Strengths and weaknesses
by Michael Seifert
The integration course is compulsory for all recognized refugees and of central importance for their integration into German society. But in many cases, it is publicly criticized. For example, Annette Widmann-Mauz, Minister of State for Migration, Refugees and Integration, called for a “quality offensive for the integration courses” in 2018. Because: “In the years 2017/2018, the overall pass rate for language test B1 dropped to below 50 percent.”
We asked the editors of tünews INTERNATIONAL about their personal experiences with the integration course. The range of opinions varies widely, from very positive to very negative. Feras Trayfi from Syria says: “In the integration course I learned German the best. The most interesting for me was the cultural diversity. We were 24 participants from 22 countries, so only German was spoken. It has always been interesting to hear and learn new experiences, new cultural peculiarities and different traditions. The atmosphere was very familiar and beautiful.” On the other hand, Oula Mahfouz: “I did not learn much in the integration course because I had six teachers in the B1 course and they were not all good. We were 25 participants. Not everybody was on the same leveland time was too short.” Some points of criticism come from Sameer Ibrahim from Iraq as for example: “In the exam texts there were many words, which we never discussed before and thus it was very difficult to understand the texts”. Or by Syrian Mohammed Kheer Hazeem: “Negative experiences were that there were many people who spoke the same language, which made the learning of the German language partly difficult. And I also did not like that English was used much and more than necessary.” Finally, Mohammad Momand: “My recollection of the integration course is that as an Afghan I had to pay everything myself because I was not entitled to an integration course. In our class, the main problem was always nominative, dative and accusative – and I still have the problem today.”
Detailed criticisms also come from the teachers who talk about the biggest problems in the interview: the sometimes difficult personal situation of the participants, such as the current asylum procedures or housing situation and trauma, or the heterogeneity of the learning groups. In addition, there is the strong fluctuation of teachers, who almost always have only fee contracts. There is also criticism of too high numbers of participants and altogether too little time to take as many students with their very different requirements. After all, many teachers with a lack of didactic training are also supposed to be active; here, a two-week crash course by the BAMF is not enough.
Is the integration course perhaps better than its reputation? To find out, I have an appointment with Gerlinde Schroth, head of department for the Department of German / Integration at the Volkshochschule Tübingen (VHS), who herself was a teacher in the courses from 2005 to 2009. For ten years now she has organized and is responsible for the courses and has been hosting and observing a great deal.
The success rates for the VHS Tübingen are slightly better than the national average, according to Schroth. “Individuals who do not have to do a literacy course because they do not know the Latin alphabet will of course score much lower in the B1 exam than the participants in the B1 exam with only 13.4% with the result B1 and 57% with the result A2 Integration courses, of which 64% are B1 results. The average for all participants is 52%.” The cultural diversity of the participants is seen by her as an important positive factor: “People benefit from each other, understand each other as a team, and exchange ideas about the different traditions from which they come. This is more than language communication and leads to the mediation of German culture with important values such as punctuality, politeness and tolerance.” The integration course is about more than language, one must be able to handle conflicts.
A major problem for Gerlinde Schroth are the different requirements that the participants bring with them. “To be able to read and write the Latin script is a prerequisite for a normal pace in the courses. It would be desirable to refine the courses in a more differentiated way, but in reality this is often not possible because the places are scarce.” And finally, there are people who have never gone to school and have not learned how to write. “Hats off to those who then fight through to A2,” says Schroth.
It is often criticized that too much teaching without interaction takes place in the courses and the communication between the participants is too short. Schroth demands of the teachers of the VHS method variety and sees them realized in the constant alternation between explanations, exercises, group work and plays.
What wishes does Gerlinde Schroth have for a reorganization of the integration courses? “You should give people more time than is done in the specifications of the job center and the BAMF. Then they would feel better, there would be more relaxation and motivation in the courses. And then the many everyday issues of the participants would also have less impact on the course.” A new type of course for slow learners, leading to the B1 exam in 900 instead of 600 hours would be a great improvement. Just as it has been possible in the past for pregnant women and women with small children. Finally, Gerlinde Schroth wishes for more security for the teachers than the current employment on a fee basis.
Finally, Schroth mentions a new offer: Now there is the evening integration course for workers on two evenings and on Saturday, which is very much in demand.
Some of the proposals for reform by Minister of State Annette Widmann-Mauz have now been taken up by the Federal Ministry of the Interior and partly implemented in pilot projects. For example, literacy teachers need to provide additional qualification and incentives have been provided for course holders to offer more alpha courses. Also, waiting times for places in integration courses are shortened by more cooperation with local authorities. At the request of tünews INTERNATIONAL, Annette Widmann-Mauz said that it was very important to her that more immigrants successfully complete the integration course: “Because it’s not just a check mark on paper, but the ability to empower people, socially and professionally to gain a foothold. It is good that the Federal Minister of the Interior has taken concrete steps to improve the quality of the integration courses. ”
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The integration course is not everything. It also depends on the volunteers. Voices from the tünews editors:
“The volunteers played a big role for me. I had two 90-minute German lessons a week in an asylum center, and that made sense. The friendship with the volunteers from the support circle was an important reason why I learned German. ”
“Volunteers played an important role in the first nine months when I did not have an integration course permit. The contacts with volunteers during the integration course were good to have a contact person for questions. Contacts with German friends were important in order to practice the German language and get to know German culture. ”
“Volunteer help was crucial to me. With a 63 year old friend and language teacher, I learned what I can not learn in any language course. That’s how I learned phrases and practiced many conversations. ”
“Support by a voluntary language course helped a lot, in addition to the integration course. So I had two hours a day in addition to the integration course. There I could practice what I had learned in the course.”
Mohammed Kheer Hazeem:
“For me, the volunteers played no role in learning the German language.”