Saturday, August 13, 2011

Research Project: Education and Turkish integration into German Society

Discrimination and Education: Exploring why Turkish Germans are Disadvantaged
            For many years, and in many countries, education has been viewed as a very crucial key to a successful future and supports the national economy.  A well-paying career will help support oneself and his or her family, and there are multiple institutions designed to prepare people for the various jobs and careers that need to be filled.  Germany in particular will be the focal point of this essay.  Until recent years, Germany has seen a steady increase in foreign populations who seek to permanently settle in Germany.  With that, many more students from various backgrounds are going through the public education system in Germany.  Historically, there has been a lack of effort from the German government to support its minority populations and aid them in integrating into society.  As education provides a pathway to getting a career that will allow for more success in society, this would be a very important factor in how well minority/immigrant populations can adjust to German culture and thrive.  Since people of Turkish background make up the largest minority population in Germany, I used them as my model to develop my inquiries about their ability to succeed in the education system and integrate into German society and think of how the German government could reform its policies to support minority populations such as the Turkish.  My three research questions, which were the main focal points of my research project, are as follows:
1.     Why do Turks as a minority population struggle?
2.     How do Turks experience (or not) support from the German government?
3.     How does their participation in the education system influence their integration and life in Germany?
Literature Framework: Turkish immigration to Germany and their involvement in the education system
First and foremost, it is important to get a good understanding of the history of Turkish migration to Germany, and an understanding of the German education system. Also, Turkish immigrants and Turkish-German students have been negatively affected by the German education system compared to their White German counterparts.  Then we will discuss how the education system and education policies can be reformed to better support minority Turkish populations, and make them more integrated into German society.  Historically, as early as the beginning of the 20th century, Germany has been a country of immigration (Blecking, 2008).  Due to changes in the German education system to suit an increase in desire to pursue more specialized careers after World War I, the unskilled labor market had a shortage of workers.  This problem was further escalated by the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961, which disrupted immigration from Eastern European countries and East Berlin into West Berlin.  In addition, an increase in demand for products, goods and services caused the labor shortage to increase as well.  This need was met by bringing in workers from countries such as Turkey, and created a surge of immigration from Turkey.  (Völker, 1976)
An overwhelming majority of these families decided to permanently settle in Germany, and since the 1960s, there has been a consistent increase in immigrant from Turkey to Germany.  However, despite being born and socialized in Germany, many children whose parents were foreign were not granted the opportunity for citizenship due to Germany’s policies known as jus sanguinis, citizenship policies not determined by one’s birthplace, but by the birthplace of one’s parents.  It was not until 1999, under much international pressure, that Germany altered its citizenship policies to allow more inclusion of those with immigrant backgrounds, integrating laws that allow a path to citizenship for those whose birthplace lies in Germany (jus soli).   (Doerschler, 2004)
With this increase in the Turkish population in Germany, along with that came an increase in Turkish children in German schools.  Germany has an education system split into two levels: primary and secondary.  In primary school, Grundschule, students learn basic skills such as reading, writing, and arithmetic in grades 1 – 4.  Even at this early age, these years are very critical.  Upon completion of schooling at the Grundschule level, students are then placed in one of three main tracks at the secondary level of schooling.  Once a student is placed in a certain track, it is very difficult, near impossible even, to change to another schooling track.  This is largely based on an average of the students’ grades and scores, and each track on the secondary level determines what type of career pathway the student will be able to take.  The three tracks in order of decreasing rigor and prestige are as follows: Gymnasium, Realschule, and Hauptschule.  With Gymnasium being the most prestigious, this academic pathway best prepares students for the secondary school exit exam, which is required to take for entry into German colleges and universities.  This is the most appropriate pathway to take if a student desires to have a professional career in fields such as medicine or law.  Students finishing their schooling in the Realschule track will have gone through a somewhat rigorous track of schooling.   Many students pursue technically advanced careers such as social work or engineering.  Students who end up in the Hauptschule track, the least prestigious of the three tracks, continue with a basic education.  They also end their secondary education 1 – 2 years earlier than students completing school in the Realschule and Gymnasium tracks.  In theory, upon completion they continue on to vocational school or apprenticeship training, eventually obtaining work in technical fields as semi-skilled labor. (Doerschler)
 Unfortunately, as Doerschler mentions in his article “Education and the Development of Turkish and Yugoslav Immigrants’ Political Attitudes in Germany”, the reality is that students who go complete secondary schooling through this track are more than likely to have very unsuccessful futures that lie ahead of them.  Turkish students in particular are at a great disadvantage when going through the German education system: more than 50 percent of students with Turkish background are placed in the lower tracks.  And, as stated in Deutsche Welle’s “Study Shows Turkish Immigrants Least Integrated in Germany”: “30 percent of students of Turkish origin do not have a school leaving certificate and only 14 percent pass their final secondary school examinations.”  This unequal distribution in Germany’s education system is influenced by multiple reasons, as Doerschler further points out.
