Federal Foreign Office: “Speech by Foreign Minister Steinmeier at the annual conference of the heads of the German schools abroad at the Federal Foreign Office”

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Speech by Foreign Minister Steinmeier at the annual conference of the heads of the German schools abroad at the Federal Foreign Office

06.01.2016

— Translation of advance text —

Ulla Schmidt,
Members of the Bundestag,
Ms Bauni,
Mr Schwerdtfeger and Mr Lauer,
Mr Ernst,
Representatives of the teachers’ associationsand,
above all, head teachers,

We bring together German ambassadors from around the world here in the Weltsaal every summer. So we thought it wouldn’t be such a bad place to welcome you today: the Federal Republic of Germany’s education ambassadors! A very warm welcome to you all.

I don’t think it’s too late to wish you all a Happy New Year. What’s more, I hope it’s a more peaceful year than the last!

However, when I think of the last few days – looking at Saudi Arabia or other parts of the world – the signs are not really good.

Around the world, crises and conflicts constantly demand our attention. Many of you, ladies and gentlemen, have experienced the impact of war and violence, of flight and displacement on your schools – whether it be in Erbil, very close to the lines of conflict, or in schools along the refugee routes to Europe: in Beirut, Belgrade or Zagreb. Countless teachers and students there have got involved, have collected clothing, gone to shelters with donations or have put on plays for children in refugee camps.

In some places, however, schools have been under fire. Just over a year ago, I received a letter from Tetyana Prystuba, the head teacher of a secondary school in Donetsk, which is a member of our PASCH network: “Under no circumstances will we stop lessons,” she wrote. “Every day our students have three hours of lessons because it’s not yet warm enough in our school. The teaching staff have decided to celebrate the Christmas party at the school in spite of everything, because our children also want to laugh, dance and sing.”

The school in Donetsk was hit several times during 2014 in the fighting between separatists and the Ukrainian army and almost all windows and doors were destroyed. But the children want to keep on learning! Together with the schools division here at the Head Office, our consulate-general in Donetsk therefore got hold of the means, funds and workers, and by the end of January 2015 the windows and doors had been repaired.

And then? Just a few weeks later, the school was again damaged when it was hit by a grenade. Ms Prystuba wrote me another letter. And what did we do? We installed new windows and doors. This aptly sums up foreign policy in times of crisis: progress is difficult and setbacks are almost inevitable, but giving up is not an option! Since early September 2015, the secondary school has been operating normally. That sends a heartening message!

Why am I telling you this story from eastern Ukraine? Because it shows how closely political credibility is tied to concrete engagement on the ground. Because it shows how closely foreign policy and engagement in the education field are linked. And how important work in the education sector is for peace. For what would have happened if we hadn’t provided help? Would the school have been closed? Would the children have been left standing on the street without any hope of getting an education? Would parents and teachers have been resigned?

It’s clear to me that just as humanitarian assistance is one of the core tasks of the Federal Foreign Office, help to ensure that people can live in dignity is also part of this – and that encompasses culture and education!

That’s why, and some of you may have already noticed this, we’ve overhauled our entire cultural relations and education policy. Our cultural relations policy cannot be guided by aesthetic criteria but, rather, must address social and political issues. We want and need to strengthen the social power of culture.

For culture and education help to foster a self-determined life. That means understanding and bridging differences. That means learning and teaching children to shoulder responsibility.

***

Ladies and gentlemen,

However, what is brought into sharp focus in conflict areas also applies to other parts of the world. That’s why the success of school education abroad is so important to us. You communicate in your schools what kind of country Germany is, which questions it asks itself, what its dark and bright sides are. You open up channels of understanding and create the basis for an education which often results in your graduates forming lifelong ties with our country. During my travels, I often meet the head of a company, a minister or an opera singer who talk to me in glowing terms of their time at a German school, who subsequently received a scholarship from the German Academic Exchange Service and perhaps even later became a fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. That, too, ladies and gentlemen, is all down to you! And for that I thank you.

***

I’m delighted to be able to give you some good news today. And the fact that I can do so is mainly thanks to the Members of the German Bundestag and its Vice-President. The Bundestag has made available an extra 22 million euros to German schools abroad for this year.

Ulla Schmidt, that entailed weeks, indeed months, of hard work trying to win over Members of the Bundestag of all parties and in the committees. This is part of a political strategy which covers the issues of inclusion, advancement through education, as well as the tireless efforts on behalf of the teachers. I would like to thank you, Ulla, and my colleagues from the Bundestag, most sincerely for that.

For us, that means two million euros for construction measures and 20 million euros for our teachers and the further qualitative expansion of our schools. That’s a huge demonstration of confidence.

Following the implementation of the German Schools Abroad Act, we now want to modernise teachers’ salaries – and, above all, make them more family-friendly. Together with the associations, the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Länder and the Federal Office of Administration – Central Agency for Schools Abroad, we’ve prepared the ground for this well. On this basis, we should bring this to a conclusion in the coming weeks. That will also make it easier for schools to attract good teachers. For good teachers are vital. They are the cornerstone of our schools abroad. We also want more to be done at the schools for inclusion, social measures and the further qualitative expansion.

We’ve already achieved much here, but some things have to be reviewed. For that reason, we want to evaluate the experiences from the implementation of the German Schools Abroad Act at the end of this year.

Together with the WDA, we’ll also look again at school management. And we want to examine the entire PASCH network: many national schools which belong to our network and offer enhanced German tuition have established new partnerships since the start of the initiative – and have attracted considerable interest in their countries. We’re delighted about that.

We should therefore look to see where and on what scale the German schools abroad and the PASCH schools can be expanded. I’m thinking here in particular of Central and Eastern Europe, of Africa and some parts of Asia.

***

Ladies and gentlemen,

Our schools abroad have been helping for many years to build bridges from Germany to the rest of the world. Perhaps, however, we’re more aware at present of how much the encounters experienced there can make a concrete contribution towards making Germany itself fit for the future.

This is also about using the instruments which we’ve developed over many years here in Germany. For example, the German Language Certificate which candidates here in Germany sit: it has evolved from the language exams taken abroad and has become a valuable instrument everywhere students have to learn German. That is especially important today, of course, when it comes to integrating children who have come to Germany as refugees.

***

“The limits of my language means the limits of my world” – you all know Wittgenstein’s maxim. That’s why it’s so important that the new arrivals learn our language. They have to do so not only because of the world of Goethe and Schiller, the world of Hannes Wader and Max Raabe or of Feridun Zaimoglu or Sten Nadolny. Rather, they have to learn German because it has become a republican language, a language of equality, freedom and democracy.

***

It’s clear to me that we have to make the successes of cooperation in the education field visible here in Berlin. I’m therefore pleased that German schools abroad will be eligible to receive the Robert Bosch Stiftung German School Award, which has been in existence for ten years now, for the first time this year. This is a great recognition of your achievements.

We want to continue further along this path. Together with you and all partners, in April we’ll be holding a major forum on cultural relations and education policy. The first two days will be dedicated to the Schools: Partners for the Future network (PASCH), which I initiated in 2008. In the evening, there will be a “long night of ideas” throughout Berlin and, finally, there will be a conference at which we showcase the entire spectrum of our cultural relations and education work. You’re all cordially invited!

***

Ladies and gentlemen,

Let us work together to promote our school system abroad, our efforts to foster culture, science and research. For a cultural relations and education policy which sees itself as a means of helping people to live in dignity we can go some way towards doing what Willy Brandt asked us to do: working to “strengthen reason as a driving force in the world”.

Today that is more necessary than ever.

Thank you very much.

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Robert Williams

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