Whether through labour migration, fleeing war zones, or simply deciding to move to Germany with one's child to join a new partner - the German education system faces the task of integrating children and young people from different backgrounds and, above all, ensuring that sufficient German language skills lay the foundation for a successful school career. A central question is whether Willkommensklassen are the right way to provide newcomers with the best possible opportunities.
But what exactly are Willkommensklassen?
Willkommensklassen are special classes designed to integrate newly arrived or fled children and adolescents from abroad into the regular school system. They primarily focus on the acquisition of German language skills. Cultural and social aspects also often play a role in the lessons to ease the students' entry into the German education system and society. Welcome classes are often mixed-age. After a certain period, usually one school year, students are integrated into the regular classes of the suitable grade.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of Willkommensklassen?
Underperformance is very often due to language problems - in all subjects. Willkommensklassen provide targeted instruction in basic language skills, systematically teaching reading, writing, and vocabulary building. This allows children to get used to their new school stress-free. As class sizes are usually smaller than in regular classes, more individualised support is possible, ensuring that each child receives the assistance they need to transition to a regular class. For example, some students may need to be alphabetised first. The language foundation established in a Willkommensklasse can also make it easier for a child to make friends and cope with everyday life.
On the other hand, separating students from regular classes can lead to Willkommensklasse students staying among themselves and missing out on connecting with their peers. In some cases, the so-called language immersion method is more effective and motivates children better than other approaches. Furthermore, operating Willkommensklassen requires extra resources and planning by the school. The lesson quality depends on the availability of qualified and motivated staff - which is not always a given in times of massive teacher shortages. Finally, there is a risk of stigmatisation if children in Willkommensklassen are perceived as segregated and, therefore, different. It is once again the school's task to prevent this.
How do schools implement Willkommensklassen?
Some schools allow Willkommensklassen students to participate in regular lessons only after they obtain a specific language level. Other schools work in a way that students are part of a Willkommensklasse but attend regular class lessons from the beginning in some subjects to allow early integration and (partial) immersion. Flexible handling seems adequate, considering the diverse learning needs of the students.
Some federal states, on the other hand, do not provide Willkommensklassen at all but supplement regular classes with additional German lessons. It is debatable whether this is due to the realisation that the necessary resources are lacking or the belief that the immersion method yields better results.
The decision (as far as you can decide about it) to place your child in a Willkommensklasse depends on many factors and always on the individual case. Children attending first or second grade often cope well with attending a regular class from day one and learn German very quickly. For older children, it can be helpful to precede regular class attendance with an initial phase of intensive German language learning. However, it always makes sense to stay in contact with the child and the school - and, of course, to make your efforts to learn German as quickly as possible. ;-)