Forum Migration 2016

‘Integration via Education! New Approaches for Refugees’

‘Integration via Education! New Approaches for Refugees’. This was the topic of the 21st FORUM MIGRATION held on 8th December 2016 in the Post Tower in Bonn.

‘We can do it’. These were the words of pastor Dr. Wolfgang Picken as he talked about integrating into Germany’s educational system people who fled there from war, prosecution and eviction – and everyone agreed. He continued that the task was also a - positive - challenge for the educational system. And ‘We can do it, because civil society made it possible’, he said.

Dr. Rainer Wend, director of the Zentralbereich Politik und Regulierung (Central Department Politics and Regulation) of the Deutsche Post DHL Group, welcomed guests to the 21st FORUM MIGRATION in the Post Tower in Bonn. The international scale of his company was clear from the numbers he cited: with the 3,000 employees in Bonn hailing from 52 nations, and 50,000 employees world-wide, Deutsche Post is represented in every country in the world. Dr. Wend stated self-critically that the publicly traded Deutsche Post should be a model when it came to the integration of refugees. As at that day, the company had 364 interns, 136 permanent employees, and 14 trainees - which were not enough. The main obstacles were language and qualifications.

Dr. Lothar Theodor Lemper, Chair of the OBS, thanked all the members of the OBS advisory board for the organisation of the FORUM. In his opening speech, he illustrated the world-wide refugee situation and how this is seen in Europe and Germany; of the 65 million people fleeing from war, prosecution, eviction, famine, climate change, lack of rights and prospects, more than 90% live in developing or emerging nations. Germany took in more than one million refugees, one in eighty of the population. Given these numbers, he explicitly supported Chancellor Angela Merkel’s statement ‘We can do it’.

Dr. Lemper asked that the refugees’ largely traumatic experiences be borne in mind. Child care workers, teachers and trainers would all have to grapple with this topic. He reminded them that in most cases, refugees had lost everything – family, connections, home, possessions – but they had brought with them their skills and qualifications, and those they could build upon. All we had to do was help them to use them here. Dr. Lemper asked that everyone present ultimately take on ‘integration responsibility’, instead of worrying whether we could. In this context he welcomed the increase in the Higher Education Guarantee Fund, which the OBS uses on behalf of the Bundesministerium für Familie, Senioren, Frauen und Jugend (Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth) to finance language courses for academic migrants so that they can start or continue their degree.

The director of the Sachverständigenrat deutscher Stiftungen für Integration und Migration (Expert Council of German Foundations on Integration and Migration), Professor Dr. Thomas Bauer, regards employment as the key to integration. His presentation was titled ‘Refugee migrants in education and apprenticeships: Challenges and perspectives’. He delivered figures on the age and educational structures of those who sought asylum in 2015, stating that some 250,000 children and young people had been incorporated into the German educational system. 58% of the refugees had spent 10 or more years at school, in apprenticeships or secondary education, of whom 13% have a university degree and 6% a professional qualification. Professor Dr. Bauer remarked that – compared to the total migrant population – the proportion of mediocre qualifications was low. He described the refugees’ educational aspirations as high. The resulting challenges for our educational system were:

•    placing children in schools quickly
•    enabling access to dual apprenticeships (e.g. ‘Examining modular training courses’)
•    recording the qualifications and competences that had been gained in the country of origin (instead of fixating on formal degrees)

In a moderated discussion on the challenges of educational integration locally, pastor Dr. Wolfgang Picken illustrated how the round-table discussion in Bad Godesberg brought together all those involved in refugee aid – both professionals and voluntary workers – to organise the ever-changing challenges. Once initially housed, in order to rapidly learn the language unconventional language courses were organised without waiting for formal recognition. Then for the most part young men needed some guidance on what they could do - ‘that needs time and patience.’ In the area of kindergarten and school, Dean Dr. Picken explained it has today become obvious that we should no longer talk about education as family-supporting, but often instead as family-replacing. That brings new professional and time-related challenges that will stretch our system – already stretched to the limit by investment delays - even further, to the limits of what is possible.

In his passionate statement, Dr. Picken made clear that integration could only succeed through personal connection. This means that successful cooperation between state and society could serve as a blueprint for other issues such as education or care for the elderly and the sick. As a consequence, however, that also meant that society wants be part of political decisions.

Dr. Lale Akgün, a psychologist and psychotherapist in Cologne, emphasised that schools should not be left alone to care for traumatised children – social workers, therapists and psychologists need to be included too. It was also important to treat the children as if they were staying long-term, because a ‘life on-hold is no life’. To integrate successfully, Dr. Akgün recommended schools work with parents. She called upon migrant organisations to support new arrivals, based on their own experiences. Dr. Akgün made clear that refugees had to navigate a process between euphoria and disappointment, during which they needed support.

