All over Germany, schools have been trying to integrate refugee children since 2015. The children and adolescents were often given separate instruction in so-called welcome, preparation or language learning classes so that they could learn German before they could switch to regular classes. In the preparatory classes, children from educated families who spoke several languages ​​sat next to teenagers in a class who had never been to school before. Some had to learn the alphabet first, others the Latin script. They were often taught by teachers hurriedly hired as a career changer who had to invent their own materials and curriculum.

Five years later the situation is much more relaxed. There are fewer refugees, suitable teaching materials, and in some cases better trained teachers. But is there a concept for the best integration into schools? Nora von Dewitz is junior professor for linguistic education and multilingualism at the Mercator Institute for language promotion and German as a second language at the University of Cologne. In the interview, she explains which measures are particularly important.

ZEIT ONLINE: The so-called welcome classes have been heavily criticized in some cases because the children there have too little contact with German-speaking students and because the specialist lessons are often neglected. Do you think the preparatory classes are also the wrong model? 

Nora von Dewitz: I wouldn't say that across the board. It is true that it is not a good idea for the children to stay in prep class for two or more years. Simply putting the students in regular lessons and hoping that they will automatically learn German without systematic support - that is just as ineffective. 

ZEIT ONLINE: In addition to these two models, there is the partially integrated model: The children learn German in the welcome class and take part in a regular class from the very beginning, for example, in sports and art classes, gradually also in math and physics. Is that the best solution and is it now becoming the norm? 

Von Dewitz: In addition to the preparatory classes, the partially integrative model has already established itself in many schools. However, there are no precise figures on the distribution. The federal states and the schools all solve it differently. The advantages are obvious - it is much easier for the children to arrive in a class if they already know the other students. In principle, however, other factors are more important than the model. 

ZEIT ONLINE: For example, which ones? 

Von Dewitz: It is very important that the transition is accompanied individually for each child. If the pupils switch to regular lessons, they usually need further support - not just for three months, but often for several years. That is very different in individual cases. In some federal states such as Hamburg, where preparatory classes are the rule, resources are available for the transition, in others not. 

Another decisive factor is how well the staff works with the German as a second language teachers in the preparatory classes, is migration-sensitive itself and offers language-sensitive lessons for all children and young people. 

ZEIT ONLINE: Why is this so important and what exactly does migration-sensitive teaching look like? 

Von Dewitz: Teachers report on newly immigrated children who arrive in regular lessons and initially don't understand anything. Some of them are laughed at or racially discriminated against by other students. Because social inclusion doesn't just happen either. It is important that the teachers also take into account in maths and arts what previous education and what experience the children have and under what conditions they live here. 

ZEIT ONLINE: What do you mean? 

Von Dewitz: Let me give you a cliché example: a student in Poland was already at high school, so she knows the Latin alphabet and has the necessary specialist knowledge. She "only" has to learn German to keep up. Another student went to school in Afghanistan for just two years. So he also has a lot to catch up on professionally. The fact that he has had completely different educational experiences is often not taken into account. Perhaps he learned a second language while fleeing, or he may have already worked and learned to do math. Teachers must also appreciate this and use it in their lessons. Or a child falls asleep in class - that shouldn't be chalked up as laziness if, for example, they live in accommodation where there is too much noise to get enough sleep.