On Wednesday evening (4 June), Foreign Minister Steinmeier opened the World Congress of German Schools Abroad. The congress, which runs till Saturday, will be attended by representatives of some 140 schools from more than 70 countries; its slogan is “Worldwide Education. Worldwide Opportunities.” Steinmeier said that the work of the German schools abroad was an “elementary part of German foreign policy”.
Lots of different languages could be heard in the crowded Weltsaal on Wednesday evening (4 June) before the orchestra of the German School in Pretoria struck up to open proceedings. Alongside the 450 or so members of school boards, head teachers and administrators from over 140 German schools abroad, this year’s world congress is for the first time also being attended by representatives of approximately 1100 schools which offer the DSD, the German Language Certificate of the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs. Despite their different mother tongues, they are all united by their enthusiasm for the German language and German culture.
Praise for the German Schools Abroad Act
The guests were welcomed to the congress by Sylvia Löhrmann, President of the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Länder in the Federal Republic of Germany. Löhrmann extended particular thanks to Cornelia Pieper, former Minister of State at the Federal Foreign Office with responsibility for culture, who was instrumental in pushing through the German Schools Abroad Act. The Act, which entered into force on 1 January 2014, guarantees German schools abroad a legal right to funding.
In his speech, Foreign Minister Frank‑Walter Steinmeier said that the world had changed since the end of the Cold War and that things no longer revolved solely “around the Western sun”. But this was no reason to give in to resignation, the Minister continued: on the contrary, it was an incentive “to give the world the best (...) we have to offer: the legacy of the European Enlightenment”.
An elementary part of foreign policy – the German schools abroad
And that, Steinmeier said, was exactly what the German schools abroad do – every day, on five continents, in 141 German schools abroad and over 1800 partner schools. The Foreign Minister added:
I firmly believe, and so does the Federal Foreign Office, that what you are doing is not just for decoration, as it were, it is not just a sideline; it is in fact an elementary part of German foreign policy. Since Willy Brandt’s time cultural relations and education policy has been the “third pillar” of foreign policy. And I would like to strengthen that pillar again!
Learning for the world, learning from the world
A recent report by the McKinsey Global Institute, the Minister said, showed that Germany was the world’s most connected country, not only thanks to its export‑led economy, but also in terms of human migration and digital data flows. This connectedness was changing the world, Steinmeier said, but it was also changing our own country: “And that’s why to my mind cultural relations and education policy means learning for the world just as much as learning from the world.”
However, the Minister went on, we can hardly expect young people to come in droves to study in Germany if they’ve never had any contact with the German language: with even someone like Mark Twain describing “The Awful German Language”, only early exposure to German could further reduce the number of foreign students in Germany who break off their studies.
Preparation for studies in Germany
In the subsequent panel discussion five young students and graduates from German schools abroad spoke of their plans for the future: Cristina Heroven from Chile, Irina Avdeeva from Russia and Johannes von Streit, who went to school in Shanghai, are already studying in Germany. Wang Hongyi from China and Julian Ingendaay from Spain, both still at school, also intend to go to university in Germany. Wang Hongyi said at first she had terrible trouble learning German, like Mark Twain. However, she was fascinated by the “precision and gravity”of the German language, and this had helped shape her way of thinking.
The five young people agreed that their education had brought Germany’s language and culture very close to them. Their opinions differed only on whether Germany would make it into the World Cup final in a month’s time!