The traffic light celebrates the progress towards greater educational equality. A professor from Berlin knows the problems. He describes what a good school would be like:

Students in Berlin board an already crowded bus on the way to school

Come in quickly so as not to be late! Students board a bus at Hermannplatz in Berlin-Neukölln Photo: Jürgen Held/imago

SEDAN taz | Mahmoud is 13 years old at the beginning of this story and is in seventh grade at a community school in Neukölln. He was born in Berlin, but has a tolerated status, like the rest of his family, who fled Lebanon to Germany 16 years ago. Mahmoud has five siblings and is the third child in the family. He lives in an 85 square meter apartment on Sonnenallee, one of the noisiest streets in the city.

Mahmoud shares a room with his three brothers. He does not find space or peace at home to study or do homework. One day he is on a school trip to Stralsund. A passerby yells at him “fuck your country.” When I talk to him about this, I am surprised that he tells me: “Mr. Nolte, that is normal.” Mahmoud is a fictional character that is made up of typical experiences with students.

The 16 Ministers of Education have just approved an agreement between the federal and state governments, the so-called StartChances program. The Federal Minister of Education, Bettina Stark-Watzinger (FDP), highlights that it is the “largest educational program in the history of the Federal Republic” and a “promise of progress.”

Fulfilling the ominous “promise of advancement” in the German education system is an important task, considering that several studies have declared it dead for decades. It has been pointed out time and again how strong the relationship between social origin and educational success is in Germany. And to what extent this problem is concentrated in schools in certain social areas, the so-called hotspot schools. 4,000 of these schools are now expected to benefit from the StartChances programme.

Modal adverbs determine a child's future

At age 16, Mahmoud completed his high school leaving certificate in grade 10 with a grade of 3.1. He got a five in maths, a four in German and a three in English. In German he is three points behind the three. In the exam he confuses causal and modal adverbs and does not understand a task in which he is supposed to translate a sentence from everyday language into standard language. At the institute where he wants to obtain his high school diploma, he has difficulties with his new class teacher. At some point, he just won't go there anymore.

The StartChances program is the central educational promise of the traffic light coalition. 4,000 schools in so-called socially disadvantaged areas will receive financial and staff support for ten years. It is scheduled to begin in the 2024/25 school year. Every year two billion euros are available. For the first time, part of the funds from a federal-state program are distributed according to social criteria. Final details were agreed upon in early February. (taz)

Before moving to our school at the age of 13, his GPA was 3.8. We also receive a file whose thickness indicates the number of problems in your school career to date. In primary school he was often involved in disputes and educational and regulatory measures had little effect.

His class teacher described him as “very difficult” during the delivery interview. Personally, I often found him irascible, impatient, direct, but also witty and very curious, especially when it came to political and social issues. For Mahmoud, it was natural to take his two little brothers to daycare and pick them up after school. For this reason, he often arrived late in the morning.

When Mahmoud was 10 years old, his mother separated from his father. It was never clearly stated, but there are many indications that violence was the cause. Since then, his mother has supported her five young children alone by cleaning for three different companies. There was little time for the children, but she was at all the parent-teacher meetings and you could tell how hard she worked to make sure Mahmoud met the school's expectations.

Walk to school: 1 hour

Because he did not speak German well, Mahmoud had to translate repeatedly when he had appointments with authorities. He also translated the dismissal letter from property management for his department and brought it to school the next day. He asked if they were allowed to do that. In ninth grade, Mahmoud moved with his family from Neukölln to Marzahn. He stayed at our school and from then on he had to travel an hour to school.

In the coalition agreement, the SPD, Greens and FDP promised young people like Mahmoud to “offer people the best educational opportunities, regardless of their origin.” The initial opportunities program should be an instrument for this. This is a step in the right direction, although it is not clear whether the money made available is enough. But what is missing is a deeper understanding of how complex and multifaceted the problem of educational injustice is. And how unfair is the selection by schools, which, like a jury, decide what life opportunities are offered to a young person.

