Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Challenges of Multiculturalism


Frau Dr. Professor Elisabeth Rangosch-Schneck, a professor at the University of Tuebingen who specializes in teacher training and is concerned with diversity issues gave a workshop on diversity in the classroom. Her talk was divided into three parts, giving an overview of the composition and the condition of Germany’s immigrants. This is especially important given the low birth rate of Germans and the increasing proportion of immigrant born (or with migrant backgrounds to use the German euphemism). According to the Federal Ministry of the Interior, by 1996, out of 80 million Germans, 7.3 million were foreign born. The proportion of the population that had migrant roots is 18 percent, and in a city like Stuttgart, it is nearing 40%. The Germans changed the citizenship laws beginning in the late 1990s to give those children of immigrants who were actually born in Germany a choice to renounce the citizenship of their parents and take on German citizenship. This is especially important given the significant proportion of the German population that is Turkish, the Turks having comprised a massive wave of so-called “Gastarbeiter” starting in the 1960s following Italians, Greeks, and Yugoslavs. One last note is that in Germany prior to the 1990s, citizenship was strictly according to blood as defined by a pre-World War I citizenship law.

This has had enormous ramifications for the school system, especially in a city like Stuttgart where a large percentage of the population is comprised of the children with migrant origins. In the school, the second part of the talk, the teachers and the structures of the school are adapting only belatedly to this new reality. For instance, religious instruction has not heretofore been provided to Muslim children, causing Turkish parents to keep their kids home until first grade. This is problematic because of the German-only focus of instruction that is delayed by the non-German speaking Turkish parents. Added to this is the lower socio-economic status of migrants, lower educational attainment of migrant parents, which translates to a much lower percentage of children with migrant status matriculating to the Gymnasium track.

Compounding all of this is a complete lack of data about race and ethnicity. There have been no systematic censuses of German schools and the citizens for decades. In Hamburg, for instance, 10% of all teachers have to come from migrant backgrounds, but this has to be based upon self-reporting of teachers on a voluntary basis. In other words, this is purely guess work.

A last issue is the atmosphere at schools where crucifixes are prominently displayed, Turkish is forbidden even at recess, and it parental engagement is not developed. Bavaria, for instance, has made it clear that Catholicism is the basis of their educational values. So, how does one engage these students and encourage them academically? Well, I’ll get a chance next week when we meet with students and teachers of migrant origin in Stuttgart. Stay tuned!

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