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Inclusive education and intercultural opening

Authors: Petra Herre Published:

Migrants participate less in continuing education. This is problematic for integration policy. This article examines how to solve this problem.

Germany is a country of immigration. This is also a major challenge for continuing education as there is less participation from people with a migration background. This has a negative effect on the opportunities for migrants regarding participation and the future and is fatal for the integration policy. The topic of this article deals with the concepts used to solve these problems and what this means for the continuing education institutions, the family education centres and the nationwide adult education centres. Areas of discussion include concepts of inclusive pedagogy, intercultural opening of educational institutions, intercultural management of programmes and offers as well as the normative questions of educational equality. A further aspect is the “inclusive” impact of didactics themselves in adult education.

Integration policy in the FRG

According to the figures of the 2011 Migration Report published at the start of 2013, Germany is a country of immigration. Given the aging and declining population, this situation must be ideal for Germany because the population is expected to drop from 83 million to 63 million and the potential labour force anticipates a decrease from 45 million to 27 million by 2050.

In a recent discussion, the Bertelsmann Foundation, opinion leaders in sociopolitical issues in Germany, thus demanded a “National Integration Plan for Migration” (Bertelsmann Foundation, Germany – country of immigration – a complete concept for future immigration, Berlin 21.5.2013). The German Immigration Law came into effect in 2005. In the same year, the Grand Coalition of the CDU/CSU (union of Germany’s two main conservative parties) and SPD (social democrats) declared integration as one of its major tasks. Since 2006, the Government has been holding an “Integration Summit” and established the “German Islam Conference”.

Immigration needs structure. The guidelines were defined in the 2007 National Integration Plan. This was updated by the National Action Plan for Integration decided on at the 5th Integration Summit in January 2012.

The immigration structure has changed, particularly in the wake of the crisis-ridden developments in Europe, i.e. the financial and Euro crises: as a result Germany is becoming the migration magnet in Europe (this is crisis-caused immigration from Eastern and Southern Europe) causing new integration issues to emerge. Nevertheless there are still the problems resulting from employment migration initiated by the recruitment agreement (from the 1950s and 1960s/ 1961 recruitment agreement with Turkey), which have to be processed by the social and education system.
The recently published study by the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency (August 2013) states that migrants feel that they are at a disadvantage with education.

Integration in the education system “under construction” – participation of migrants in education: the facts

Education is crucial for successful integration. In this respect, the National Action Plan for Integration (2012) also brings the education issues and education-related topics to the fore: early childhood education and care, education, training, continuing education, language and integration courses as well as cultural integration. Furthermore, the annual expert report “Immigration Society 2010” of the Expert Council of German Foundations on Integration and Migration from 2010 talks about a central integration issue being “under construction” as regards the situation in the education sector.

The general education system in Germany is highly selective and institutionally discriminating regarding social origin and migration backgrounds. Children and adolescents with migration backgrounds from poorer social environments are over-represented in “Hauptschule” (secondary modern schools) and under-represented in “Gymnasium” (secondary grammar schools), and they are disproportionately represented at special education centres. A higher percentage in comparison to Germans without a migration background leave school without general secondary qualifications and without having completed vocational training.

There are also general social disparities and stable inequality patterns seen in participation in continuing education. Participation can be distinguished in a number of ways, such as with gender, age, educational background, level of qualification, labour status, socio-economic situation and migration background (BSW /reporting system for continuing education; German Institute for Adult Education, 2008; AES /Adult Education Survey 2010, 35 -37)

In particular, people with a migration background – their share in the total population is just under 20% – participate less in continuing education than the rest of the population. This is also confirmed by the current reporting on education (Autorengruppe Bildungsberichterstattung, 2012, 144), with the migrants of Turkish origin and people from the other recruitment countries having the lowest participation rates out of all of the groups. Yet however, in light of the participation rate of the migrant population, a critical approach is necessary due to its heterogeneity, according to H. Öztürk (2009). Migrants, who tend to belong to the lower class, are excluded from education.

