line waiting for the opening in Bavaria today!!) and appear as if they were progressive in their beliefs, the reality is they have been through a lot.

Lets give the Germans a break: One day they are forced to live on noodles, potatoes, kolrabi with rationed food- the next day they have to convince the world they are at the same level as other societies that have NEVER had to go through such. It won't happen.

War and poverty leave scars in each one of them. Societies can develop ECONOMICALLY but this doesn't imply they have evolved CULTURALLY. This is all being hidden under the rug because its unimportant- what matters is that they can buy Abercrombie. For now. They are just happy not having to remember about the times of eating like homeless.

And this hypocrisy of the immigrants having to give up their cultural identities to fit in... lets ask the Germans who of them integrated when they had to immigrate to Romania, Tirol or Volga- NONE. They maintained their own culture and refused to integrate to their adopted countries.

Germany does better without memory... because the moment we start remembering oh boy!!!!
00:16 October 27, 2012 by Jay Moore
Comment removed by The Local for breach of our terms.
00:26 October 27, 2012 by lovemymac&cheez
Jay Moore- are you sure your name isn't Johannes? :)

Cultural Advancement lesson #1: Immigrants are people. You treat them fairly and equally.

Cultural Advancement lesson #2: People lie where conditions are better, in other words, it's all about the Euros! - sorry, to break it for you.

Cultural Advancement lesson #3: Professionals don't grow on trees. And Germany doesn't produce enough of them.

Cultural Advancement lesson #4: In order to stay away from the dreadful kohlrabi, Johannes and Helmut will have to allow Amit to bring his wonderful foreign acquired qualifications which the German system does not have. Yay.... Johannes, even if your relentless little self rebels against the very fundamental notion of pursuit of happiness regardless of background... just do it for your imported T-shirts, ok?
00:33 October 27, 2012 by avinicp7
I hope the issue here is about integration of the people in Germany. Whether they are more smarter than Germans or not is not the issue. Of course I like Germans as a part of work. They work hard, punctual and the country had great innovations, this makes it the country more industrialized.

One of the main reasons why people come here is due to more industrialized nation and having wide number of technologies that you can work with. This is not always the case in other countries. I think anyone who is good at what they do are smart enough, they don't have to come from Germany. If they are not smart enough, then the smart German companies won't recruit them anyway. I think if you start comparing the smartness between people especially naming race and country base, then there is no point of further discussion on integration.
00:44 October 27, 2012 by lovemymac&cheez
Avinicp7: I couldn't agree more- in an ideal world all cultures accept people for what they are: PEOPLE.

But when you look around and see that in order to do the most basic thing to integrate such as applying for a job, you have to provide a picture that reveals your ethnicity, color, age, and your date of birth.... then you start wondering about equality and objective qualification. Along with that, what about Equal Housing opportunities?

Integration is a 2 way street, and some societies refuse to acknowledge that and pass the buck to the immigrants as their problem, or the government. Issue is the society, which takes longer to culturally evolve and cannot be coerced just with a simple rule.
01:28 October 27, 2012 by amiibel
I'm someone who would be portrayed as a typical "auslander". As soon as I have come here I started to look for a German language course for myself and I have found a Tagesmutter for my son, so he can learn from a native speaker even if it is few hours a day. I'm buying him children books in German, we re watching cartoons, meeting others (what it s not always so easy in a foreigners dominated environment). Am trying my best but I do not fool myself that as long as we re not speaking German at home there will be some language deficient. Should the school later help my child and continue to develop his language skills or reject him because of our backgrounds? I feel that is very unjust that despite all my efforts my child can feel one day that he was unprivileged.
02:21 October 27, 2012 by marimay
Theyre just scared. I bet if you find out who the top of the class is in most schools they will be a different ethnicity.
03:38 October 27, 2012 by StoutViking
I find it odd that only the head of the Turkish association brings this up. Plenty of other ethnicities live in Germany, I don't see them run around complaining all day.

Are they segregating Russians or Africans too?