Tobias Schmidt, who coordinates voluntary work in Passau, talked about how the city had managed to provide for 8,200 refugees on a daily basis. Voluntary workers organised themselves and received support from the city council through mentoring projects.

Christiane Schüßler, a member of the Ministerium für Schule und Weiterbildung (Ministry for School and Further Education) in North Rhine-Westphalia, reported that NRW had hired 6,500 additional teachers. 40,000 new children and young people were expected from the migration of refugees. In some classes, 50% of the children came from a migration background, requiring language-sensitive teaching methods. As at the date of the forum, NRW had only 186 multi-lingual teachers.

Professor Dr. Andreas Pott, director of the Institut für Migrationsforschung und interkulturelle Studien (IMIS) (Institute of Migration Research and Intercultural Studies) and a member of the OBS advisory board, outlined in his introduction the IMIS research into the process of social advancement, showing that our educational system reproduces inequality instead of overcoming it. Because the system is based on a principle of homogeneity and presupposes ‘normal biographies’, the heterogeneity of a migration society poses a challenge to such an educational system.

Professor Dr. Juliane Karakayali of the Evangelische Hochschule Berlin (Berlin Protestant University of Applied Sciences) described the current results of a study on ‘Schooling recently immigrated children and adolescents in Berlin’. She described five school organisational models for recently immigrated children and young people, identifying the problems of separate schooling: language acquisition in separated classes is described as ineffective, proficiency levels and previous experience of schooling differ immensely, lack of a curriculum, lack of standardised criteria for transfer into regular classes, and that transition is primarily connected with a change of schools etc.

Thomas Böhm, head of the Ausländerstudium division in the Hochschulrektorenkonferenz (German Rectors’ Conference) and Professor Dr. Klaus Deimel, University of Applied Sciences Bonn-Rhine-Sieg, told the audience about ‘new offers for academic migrants’ which included preparatory courses and migrant qualification in order to provide access to the German labour market. Professor Dr. Deimel described the OnTop project that his university carries out together with the OBS within the Network IQ NRW, where specialist terminology is taught, subject-specific knowledge conveyed and intercultural training offered. All 18 participants from 10 nations passed successfully: four had even obtained a work contract before the training had ended.

The deputy principal of the Schiller Gymnasium Cologne, Georg Scheferhoff, and lecturer Dagmar Seeböck, Lessing Gymnasium Lampertheim, illustrated ‘How diversity can succeed in schools’. As a ‘Specialist School for Refugees’ the Schiller Gymnasium has taken a partly-integrative path, in which pupils partly attend regular classes, and has found this approach to work well.

To improve understanding between pupils – 23 nationalities attend the Lessing Gymnasium Lampertheim - a ‘Cultures of the World’ work group was established as a fixed part of the school’s curriculum.

Professor Dr. Birgit Leyendecker, a development psychologist at Ruhr-Universität Bochum, and Volker Abdel Fattah from the Kinder- und Jugendhilfe im AWO-Landesverband Sachsen e. V. (Children and Youth Assistance at the AWO state association Saxony), addressed the topic of ‘New pathways for refugee children: Migrants in pre-school’.  e. V. Both made very clear the importance of the professional intake of seriously traumatised children into pre-school facilities (keyword: bridging projects). Volker Abdel Fattah had first-hand experience of how the integration of children guarantees integration of the family.

‘Vocational schools as bridges to the job market’ was the subject of the talk by Professor Dr. Alfred Riedl of the Technical University of Munich, and Anja Weier from the Dienstleistungszentrum Bildung (Service Centre Education) of the city of Dortmund. Professor Riedl reaffirmed and strongly supported calls for the greater prioritisation of vocational education for successful integration. Mrs Weier demonstrated how the city of Dortmund had centrally informed and advised recently-arrived migrants, and assigned places for them at the Education Service Centre. The ‘angekommen’ (‘arrived’) project that Dortmund carried out with the Walter Blüchert Stiftung and the North Rhine-Westphalian Ministerium für Schule und Weiterbildung (Ministry for School and Further Education) targeted refugees and migrants aged 16 to 25 who were working on their final school exams or wanted to do an apprenticeship. They received teaching tailored to their needs and knowledge level, so that they could attend a regular class as quickly as possible. Alternatively, they would start an apprenticeship during which they will be continually accompanied and advised.

The majority of the 300 FORUM MIGRATION participants used available breaks to exchange views and recap the discussions.

FORUM MIGRATION is funded by


Otto Benecke Stiftung e.V.
Kennedyallee 105-107
53175 Bonn



Salim Bölükbasi
Tel.: 0228 8163-117
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