The German society also seems to have a new lower class formed by the migrants. On the other hand, there appear to be very few differences between Germans and people with 2nd generation migration backgrounds and good German skills, a good occupation and membership in organisations in civil society (Socio-economic panel 2003/2004; Öztürk, 2009, 24-30; Öztürk, 2011, 151-164). Due to the complexity of the migration processes and the heterogeneity of origin, the living situations of people with a migration background differ: as a result, the German Socio-Economic Panel (2004) differentiates between five groups of migrants. The Sinus Study (2007) sees eight different environments of people with migration backgrounds. Nevertheless, educational disadvantages are a major problem.

Obstacles and barriers for access and participation

All in all, migrants are disadvantaged when it comes to participation in education. A distinction must be made between subjective obstacles for access and objective barriers for access. This is an oversight of the educational system and of continuing education offers as there are no comparable educational systems in the countries of origin – high workloads and low income, a lack of educational qualifications, language barriers, a lack of contact persons with the same mother tongue, fears, an open-door policy and a lack of empathy.

Educational institutions have the following barriers for access: inadequate public relations, a lack of intercultural orientation and communication skills among the representatives of the educational institutions and course leaders, no skilled personnel with the same mother tongue, prejudices, culturalisation, insistence on theoretical and practical routines, difficult accessibility as well as unfavourable office and enrolment hours (Gaitanides in Fischer & Springer,2011, 323- 333).

Right to education – Inclusive continuing education and integration

“Continuing education for all” and “integration through education” are requirements of the German discourse on integration. Continuing education institutions have to face the social challenges (Hamburg Declaration of the 5th International Conference on Adult Education/ CONFINTEA V, Unesco) of the immigration society.

In German social debate, education is considered to be a social right for citizens. Educational equality is consensually assessed as a valuable asset. Its implementation is a requirement for systemic inclusion and integration in living environments. The right to education also comprises the responsibility to open up access to education and prevent exclusion. Exclusion impairs the opportunities of those affected. A migration background can lead to exclusion and often does.

The term “exclusion” generally brings society’s problem of new social divisions and marginalisation to the fore (Kronauer in Kronauer 2010, 24-). The term “inclusion/exclusion” provides a framework to analyse the changes in the current society with effects on the employment market and employment relationships, the systems of social security, the types of household and lifestyles, and these changes are shown as a waiver of social protection rights, a lack of employment security and increasingly fragile social relationships. It also gives a guideline to describe the resulting challenges for continuing education in a normative value-based perspective. This is where the concept of inclusive continuing education applies. Inclusion aims to expand the possibilities for participation through education.

For migrants, continuing education is a means of acquiring the necessary knowledge for life in Germany, in particular knowledge of the German language, legal system and social order. This is the aim of the integration courses that were introduced as a central state and compulsory offer in 2005 and primarily carried out at adult education centres. On the other hand, continuing education has a compensatory function that balances out the deficits of academic and vocational education and reinforces the position of the employment market and employability. Participation in education also enables further access to involvement and participation in civil society.

Furthermore, adult and continuing education transfer everyday skills and parenting skills. Family education plays a key role in improving educational opportunities. This promotes the educational opportunities for the upcoming generation and for children from immigrant families.

The concept of intercultural opening – the key to inclusive continuing education

Continuing education institutions have to face social challenges. “Inclusive continuing education” aims at using education to expand the possibilities of participating in society. Inclusion is a type of ‘comprehensive’ quality with consequences for all levels of an institution, for structures and processes as well as for courses and programmes. The approach of “intercultural opening” is key to implementing inclusive continuing education. “A whole organisational approach is a factor of success for inclusive adult education”. The approach of “intercultural opening” was initially formulated in the context of opening up social services to cater for the requirements of migrants in the 1990s. In the meantime, it has been widely received by voluntary and public organisations and local authorities.
Intercultural opening is the attempt to transform the requirements of the immigration society into an institutional concept and to allow for the fact that transnational migration movements have consequences on the diversity of the population.

In other words, it is both a pedagogical approach and a proposal for reform for educational institutions. It is a pedagogical movement not confined to adult education. It is used also in e.g. social work and health services. Intercultural opening is in the process of being implemented in practice in German educational institutions but this is still is a work in progress.

I will next discuss breifly two concepts closely related to intercultural opening: recognition and adult eduction as a “prototype” of inclusiveness.

Recognition as a basic principle

Recognition is a key word and basic principle of intercultural pedagogy (Auernheim, 2002; Mecheril, 2004). It is a basic attitude to practicing intercultural opening.