I immigrated with my parents (tho not to Germany) at 7 years of age, with no previous knowledge of the language. I was the only kid in class who didn't speak the language, so there was no point segregating me. They let me study math and whatever subjects that didn't require speech (drawing/music/whatever) and during some classes I was "segregated", along with other newly immigrated kids or kids with learning difficulties and put us in a small studying group to help us all catch up. In the end I skipped 2 grades, so if these kids are so smart they too should have no difficulty.

I must say this "segregation" I had did a lot of good for me. I can't imagine I could have learned if I had another dozen foreigners who didn't speak the native tongue in class with me, holding everyone back and taking all of the teacher's attention. The small study groups put us all on track: immigrants and kids with learning difficultries.

Children learn a new language fairly easily from hearing it around them. So unless they don't socialize with Germans (like many immigrants whom you find living there for 15 years and still speak broken German), there won't be a problem and you don't even need a Schprachschule. I never been to one and we continued speaking our native tongue at home, none the less I speak the language of my current country of residense fluently, easily bypassing the locals. Altogether I speak 4 languages.
17:22 October 27, 2012 by ChrisRea
@ avinicp7 #9

You are aware that anecdotal evidence is far from clear evidence, right? And that the challenge for gorongoza is related to the "If there is anything the Germans resent is competition of any sort posed by a foreigner. Anybody can argue with me on this one till cows come home but can not convince me otherwise - I have clear evidences to that effect." statement?

I still have to figure out wherefrom did you take the idea of me going around with my eyes closed.
18:47 October 27, 2012 by avinicp7
As I don't want go into arguments, I think several colleagues here discussed or pointed out their experiences regards to integration. They could be small or significantly evident but still they are evident to their own circumstances. If you still pretend that nothing happened, then let it be like that (or) may be you have never notice as you mentioned :). The entire wish here is to make the situation better, if one can, hopefully.

Cheers :)
06:47 October 28, 2012 by ChrisRea
Oh, so accumulated frustration led to put more words into the mouth of somebody who never said them. And you refuse a dialogue that might lead to clearly define the problem and find a solution. Adding poor language knowledge to that already gives an idea of what could cause poor integration (at least in some cases).
08:02 October 28, 2012 by wires
My grandfather, a third generation German-American, knew no German at all. I asked him if his parents spoke German at home. The question surprised him and he said: of course not. Reminiscing, he also told me that even on the school playground only English was allowed. That was in Newark, NJ.

And here am I, applying for German citizenship.

On a similar note: a Turkish mother whose children are in the same Kita as my kids, is worried sick about which school to send her children. She's afraid that they'll be dragged down by those who speak poor German ...and poor Turkish. Two Turkish acquaintances of mine send their children to "elite" German-English bilingual schools. It's a class thing.
11:48 October 28, 2012 by soros
My family emigrated from Europe to N. America when i was seven. I was not segregated as there were only three others in my situation. Instead, I was left to flounder in a Grade One English-speaking class where I understood absolutely nothing for about a year. There were no ESL classes in those days.

The result of this is that I have never been 'integrated' but have developed a sense of alienation stemming from my inability to comprehend the language and even sports like baseball. I was in fights constantly: the foreign kid against the pack of foreign-hating native children.

Dont talk about something you have not emotionally experienced. A separate program or tutoring would have gone a long way towards integration.
17:35 October 28, 2012 by wires
@soros. If you were addressing my comment, I am surprised at the opinion that one may only talk about what they've personally experienced. Also, I'm surprised by your experiences in North America (USA?). Generally, the American school system is better than the German system when it comes to additional after-school help.

At a similar, albeit different personal level -being older at the time-, my first semester at the TU Berlin was very hard. My street German wasn't enough to understand lectures. However, I made friends with Germans, compared notes, looked up words and succeeded with high grades, more importantly I made a huge effort integrating.