Three main reasons why students of Turkish background are so disadvantaged are due to language barrier, segregation, and discriminatory practices.  From the moment of entry into primary school, many Turkish students start off at a disadvantage because their first language is not German.  Classes are only taught in German, thus causing Turkish students to struggle to keep up in their lessons as they have difficulties understanding instruction and how to complete their homework assignments.  This problem is further exacerbated due to the segregation in schooling.  The ethnic composition of the schools in Germany highly reflects that of the neighborhoods surrounding the schools.  Turkish families tend to form ethnically concentrated communities.  This lack of exposure to the German language and culture at home and at school hinders Turkish students’ capability to become immersed in the German language and culture, which would otherwise help them do more successfully in school and become more integrated in German society.  Another problem adversely affecting Turkish students’ educational outcomes is the discrimination they face by their peers and teachers for “being” or “looking” foreign, and it is believed that such discrimination and negative relationships with the teachers is what influences the unequal distribution of Turkish students in the lower tracks of the secondary schools of the education system.  In my research, I was interested in figuring out how exactly this affects the outcome of students with Turkish background later down the road in life.  I chose to focus my research on making these findings based on the perspective of people from these very communities.
Methods: My research approach and rationale
            During my month-long stay in Berlin, Germany, I took multiple approaches to collecting and compiling information for my research.  I used a combination of a formal interview via email with multiple informal interviews and informal conversations.  I also took into account the observations I made while living in the city of Berlin.  Ideally, I would have conducted several interviews reaching out to many members of the Turkish community.  However, I ran into to constraints.  Due to the time constraints presented by my short stay in Berlin, in addition to my lack of access to the Turkish community due to a language barrier and cultural differences, my findings are based on one interview, keen observation of my surroundings, and informal conversations and interviews.  These things were nonetheless still very useful, as the neighborhood I resided in while living in Berlin had a significant minority Turkish population.  Also, the informal conversations and interviews I conducted with others were with people who were knowledgeable about related subjects to my topic, having either worked with people from the same communities I intended to address or having done research on related subjects and topics. 
My Findings: What possible education reforms could the German government take?
            Based on the observations I have made, the interviews I have conducted, and the conversations I was able to have with various people, I have concluded that four potentially effective ways to address the ethnic inequalities in the German education system would be to get rid of the tracking system that predetermines students’ face from such an early age, implement an integration system within the schools and classrooms, address the language needs of students with Turkish background, and shift attitudes about diversity and multiculturalism in German schools and German society as a whole. 
            Getting rid of the tracking system in Germany has the potential to have a tremendous positive impact on the success of minority students as well as white students in Germany.  Since educators and principals ultimately have the power to decide what tracking system a child will end up in, they have a lot of influence on what type of education that child will receive for the rest of their childhood and therefore have influence on that child’s lifelong outcome and success.  It is evident that students completing school in the different tracks have unequally different outcomes.  In order to eliminate the possibility of institutional racism and classism via the education system, eliminating the power to pick and choose which students can ultimately be more successful than others could have a huge impact on Turkish students’ chances to prove they are just as capable of receiving a meaningful education and getting a successful career, even if their language and cultural barriers at first inhibit them from succeeding as well in the beginning. 
            Integrating students of multiple cultural backgrounds would give the chance of exposure, which has many potential positive outcomes for all participating students.  Efforts to integrate classrooms have already been showing positive results, according to my interviewee, who was a representative from a Turkish soccer club organization.  He was speaking of a school in Berlin that was taking a different and unique approach to multiculturalism in the schools of Berlin:
            Relations between teachers and students are closer than in traditional schools in Berlin    and students with a Turkish background have the opportunity to learn free from the     environment of institutionalized racism manifested in more traditional schools in    Germany. Children with a German background have the opportunity to learn a foreign   language, an advantage that will help them communicate with one of the largest minority   groups in their community, and that will help them learn more languages in the future as        learning a second language has been proven to aid in the study and acquisition of any       language thereafter. The children in this school also learn from each other and learn to        appreciate each other’s culture and differences.”