Recognition is based on other identity models like hybrid identities, transnationality, global citizens, cosmopolitanism and transculturality (Reddy in Kronauer, 2010, 108). It deals with recognition of differences and equal cooperation in a society. This perspective is also not blind to power relations nor to opposing interests. It includes a self-critical attitude to own cultures, reflection on the phenomenon of majority and minority societies, unequal distribution of resources and agenda-setting power especially in the education sector. Therefore, this approach is sensitive to differences and critical of dominance.

Adult education as a “prototype” of inclusive pedagogy

Adult education, by its very principle, is inclusive, striving to reach all people, including migrants. In this way, we can say that adult education, through its basic attitude of inclusion, is a “prototype” for inclusive pedagogy. In reality, however, adult education does not reach all societal groups.

Thanks to its leading principles such as participation-oriented teaching methodologies, learning based on living environments and experience, problem solving, communication and discourse orientation as well as resource and process orientation, adult education relates to the fundamental principles of inclusive pedagogy. Focusing on these didactic principles and professional standards of teaching helps to reach migrant target groups and to create interculturally open learning environments. This is very important also for workplace language development for immigrant workers (Grünhage-Monetti).

Intercultural opening for organisational and personnel development – success factors – stumbling blocks

“Intercultural opening” concerns the issues of organisational and personnel development. Intercultural opening defines a controlled and planned process of organisational development that needs time, financial resources and the readiness of the responsible individuals and employees in educational institutions to put its work to the test against this background.

Institutions that are “interculturally open” allow for development needs. They are ready to engage in learning and experiential processes, to question practical routines and to change attitudes; this concerns cultural sensitivity and intercultural orientation in a globalised world. Important elements are the adoption of an awareness of heterogeneity and the attitude of recognition. These challenges require a change in the organisational culture, other working methods and an analysis of the access barriers: processes of organisational, personnel and quality development are initiated, such as the formulation of a corresponding overall concept, a differentiated selection of personnel and recruitment of employees with a migration background, further training, regular supervision programmes and coaching for personnel as well as a new programme structure.

The decisive factor is intercultural competence as a key professional qualification of personnel. To sum up, the requirement of “intercultural competence” is thus based on four levels: the ability to promote inclusion as regards the consequences of migration; the ability to treat the diversity of cultural interpretation patterns with sensitivity and to counter discrimination; the ability to develop attitudes focused on people, such as empathy, authenticity, acceptance, the ability to communicate and to manage conflicts, in order to find a way to access the individuals: practice is needed for dealing with migrants – direct contact, openness, appreciation and respect are requirements for successful interaction. Furthermore, intercultural competence includes the readiness to dismantle organisational barriers and to cooperate in organisational changes.

In practice, there is often the impression that educational institutions are rather inflexible regarding the requirements of inclusive continuing education. What justifies this impression? What are the difficulties regarding implementation of this concept?

An essential reason for this is seen in the restrictive modalities of continuing education funding through the countries’ laws on continuing education that only promote certain working methods through which new settings are not covered, for example, the establishment of meeting areas to initiate contacts and develop trust. Furthermore, the work requirements exceed the in-built professionalism of adult education many times over and demand working in multiprofessional teams. Even if the system of adult and continuing education is not optimally prepared for the new challenges, new institutional arrangements and networks have arisen in the last 15 years in the context of educational policy programmes (Learning regions – promotion of networks 2001-2010), which have generated coordination and control knowledge that can also be fruitful for inclusive educational arrangements. However, on the whole, these are considerable efforts that the educational institutions in this field have to face.

Oriented to living environments

Intercultural opening includes even more aspects: new learning locations must be tested. An education that is oriented to the different living environments benefits the social and living areas of those affected. Professional education is nowadays oriented to the different living environments. However, this also results in requirements for planning, networked working methods and financial resources. Cooperation with autonomous migrant organisations must be established so that access thresholds are lowered.
In the field of parenting and family education (Fischer, Springer, 2011) there are also educational programmes (e.g. Rucksack, Griffbereit, FemmesTISCHE) that train people from the migration community who act as “bridges” and who use the confidence placed in them to pass on their knowledge to parents, fathers and mothers from this particular background and who are the contacts to the educational institutions (Bremer,Kleemann &Göhring, 2011, 53 -).

