Dear Mr Pulido,
Ladies and gentlemen,
You all know how much Federal Minister Steinmeier would have liked to talk to you in person today. And I'm sure you will understand that the current talks in France ... are keeping him busy.
We want to make sure that foreign cultural and education policy continues to be accorded greater influence and greater importance, not least financially. This is something which it not only needs, but – in the most positive sense of the word – deserves, given its important contribution to German foreign policy and promoting understanding between peoples.
The tradition of the so-called "third pillar" founded by Willy Brandt remains our guiding light and our duty, and rarely has it been more important than it is today to adapt and extend this tradition in line with the standards of the 21st century.
We need culture for its opportunities to exchange views, its critical comment and its constant reminders. In concrete terms this means, in foreign cultural and education policy in particular, providing spaces in which our country can portray itself through the media of art and culture, express itself in the whole spectrum of visual forms and the teaching of languages, and offer young people from different cultures the opportunity to learn and work together.
Looking at the progress made in the last year and a half, I think we can safely say that we have restored foreign cultural and education policy to its position at the centre of German foreign policy.
The beginning of the parliamentary term was marked by the reform and shoring up of the Goethe Institute, the flagship of German foreign cultural and education policy. The some 130 branches of the Goethe Institute outside the country combine with our foreign missions, the offices of academic exchange organizations and, of course, the German schools abroad to form what can be seen as Germany's foreign cultural infrastructure. This cultural infrastructure must be further modernized, reformed and extended.
What is more, the coming year will see a further area of priority: education. If we are to overcome global problems, we must pay greater attention than we have done thus far to our role as an intercultural and international learning community. The quality of education systems plays a vital role in turning what are increasingly interlinked states and regions into a global knowledge-based community. Education is the key issue of the 21st century. Money spent on education can be seen as an investment in the future, which greatly benefits not only our children, but whole generations – not to mention the economy. The earlier we begin to make these investments, the longer we can reap the rewards.
This is the special advantage of our international network of schools abroad and all of the schools in which young people from around the world can gain a first insight into our language, as well as into the educational programmes we offer. The German schools represent – even in international terms – a unique range of instruments. They are places where, for years, young people have come together to learn key competencies such as the ability to engage in intercultural dialogue. The recognized schools serve not only Germans living abroad for professional reasons who want their children to receive a German education, but also children from the guest countries or with a different cultural background, for whom the schools represent an opportunity to become acquainted with the German language and culture. I would like to pay tribute to the international schools in particular, which play an outstanding role in building bridges in this way.
The international schools promote practical cultural dialogue and make an important contribution to the cultural, social and economic development of their host countries. They also help to educate some of the future elite in the fields of politics, business, academia and culture, people with whom we can forge bilateral relations in future – allowing us to contribute to the development of Germany. Germany needs well-educated and interculturally experienced people from and based in other countries in the world. These people serve as contacts and colleagues abroad or in Germany.
We want to use innovative approaches to contribute more to the development of school systems in future. This was the thinking behind our plan to launch in 2008 – together with German business, the Goethe Institute and our other partners, notably the Länder and, above all, yourselves, the International Federation of German Schools Abroad – a school initiative under the heading "Schools – Partners of the Future". We are not just interested in quantity – we also want even greater quality.
The existing German schools abroad form an integral part of this initiative. But we also want to incorporate schools which offer German teaching already or intend to do so. The aim is, particularly in fast developing regions of the world, to be more present than ever before, and at the same time, to improve the quality and competitiveness of our schools in the long term. This cannot be achieved without funding, nor without public money. We are voicing this message in the ongoing budget negotiations. And I would appreciate and value your support in this.
But public funds alone will not suffice. We also need your commitment if we are to succeed in establishing a wide-ranging alliance with German businesses in particular. I am confident that, together, we can do this.
A hundred years ago, the schools abroad – and this is only too often forgotten in everyday political life – formed something of the nucleus of German foreign cultural and education policy. And looking at the work of the International Federation of German Schools Abroad, considering the some quarter of a million pupils all over the world being educated at a German school or a funded school in their individual national education systems, and judging from the truly impressive alumni lists of the German schools abroad, we may draw quiet confidence from the progress made together so far.
There is probably no other area of foreign policy in which obligation on the part of the state and commitment on the part of the civil society combines as well as it does in the common concern for the education and the future of our children. The voluntary members of the executive committee here today dedicate a great deal of time and energy to this cause and have assumed joint responsibility for the pupils. May I thank you most sincerely for this. Your commitment encourages us to take the next steps forward together and, I have no doubt, serves as a shining example to the younger generation.
This is why I hope that the International Federation of German Schools abroad will act as a channel between civil society and the state, between the older generation and the pupils and, not least, between the "inside" of the Federal Foreign Office and the "outside", and that it will lend our joint efforts the necessary momentum in all of the countries in which it operates. Needless to say, we will be here to support you at all times, and look forward to hearing your ideas, proposals and constructive criticism.
On my visits to schools I have been able to see the different and, in some cases, difficult circumstances in which children from various cultural backgrounds are taught and successfully guided to final exams. But I have also seen the proactive engagement of the teachers at the schools abroad in ensuring the well-being and development of the children entrusted into their care – a task in which they are supported by the school boards.
I know that no German school abroad is the same as the next, and that status and circumstances vary. But what they do share is an outstanding value in terms of foreign cultural and education policy. As the great majority of the pupils at the schools do not have a German passport, the schools are at once an important springboard and relay station for all those in the guest country seeking contact with Germany. Many have become centres of German culture. They are the first port of call for those wishing to give their children outstanding possibilities in education, but also provide a basis for lifelong ties with our country.
In the interest of these ties, the networks of former pupils should also be strengthened, and contact should be sought with former recipients of DAAD and Alexander von Humboldt scholarships. So let us continue to work together, for the good of the schools and, most of all, for the young people for whom we bear a joint responsibility and in whom we place our hopes for friendship and exchange across borders in future.