Inclusion in German schools needs work, says study

Protest for the inclusion of young people with learning disabilities in mainstream education. Köln, September 2013. [Dave Collier/Flickr]

In Germany, more and more students with and without disabilities are sharing the same classroom, according to a new study by the Bertelsmann Foundation. Nevertheless, inclusion in certain schools is being carried out poorly. EURACTIV Germany reports.

The principle of inclusion means that education should be completely inclusive. In Germany, a UN agreement has been in force since 2009, in which children have the right to attend regular school, regardless of their disability.

Primary schools and nurseries have implemented the inclusion principle particularly, says the study by the Foundation. According to its figures, the inclusion rate has increased by over 70% in the five years up to the 2013/2014 school year. Now, more than 31% of students who live with a disability attend a regular school. That is the highest rate since the entry into force of the UN Convention in question.

Primary schools more advanced than secondary schools

Nevertheless, according to the study the situation for children and young people with disabilities has not improved consistently enough. The percentage of students in special-needs schools hardly went down. In addition, the chances of inclusion differ greatly nationwide.

Depending on the type of school, the chances can differ wildly. In secondary education inclusion is still implemented particularly poorly. “Inclusion in Germany is making progress,” says Jörg Dräger, director of the Bertelsmann Foundation, “but the goal of everyone learning together is still a long way off.”

While the inclusion rate in nurseries and primary school is 67% and 47% respectively, at secondary school level it is only 30%. Of the approximately 71,000 students with special needs in secondary schools, the majority goes to ‘Hauptschulen’ and ‘Gesamtschulen’, German secondary schools to which any child who attended primary school can go. In contrast, only one in 10 students with disabilities attend the ‘Realschule’ or a ‘Gymnasium’, schools which require higher marks for admittance.

Germany remains inconsistent

This inequality is also reflected regionally. In Bremen, the inclusion rate in regular schools is at 69%, making it a front-runner in Germany. In Hessen, it is less than 22%. “In terms of inclusion, Germany is like a patchwork quilt,” said Dräger. Positive examples of schools that show that common teaching is feasible are very important, especially for convincing teachers who may have doubts.

The Bertelsmann Foundation advocates greater financial commitment from Germany’s federal states, the Bundesländer. “Too often inclusive learning fails because of a lack of infrastructure and inadequate teacher training,” explained Dräger. The issue will become increasingly more relevant, as the number of students being diagnosed with special-needs is increasing.

It isn’t just the matter of inclusion that needs attention. In June, numerous human rights organisations sharply criticised the German government for being the only EU-state to block a Union-wide policy against any kind of discrimination. The German government’s rejection of the EU’s planned guidelines means that many people with disabilities in several countries still are not able to access certain buildings and offices, according to its critics.

Inclusion means equal participation in society for all and is the guiding principle of the UN Disability Rights Convention. It is no longer a question of integrating the "marginalised." Rather, all people should be able to participate fully in activities from the outset.

Part of the concept is inclusive education, the aim of which is the common schooling of children that do and do not have disabilities, in a regular school. To some critics, this goal is very controversial and goes too far.

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