How long will the children and young people from Ukraine who have fled to Germany stay? How can the mistakes of a parallel school system hostile to integration in the 1970s be avoided and what experiences from the refugee movements of 2015/16 can we use?
Questions like these currently dominate the school policy debate. The necessary view of the acute support for Ukrainian students hides the underlying, fundamental challenge for the German school system: How do we build a crisis-proof, good school for all children in the immigration society?
The German school system remains in crisis mode. The pandemic is not over yet, so schools and teachers are faced with the no less demanding task of taking in the students and teachers from Ukraine who are fleeing the war in their homeland. The support for all those who now arrive in German classrooms almost every day should be provided as quickly, unbureaucratically and purposefully as possible.
The measures that are now being considered with a view to the rapid integration of Ukrainian students are important and correct. In the future, however, they should benefit everyone. In this way we could build a good, inclusive and crisis-proof school for the immigration country Germany. This can be shown in three aspects.
Firstly, schools need more psychosocial support services to provide good support for the often traumatized Ukrainian children and young people. Especially since trauma is likely to increase the longer the war in Ukraine lasts. However, measures for psychosocial support are not only necessary for refugees.
Most recently, as a result of the corona pandemic, the number of children and young people with psychosocial stress increased; the waiting times for a therapy place have doubled in the past two years. Exam pressure, fear of social commitment, behavioral problems and concentration problems, bullying and traumatisation: in addition to professional support in the event of stress, we must also invest significantly more in prevention.
Because all children benefit from a better climate in German schools, as do the teachers. In concrete terms, this means: In addition to well-trained teachers, there is also a need for additional people in schools who, as psychologists, therapists or social workers, have an open ear, a careful eye and, above all, time for the problems of young people.
The second point concerns the diversity in the staff room. In contrast to 2015, the political focus in 2022 is much more on the potential that refugee Ukrainian educators bring with them.
However gratifying is the willingness of the education authorities to create flexible and uncomplicated employment opportunities for Ukrainian teachers at schools in Germany: Where is the broad debate about the fact that not only Ukrainian children benefit from teachers who speak their language and understand their culture?
The teachers’ rooms in German schools have always been far too white, too bourgeois (and too female, at least in elementary schools) and do not even begin to reflect the diversity of our society. Everyone should be able to benefit from more flexible access routes to the German teaching profession for teachers who have obtained their qualifications abroad or who find their way into the profession as lateral entrants. Especially the students, who have so far looked in vain for a role model and who have been asked to assimilate to the performance culture of the white middle class.
And finally: The inclusion of Ukrainian curricula and educational offers, whether digital or on site in German schools, is to be welcomed, at least for a transitional phase. In this way, the Ukrainian students can reassure themselves of their cultural identity in Germany and, if desired, obtain their Ukrainian school-leaving certificate.
But here, too, it is important to think further about the approach. Because at German schools, native language teaching has so far been marginal. It usually takes place in the afternoon and is hardly relevant to the children’s success at school. However, it would make sense to develop concepts for how cultural and everyday references from countries of origin can be better integrated into regular lessons and how languages of origin can become relevant for exams.
The current debate about the integration of Ukrainian students and teachers offers a great opportunity – both for other groups with a refugee background and for students and teachers who were socialized in Germany. Because a generalization of the approaches initiated so far would lead to a cultural opening, with an invigorating effect on the German school system.
An appreciation of different cultural and linguistic backgrounds, diverse teaching staff, a stronger psychosocial support system: All of this can contribute to making the institution of school a place where all children and young people, regardless of gender, social or cultural background, whether with special educational needs or not, like to be able to stop and be successful.
The good, inclusive school in the immigration society therefore relies on well-being and a sense of belonging. They are the link in an education system that combines equal opportunities and high performance.