Interview: “The Ukrainian children need some normality again”

Federal Education Minister Bettina Stark-Watzinger (FDP) urges retired teachers to return to work to teach Ukrainian children.

woman Stark-Watzingermore than 700,000 refugees from Ukraine is now inside Germany registered, including many children. How is their integration in the German schools?

Bettina Stark-Watzinger: This is of course a challenge. We want to not only give the children and young people who come to us protection, but also a perspective. This is handled differently in different countries, sometimes the children are accepted in welcome classes and sometimes integrated directly into the regular classes. It is important that they go to school at all, because these children need some normalcy again, they often have a little trauma. They need to be able to laugh again, find friends and also forget their worries, for example about their fathers, at least for a while.

But how should it succeed when there is already a shortage of teachers in many German schools?

Stark-Watzinger: Everyone involved must work very pragmatically with solutions. Teachers who have already retired may become involved again. And we must have the teachers who come to us from Ukraine quickly for teaching. Language is, of course, a barrier. But I experience on the spot that an integration takes place immediately, for example as a teacher or auxiliary worker. The language and supplementary qualification will then take place later. My impression is that this is on the right track, even though it’s going to rumble here and there.

So far, Ukrainian children have often received online lessons from their home country. Will the Ukrainian refugee children regularly attend German schools after the summer holidays, or will they continue to receive this distance learning?

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Stark-Watzinger: In principle, compulsory schooling applies very quickly when you come to Germany. And I think that is also true, so that children quickly get a perspective. Most federal states have allowed certain transition periods for those who have fled Ukraine. It is best if, in addition to German school lessons, they also have digital lessons from Ukraine. This is especially important for students who are about to graduate. For we hope for the best that the war ends in the foreseeable future and that a return is possible. But we must also prepare for them staying longer with us.

So how exactly does it go?

Stark-Watzinger: We are currently discussing this with the federal states, and we are also in an intensive exchange with the Ukrainian Minister of Education. His ministry reports weekly on how many schools in Ukraine have been damaged or destroyed. I have the utmost respect for how Ukraine handles this situation, where it is struggling to survive, and how important it is for education. We therefore need to find a good balance between integration into our education system and the preservation of the Ukrainian identity.

Welcome courses for Ukrainian refugees at the Kerschensteiner school in Augsburg.

Photo: Marco Keitel

States like to tell the federal government we’re happy to take your money, but how we do it’s up to us …

Stark-Watzinger: They are also responsible for education. As a federal government, we acted very quickly and made one billion euros available for childcare and education. The number of people coming to us is currently declining. That is why we are now looking together at what people from Ukraine need in terms of offers.

The adults from Ukraine come, be from Business received with very open arms. However, there are some issues with the language or the recognition of professional qualifications. Where is the need for action?

Stark-Watzinger: When you talk to the people who come to us, they say three things. The first sentence is usually, ‘We will return’, the second ‘We will not be victims’. And the third sentence is, ‘Where can I work?’ We must therefore make it possible to start work very quickly, for example by speeding up procedures. As the Federal Department of Education, we are responsible for the recognition of professional qualifications. Here we need more standardization and unification in the countries, for example which documents in which form. In addition, we should find pragmatic solutions based on the principle of ‘start work and then gain additional qualifications’. Language skills are particularly important. That is why we support them, for example, with free online offers at adult education centers.

Is there a comparability between German and Ukrainian qualifications? Is there in Ukraine a similar vocational training system?

Stark-Watzinger: Vocational education is a German specialty found in only a few countries. There is a lot of education at the universities there. In Germany, a very large proportion of the professions are not regulated, which means that there is no need for recognition. And then there are the regulated professions, for example in the medical field. In both areas, we have developed procedures if, for example, no evidence can be presented. People fleeing war do not first go down to the basement to get certificates and documents.

War damage in Mariuopol. At present, no one knows how quickly the Ukrainians can return to their homeland.

Photo: Uncredited, AP / dpa

Back to again school. that FDP do you have campaign focus on educational equality. IN Germany educational success depends to a large extent on the parental home. What options do you have for changing that?

Stark-Watzinger: You can see how social a country is, not only by the amount of social spending, but by the life opportunities it opens up. Giving these life chances is the highest kind of respect we can muster for the individual. To this end, we have anchored important flagship projects in the coalition agreement, such as the Launch Opportunities program. It specifically aims to strengthen up to 4,000 schools in difficult environments to provide socially disadvantaged students with better educational opportunities. This means that we create a good infrastructure there, provide an opportunity budget and enable more social work.

We hear from Ministry of Financethat your party leader and finance minister Christian Lindner do not want to provide the necessary funds. They want 30 billion euros and are supposed to get only 21 billion.

Stark-Watzinger: According to the old federal government’s plans, funding for education and research should fall over the next few years. We have now agreed on increased funds with Christian Lindner. That’s a good start. We are also looking internally at how we can use the money we have more purposefully and efficiently. I’m optimistic that we can fund the program for starters. It is stated in the coalition agreement. And it’s more important than ever because of the learning deficit caused by the corona pandemic.

For students, there will be a reform of educational support. What changes?

Stark-Watzinger: We no longer want to accept the continuous decline in the number of people receiving support. That is why we are opening Bafög. The income limits for parents, for example, have been very low until now. We adjust that. In this way, we bring student loans back into the mainstream of society. We also raise subsidy rates and make structural changes, for example with the age limit – in the future 45 years. And we are now also adding a permanent emergency mechanism. If students who were not previously eligible for student loans lose their part-time jobs in a crisis situation, they should no longer drop out of their studies. You can then temporarily receive student loans. At the same time, we are launching an expertise initiative for vocational education. This is the clear signal that studies and education are of equal value in our country. We have a dual education system as well, so you have to study in other countries to obtain such a qualification.

You are also responsible for research. The war in Ukraine also drew attention to the energy sector. What efforts are needed in this area of ​​research?

Stark-Watzinger: Our mission in Germany and Europe must be to strive for sovereignty. But not in the sense of self-sufficiency, it would not be possible, but in the sense of independence. We must be free to choose who we trade with and who we work with. It is good that we are now reducing our dependence on Russia, also with gas from Qatar. At the same time, we must have sustainability in mind. That is why we focus on partnerships with countries like Australia as part of the national hydrogen strategy.

Why Australia?

Stark-Watzinger: Australia has enough sun, wind and space, the country also has the technical universities, know-how and the skilled workers. Our HySupply feasibility study shows that a supply partnership is technically possible and offers great opportunities. The cost of transportation is manageable despite the great distance. In this regard, Australia is the first important partner for us. So I’m going there next week. Australia could become the major exporter of green hydrogen we need here.

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