            One potential obstacle with this effort is this is has an immediate economic disadvantage.  It would be very costly for the government to ensure that integration would be possible in the various schools, as they would need to allocate more funds for transportation for the students who would otherwise just go to their neighborhood schools.  This is comparable to similar efforts of state governments in the United States to integrate schools in the South that formerly had racially segregated schools, following the Supreme Court decision ruling in Brown v Board of Education of Topeka in 1954 stating that racially segregated schools were unconstitutional.  The potential benefits outweigh the potential costs: if the German government pushes for a more racially integrated society and encourages multicultural interactions in their schools, this has the potential to improve and strengthen international relationships.  In other words, this would be a useful investment that would only cause a temporary extra expense and effort.
            There seemed to be a consensus between the person I formally interviewed and the people with whom I had informal interviews and conversations about the language barrier in German schools.  Turkish students would have a far greater and fairer outcome if they could properly learn their essential lessons in school.  It is proven to be very inefficient to learn a subject in a language of which one cannot speak very well, let alone a young child who still is not very proficient in their own language.  Classes should, in this case, be taught in both Turkish and German languages.  This gives Turkish students a chance to more easily transition to education in the German language if they can at least begin learning in their native tongue.  Also, as noted by the person I interviewed, learning a second language is the gateway to more easily acquiring a skill in multiple languages thereafter.  This serves as a benefit to all students, regardless of their linguistic or ethnic backgrounds.
            Shifting German attitudes of diversity and multiculturalism is useful and necessary, as many of the political and social opinions that adults form in society come from the teachings gained from their teachers and peers.  As Cynthia Miller-Idriss mentions in Blood and Culture: Youth, Right-Wing Extremism, and National Belonging in Contemporary Germany, educational systems are powerful institutions for instilling political and social opinions that youth develop.  She further goes on to talk about efforts teachers in Germany are using to use the classroom as a medium to transform views on foreigners so that they can rationally see the benefit of multiculturalism and diversity, see the value in the foreigners in Germany, and oppose racist ideologies such as those imposed and perpetuated by the radical right.  If the viewpoint of immigrants shifted from being viewed as a burden and a waste to society to an important asset of communities everywhere, Turkish students in particular could potentially feel more support from the teachers and administration in their schools and have far better outcomes.
Further insights
            Through my research, I have learned that there is no clear and clean-cut solution that would help minority populations such as Turks better integrate into German society and promote multiculturalism and diversity.  This is because there is also no one reason as to why such issues like this have arisen.  I realize that, if allowed more time and resources, something interesting to find out would be to see from more extensive interviewing what factors tend to be more prevalent than others that influence Turkish people’s struggle to integrate into German society.  Another potentially interesting and valuable outcome that I would have looked at more with more opportunity to conduct extensive interviews would be what patterns would arise among the interviewees regarding their opinions on what reformations the German government could implement to better support them in the education system and German society as a whole.  It would help better understand how exactly and why minority populations such as Turks do not feel as though they are welcome or their needs adequately acknowledged.  When diversity and multiculturalism is viewed as a necessity and asset to the overall community, everyone in that community has a lot to gain.  Pride, nationalism, and belonging should include embracing one another’s differences and relying on each other for the common good, and with persistent education in the classrooms and maintaining intellectual dialogue about such topics, the shift toward this ideology will continue to happen and more noticeable trends can be observed.
Blecking, Diethelm (2008): Sport and Immigration in Germany, The International Journal of the History of Sport, 25:8, 955 – 973
Doerschler, Peter (2004): Education and the development of Turkish and Yugoslav immigrants’ political attitudes in Germany, German Politics, 13:3, 449 – 480
Miller-Idriss, Cynthia.  Blood and Culture: youth, right-wing extremism, and national belonging in contemporary Germany. Durham and London: Duke University Press Books, 2009. Print.
Völker, Gottfried E. (1976): Turkish Labour Migration to Germany: Impact on Both Economies, Middle Eastern Studies, 12:1, 45 – 72, Taylor & Francis, Ltd.
Staff of Deutsche Welle (2009): Study Shows Turkish Immigrants Least Integrated in Germany, Deutsche Welle.  Accessed 8 Jun 2011

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