Language is a cultural and social thing. Parents have the most responsibility in respect to their own children, especially when they decide on residence in a foreign country.
18:38 October 28, 2012 by WhiteRabbit1807
Comment removed by The Local for breach of our terms.
22:25 October 28, 2012 by Derlowemann
It all depends, if the students are keeping or holding the natural born students back because the teachers have to take longer to assist the children of immigrants because their German is lacking then I see no problem in putting them in different classes. You should never put advanced children in the same class as slower learning or underachieving children or in this case children that need to learn the language better to keep up. Otherwise they will never progress correctly and will always feel inadequate. They need to do this to get the other children up to speed so they can eventually join the other kids in later grades. I know people will always look for a reason why or to shift blame but they should be happy that a country is doing what they can to give children a better education and better living than the country they came from. If it was not better there they would not be immigrating to Germany, instead of complaining they should be happy that they will still have to learn as much to graduate to the same standards as the natural born students.
14:22 October 29, 2012 by beelzebub2
I have heard this to be true from English parents I know. It began in the first grade. All the English and other Migrant kids got herded into one class, and all the pure-bred Germans into another. The reason the story annoyed me so much is how the kids at that age are so open to integration with eachother, and this kind of segragation just ruins everything.

Tja, Deutschland. Ihr macht's Euch ganz schoen schwer!
16:07 October 29, 2012 by Beachspirit
Germany has an illusion of integration, but that is all it is.

From the point workers have to submit resumes with photo's attached, which screams inequality. The employers can screen people based off race, age and sex. Then, If you do get the job. They send German workers to your employers who they feel may be better at your potential job than you. Germany wants foreign businesses to invest in them, but they don't care about foreigners at all.

The best way to live and thrive in Germany is to have your own business.

I think they are discriminating against this children and it is really terrible.
16:34 October 29, 2012 by V28
What a sad state of affairs. Oh well, life is a cycle. You give what you get. They are just really scared of competition. I see it everyday. They are just not able to keep up with the Asians, hence, the subtle ways of suppression.
17:18 October 29, 2012 by mo_slum
Comment removed by The Local for breach of our terms.
17:28 October 29, 2012 by peach38
I have to agree with Englishted - as a native German speaker who went to Grundschule here, I really *was* held back by the immigrant kids in my class. More than half the class was from a foreign background, which meant that my poor teacher basically had to teach them the language first instead of teaching the rest of us what we were really supposed to be learning. Whenever a new concept was introduced, she would have to explain it multiple times, sloooowly, to those kids who had trouble with a lot of the words, while the native German speakers in our class had already understood it and were ready to move on to the next subject.

So yes, I do believe that German children's education is suffering because of this, and I don't think that separating students based on language skills is a bad idea. If their German gets better they can always move up to the higher class, but until then they shouldn't be holding back the other kids.
12:03 November 3, 2012 by daren giveen
The world system to separate countries appears discriminatory to me.

The nature system to separate water and fire appears discriminatory to me.

The regular system to separate genders appears discriminatory to me.

I need to get fast money from an american tycoon and to build up my easy "Foundation" and to work for the UN system !
12:00 November 9, 2012 by Ivanchoxx
Well, I saw a good deal of resentment in the opinions stated in this forum. It says a lot about the hardships that some immigrants have experienced here in Germany but under no circumstances shall those accounts be taken as a rule; let us see them more as the sour grapes on those guys¦#39; side. I came to Germany 8 years ago as a master¦#39;s student of chemical engineering, after finishing my thesis work I got a job in a branch of an American company located in Baden-Württemberg. I spent 3 years there and now I am employed in a german company as a project manager, making around 60 grand a year. I have to admit to not having good language skills at the beginning of my career in this country but my employers have not cared much about that; what really matters in the end is your qualifications. And that not is not the only case I can tell: all my college fellows have found great jobs and some of them are even working for large blue-chip german corporations (Siemens, Thyssen-Krupp, EADS). I advise those guys to polish their CV a little more, maybe to get better education and be sure that 99% of your discrimination whine will be gone.

Best Regards
15:48 November 13, 2012 by jg.
People are often happy to espouse the benefits of integrated education until it comes to their own children (like the British politician, Diane Abbott).

If you try to force integrated education on the locals then they will start moving to avoid it - as has happened in the UK. Many families have moved home and even changed their jobs to move to areas with fewer immigrants and schools with fewer problems (drugs, violence, poor results). The result is that the ghetto effect in the larger cities is increased, with entire areas and their schools becoming virtual no-go areas for the indigenous population. Many schools in the centre of London now have a huge majority of children for whom English is a second language and where the prospects for pupils are bleak. Nobody who cares about their children's future would choose to send them to such a school.
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