Education the key for Germany’s Turks

The only way to solve ongoing tension between Turkey and Germany over some 3 million Turks living in Germany is by working together. Both countries need to find a common ground upon which they can build fruitful relationships and address challenges faced by the Turkish community in Germany. The golden key to solving most, if not all, the problems Turks face in this populous EU country is education. If German authorities, in close collaboration with their Turkish counterparts, were to promote educational opportunities, especially among the youth in the Turkish community, I believe we would be able to establish a key component for successful social cohesion or integration in German society.

The burden should not be loaded only on the shoulders of the tiny Turkish population but rather on German society in general as they have the power, resources and, most importantly, ethical responsibility to accomplish this. Instead of stigmatizing Turks and accusing them of not integrating into German society, the German government should create favorable conditions for Turks to live without fear of being excluded or discriminated against. Just as America did in the ’60s, when desegregation policies forced white-majority communities to accept African-Americans into their midst, a version of this affirmative action or positive discrimination may be needed in Germany to include minority communities in all social, economic and educational programs.

Today many young Turks face problems in the German education system, ranging from high dropout rates to ill-advised referrals by German primary school teachers to low-skill vocational schools. It is heart wrenching to see about one-third of over 600,000 Turkish students leave school without getting their diplomas. Most primary school graduates of Turkish origin — around 85 percent — have to enroll in low-quality Hauptschule secondary schools with no prospects of getting into university. Coupled with this, adversarial policies against learning their mother tongue, i.e., Turkish, further alienate Turkish students at school. Some German schools go as far as banning Turkish students from speaking in Turkish even during their breaks. Instead of the Turkish language being demonized, it should be included in school curricula as a first or secondary foreign language while still maintaining a strong emphasis on learning German.

There are some successful private schools established by Turkish entrepreneurs in Germany that offer high-quality education and much better prospects for Turkish students. These schools have an open and inclusive approach and their performance has been remarkable. They should be supported because Turks do not feel uneasiness in sending their children to these schools. But their numbers are limited and can only offer a solution to the few lucky ones. The real solution lies in a comprehensive approach in the German education system to promoting educational opportunities for minorities and disadvantaged groups.

However, this is not the only problem that Turks in Germany are facing. Even Turkish students who graduate from top universities in Germany face discrimination and limited job opportunities. Unfortunately the hiring practices of many public agencies and private companies overlook applicants who have a Turkish background. Equal employment opportunities are not practiced. This is why we are witnessing an exodus to Turkey of highly skilled German-educated Turkish graduates, which numbered around 70,000 last year alone. Obviously this is a major concern for Germany’s future as the country is in need of a highly skilled workforce from engineers to technicians.

We are confronted with a different educational challenge. When banker-turned-politician Thilo Sarrazin’s hateful book “Germany Abolishes Itself” became a bestseller in 2010, half of the German public — according to polls — agreed with his views that there must be something wrong with the way the German educational system works. This should trigger alarm bells for everybody and should prompt the German state to actively promote diversity, multiculturalism and openness in its education system so that xenophobic, Islamophobic and exclusionary practices do not take a stronghold in the future. After all, Germany already had a bad record in World War II with regard to its Jewish population and the government ought to be extra vigilant on a new pattern of hate developing in German society.

Unfortunately the issue of integration is highly politicized and negative stereotyping in the German press continues to stigmatize Turks in Germany. It takes a strong political leadership, courage and vision to ride the waves of anti-immigration opinion in Germany, which seems to be lacking at the moment. Kemal Yurtnaç, chairman of the Overseas Turks Agency (YTB), was right when he said: “If Germany is concerned about the migration of skilled Germans of Turkish origin, they should take measures against it. Possibly these highly talented people do not see their future in Germany. They may feel discriminated against or unable to take advantage of equal opportunities.”

I believe Germany understands that it needs Turkey to successfully integrate its Turkish community just like Turkey needs to work with Germany to find solutions to the problems of Turks there. This has nothing to do with suggestions of interference in German domestic affairs. However, what happens in the Turkish community in Germany reflects directly on Turkish society back in the motherland, so Turkish officials feel compelled to raise some issues in meetings with their German counterparts. Turkey can bring a lot to the table and be a convincing partner in pushing Turks to contribute to the well-being of Germany.

We have to remember that a Turkish culture of strong family ties and a Turkish mystical interpretation of Islam have not only helped Turkey stay away from radical movements but have also kept the Turkish community in Germany from exploitation by fanatical religious zealots. Though there were some exceptions and isolated incidents, this culture, supported by an exchange of imams from Turkey, by and large insulated the Turkish community in Germany from radical ideologies. A new German experiment in enforcing a language requirement for new Turkish brides and grooms before issuing resident visas and appointing non-Turkish imams to meet the needs of the Turkish community will sabotage these foundations. These practices are attracting criticism from Turks in Germany and as a result the Turkish government has felt obligated to raise the issue both at intergovernmental meetings and public platforms.

If Turkish and German partnerships can successfully come up with education and development programs that specifically cater to the needs of the Turkish community in Germany, this would help solve many outstanding issues between the two countries in the future, including the foothold a certain terrorist organization has in this country.

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