The interesting question will be how individual schools will manage to use the money to seriously influence the education of all Mahmouds in this country. If we want educational equality, we must invest massively in support for early childhood and primary schools. Because these are the places where all children continue to learn together and where disadvantages can be compensated for early and preventively.

Anyone serious about justice must also offer secondary schools offers of support and quiet workplaces that disadvantaged students do not have outside of school. We need a school that does not select, but welcomes.

Some children should be given priority in school.

A school that is very well equipped. Which is modern, both at a constructive and teaching level. Students like Mahmoud received special support and were even treated preferentially. The idea of ​​preferential treatment may make one wonder initially, but it is a purely logical, even compelling, conclusion: if children are greatly disadvantaged outside of school, they must be greatly advantaged within the institution. Only in this way can you regain balance in terms of your possibilities.

Too often we act as if all students arrive by taxi from the wellness hotel in the morning.

For this to be successful, the pedagogical and institutional view of disadvantaged students must change. Educational researcher Aladin El Mafaalani writes in his book “The Myth of Education” that there are good reasons to believe that seemingly average students like Mahmoud actually have above-average potential. Ultimately, they meet all the demands placed on them in their educational biographies, despite often extremely difficult family and social conditions.

The problem is that nowadays in school we too often act as if all the students arrived by taxi from the wellness hotel in the morning and had nothing to mentally process other than binomial formulas, photosynthesis, the French Revolution or the difference between causal and modal. adverbials. In the end, it is precisely this stock of knowledge of the educated middle class that we examine and then distribute certificates of life chances to those who can reproduce it particularly well.

To achieve greater equality of opportunity, exactly the opposite is needed: children and young people should not fit into the needs of the school system, but rather the school system should be oriented towards their needs, interests and resources. This requires that we do not see educationally disadvantaged students as a problem, but rather recognize and value all hidden achievements.

Analyze rap instead of Goethe

This also requires us to question bourgeois educational norms. Specifically, this can mean: rap in German classes as an approach to poetry; for example, talking about the lyrics of South German-Sudanese rapper OG Keemo instead of just Goethe. Lessons on topics that are important to the identity of many: conflict in the Middle East, discrimination, racism, religion, gender roles. But also about conspiracy theories, the influence of social networks and fake news. In other words, lessons that are based on and respond specifically to the lives of children and young people like Mahmoud.

The structure of the school day that students like Mahmoud experience must also change. Let's imagine an ideal school day in the life of your little sister Tasnim, who will move on to high school in three years. Your day begins at 8:30 am with a shared breakfast provided by the school. It ends with a “check-in” where everyone reflects together on how they feel, what goals they have set for the day and what they need to achieve them.

In the first hour of each day there is free time to read with books and texts adapted to the interests of children and young people. In the second hour, Tasnim has math classes with two classmates. Project lessons take place in the third and fourth periods.

Tuesday and Thursday will be about the conflict between Israel and Palestine, which Tasnim is very interested in due to his family history. During class, the social worker takes her out of the room for half an hour to quickly discuss and resolve a dispute with Mina and Dilan from the previous day. Afterwards there is a big break so Tasnim can relax a bit and listen to music in one of the four relaxation rooms.

Even physics could be a fun subject

In fifth period he has physics, a subject that is difficult for him. The teacher takes the class, which consists of 15 children, outside to use magnifying glasses and test what a focal point is. In the sixth period, Tasnim has Arabic. She especially likes this, not only because she can count her mother tongue as a second foreign language, but also because she is proud of having mastered the writing and grammar of her mother tongue.

In the second big break there is a lot of exercise, Tasnim is dedicated to kickboxing. The last block again consists of interest-based learning opportunities that are designed for participation and empowerment. In their Climate Justice project, the children produce a report for the school radio. It is about the effects of climate change in Lebanon.

The day ends with a “check-out” with one of the school's four psychologists, who reflect on their day together with Tasnim. When he gets home, she tells Mahmoud how her day went.