The CDU federal chairman Friedrich Merz sees problems in the schools with regard to students with a migration background. But isn’t his blanket judgment too harsh? The President of the German Teachers’ Association, Heinz-Peter Meidinger, also recognizes an integration problem.

FOCUS online: Friedrich Merz spoke in Markus Lanz’s program of “a real problem with the lack of integration of young people, mainly from the Arab world”. It starts in the schools, when “fathers refuse to be instructed, especially by their sons’ teachers, the little ‘paschas’ – that’s where it starts”. Isn’t he generalizing too much?

Heinz-Peter Meidinger: The statements are certainly partly election campaign noise and too sweeping. The wording is debatable, but it is undisputed that we fundamentally have an integration problem. Especially in the school area.

So there are more conflicts with parents who complain about teachers because they scold their sons?

Meidinger: What Merz said is not the norm. But there is a problem, we don’t need to talk around it. There are parents who then visit the school, mind you the male school administration, to complain because they do not recognize the authority of female teachers. The problem has existed for a long time, and not only in Berlin schools. From there, there was a call for help from affected teachers years ago.

Heinz-Peter Meidinger (born 1954) has been President of the German Teachers’ Association since 2017. The headmaster of the grammar school in Deggendorf, Lower Bavaria, was chairman of the German Association of Philologists from 2003 to 2017. The former Konrad Adenauer Foundation scholarship holder studied German, history, social studies and philosophy in Regensburg. Meidinger is married and has one daughter.

What problems do the teachers in your association describe when dealing with students with a migration background?

Meidinger: When such problems arise, teachers usually turn directly to the staff council or a legal protection agency, where there is a total obligation of confidentiality. In this respect, there is little transparency about these problems, also because teachers often do not dare to seek help at all and to go public. That is why the topic has not yet received the status it deserves.

Have you ever had such an experience yourself?

Meidinger: As a school principal in the Bavarian Forest, I also noticed conflicts from time to time, including patriarchal family structures, that female teachers were not accepted in their authority. However, that was less common in high school. It’s just difficult when children with a migration background have problems, especially when they come from strictly religious Islamic countries.

Teacher about Islamism in German schools


Meidinger: Then the problem begins, coming into contact with some parents to talk about how the child can best be encouraged. Because there is often a distrust of public authorities in such families, probably shaped by experiences in their own country. Open discussions about why the child is not doing so well at school, what the circumstances are at home, or even making a home visit is then hardly possible.

What are the experiences of the members of your association?

Meidinger: Yes. When a teacher was murdered on the open street in France a few years ago, several teachers contacted me and described that in our Islamic fundamentalist community, too, there was aggressive behavior by students against teachers, but also on the part of parents against teacher is coming.

How is that expressed?

Meidinger: Teachers are threatened and insulted. But it’s also about pressure being put on, that there shouldn’t be any tests during Ramadan, that girls don’t have to take part in physical education classes, that certain topics shouldn’t be covered in class. These are problems that do not only exist in troubled schools.

How can one solve it?

Meidinger: On the one hand you should of course always try to convince others, on the other hand you shouldn’t back down when there are rule violations or unreasonable demands.

What problems do you see in the school education of children with a migration background?

Meidinger: There is an IQB study of German elementary school students that showed that a fifth do not even reach the minimum standards that should be achieved at this level. However, the result is even more disastrous when it comes to children with a migration background. That means miserable chances of getting a good school-leaving certificate. We have to do something about that.

What can and must politicians do?

Meidinger: The unequal social and ethnic distribution of children in schools must be counteracted. If, on the one hand, 30 percent of elementary schools have more than 90 percent children with a migration background, but 30 percent of elementary schools have fewer than ten percent, then something is wrong.

What are the consequences for the lesson when there are many children with a migration background in a class?

Meidinger: That has enormous effects, as studies also show. If no German is spoken at home – and that is currently the case for 80 percent of the first generation of immigrants – then the children have enormous problems following the lessons. Then the lessons have to slow down: with consequences for everyone. In addition, there is no contact with German children and therefore no integration.

How do the parents of children with a migration background deal with it when their children are placed in such classes? Aren’t they afraid that their children will then have fewer chances?

Meidinger: Yes, that’s how it is. Parents of German children are opposed to mixed classes for fear that their child’s education could suffer as a result. But the parents of immigrant families also see major problems for their children if they keep to themselves at school. It’s not about setting a legal quota, but rather about recognizing the problem and taking countermeasures.

What are you thinking about?

Meidinger: For example, distributing apartments differently, instead of entire residential areas in which only migrants live. That the distribution of children with a migration background will be better. However, if a child grows up with a lack of social contact with German-speaking children, it will be disadvantaged. Better distribution in a big city like Berlin, which has a very good public transport network, is easily possible, for example. It doesn’t matter whether a child takes the S-Bahn three stations or one. But it can bring about composition of the classes that is conducive to integration and learning.

How can the children be better prepared?

Meidinger: The magic word is mandatory pre-school language support. There is one federal state that does it right – that is Hamburg. There are language tests for four-year-olds. Children who have major language deficits receive compulsory language support – either in day-care centers or in specially organized remedial courses. Hamburg did not record any drop in performance in the primary school study, not even among children with a migration background.

But there are also such language tests in other federal states…

Meidinger: Yes, but participation is not mandatory there and if deficits are identified, participation is not mandatory either, at best an offer. The Hamburg example should set a precedent. Looking beyond the borders also helps: Sweden provides excellent pre-school support for children with a migration background. I went to schools there. Great importance is attached to children speaking Swedish when they come to school. These children then also have a chance.

The idea is good, but are there enough staff for such language support?

Meidinger: The personnel problem is there, for sure. But that can’t be the reason to sit back and relax. Once the deficits are there, the school can hardly afford to compensate for them during school time. At best, she can reduce them a little. The fact is: the differences between the underperforming and high-performing children generally increase once they are there. Therefore, the school support for such children simply comes too late.

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