Learning at family education centres and adult education centres – problems – tasks – opportunities

In the field of continuing education in Germany, adult education centres as institutions of public continuing education (mostly funded by the local authorities) and family education centres with offers on parenting and family issues (funded by local authorities, social organisations and the churches) are the most important institutions that offer educational programmes for migrants. Yet, in reality, what is actually happening as regards participation of people with migration backgrounds?

Family education has a key role in improving educational opportunities. Family education centres are forerunners as learning locations of inclusive continuing education, particularly because they have transferred their programmes to the social areas of the families (neighbourhood centres, family centres) and to the educational locations of the children (nurseries and schools). Thus, over the past 10 years or so, educational worlds with low threshold access have been established for families so that families with migration backgrounds can be reached. The main focus of the educational programmes is on parental training and family education programmes as well as training for everyday skills. In this respect, the difficulties of these programmes should not be kept silent: the understanding of parental roles and raising children is very different, particularly for families with Turkish migration backgrounds, when compared with German families. They are not aware of their own educational responsibility and, as a consequence, only have minimal motivation to participate. These families therefore expect a lot from the institutions, nurseries, educators and the schools.

How do the adult education centres reach the migrants? The adult education centres have always offered programmes oriented exclusively at migrants. These range from language courses/German as a foreign language and basic education/literacy courses (Tröster in Kronauer, 2010, 211 -217)
through to integration courses, which have become mandatory by law since 2005. These courses in particular are very important as regards the aspect of inclusion. The content of these courses aims at language acquisition and communication skills in order to help the migrants with their personal and professional life in their “new” country. For learning to be sustainable, people have to feel included and at ease. Adult education can only have an effect on inclusion if “its didactic principles in course lessons are also considered” (Zimmer, 2013, 137-142).

One particular group of courses explicitly addresses interculturality or interreligious dialogue. Such offers are (also) followed by people with migration backgrounds, although often a certain class feels addressed here. The two main religious dominations and churches are particularly active here. Representatives of the Muslim communities are also significantly involved. The representation of migrants in the “normal” courses in family education centres and adult education centres, however, is rather low. Here, the task arises to keep migrants in the institution and to guarantee transitions of integration courses to other educational offers, which also refers to the necessity and importance of guidance.

Open to everyone

The particular problem with adult education centres is that, as institutions of public continuing education, they cannot just offer educational programmes for one group of people with specific characteristics and learning needs; rather their task is to provide programmes that have to be accessible for everyone and must not exclude anyone by rights. This means that in principle “everyone” has to have access and also feel “at ease”, otherwise they will stay away as participation is voluntary. “Intercultural event management” is needed (Ruhlandt, HBV1/ 2013, 68).
In this respect, the crucial future task is to address the intercultural opening for thematically channeled offers and programmes as well, e.g. for language courses, computer courses and courses of cultural education. The learning group which accepts such a course incidentally materialises. The programme planners have to create an inclusive offer and concern themselves with making the people with migration backgrounds feel at ease. Likewise, those who usually come, generally Germans and middle-class people, also have to feel like they are being addressed. No “problematic situations” should arise to such an extent that the attention paid to one group has consequences on the other group. These possible problematic situations need to be dealt with in a thematic and organised way (Ruhlandt, HBV 1/2013, 73). Representatives of the participants in the adult education centres could be included here. The heterogeneity of social origin can, and must, result in productive opportunities for everyone. The development of professionalism in programme planning in the immigration society is a demanding task. Successful intercultural management of offers and programmes is needed to guarantee “education for all”. In this respect, the demand for inclusion on this level would also be answered.

We live in an increasingly unified Europe and in a globalised world. This article has shown how important it is for Germany as a country of immigration that all people living here, regardless of origin, are included and that equal opportunities are guaranteed. This is a normative requirement and it is in Germany’s best interest, as immigration is needed here to prosper further due to the demographic trend. Modern industrialised societies are knowledge societies and lifelong learning is the leading paradigm. This assigns a key position to the education system, especially to adult and continuing education. It also involves good, tried-and-tested educational concepts that promote integration and inclusion, as addressed here. These must be further developed and expanded to meet modern pedagogical requirements. This task is for both theory and practice.


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Petra Herre Petra Herre, M.A., Vicar i.R. is a social scientist, theologian and editor and is an InfoNet correspondent for Germany. Email: Show all articles by Petra Herre
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