Germany's Turkish children sink into the underclass

The children of Turkish immigrants in Germany are failing at school and in danger of solidifying into a permanent underclass. Both right-wing politicians - who hold up the two-million strong Turkish community as evidence that multi-culturalism cannot work - and Turkish leaders are sounding the alarm over levels of under-achievement among the children of Germany's largest ethnic minority group.

The children of Turkish immigrants in Germany are failing at school and in danger of solidifying into a permanent underclass. Both right-wing politicians - who hold up the two-million strong Turkish community as evidence that multi-culturalism cannot work - and Turkish leaders are sounding the alarm over levels of under-achievement among the children of Germany's largest ethnic minority group.

German society is already in uproar over demands by the opposition that immigrants blend into their surroundings and kowtow to the "defining culture" - Leitkultur - of the land. Now the Turkish embassy, worried by reports that the grandchildren of the first Gastarbeiter still cannot master the language of Goethe and a quarter of them leave school without a qualification, has sent out a circular urging parents to make an effort.

Schools in Berlin, the biggest Turkish city this side of Istanbul, are cutting back on lessons provided in the immigrants' mother tongue. Twelve of the 19 primary schools running bilingual classes in the capital have ditched Turkish because, they say, the children were not learning German.

"Our model has failed," says Gerd-Jürgem Busack, headmaster of Nürtingen primary school in Kreuzberg, the heart of Turkish Berlin. In a class of 10-year-olds Kevin, the lone German, tries to outshout 17 Turks, one Arab and one Kurd. Four of the girls wear headscarves. In lessons the children are keen and speak fluently, but what comes out of their mouths is pidgin German, full of howlers. These pupils will complete their primary education in two languages, but the school did not start a bilingual class for this year's entrants. Mr Busack says it is asking too much to foist two languages on children who had none.

"The kids are born here, yet they cannot speak German," he complains. "And their Turkish is miserable. When they come here, they cannot name the primary coloursin Turkish or German. They sit for 10 hours in front of the TV, they have never drawn, painted or played with anything other than electronic toys."

"Turks are at the lower end of the achievement scale," says Eren Unsal, an educationalist and spokeswoman of Berlin's Turkish Association. Ms Unsal, 30, is the kind of Turk most Germans would approve of. She is articulate, stylishly dressed and has a German boyfriend. "I am second generation," she says. "I have no problem with the German language. But the generation after me does."

Her organisation and the Turkish Parents' Federation agree with Mr Busack that the children are struggling because they learn no German at home. About half the Turkish men in Berlin bring their wives from the old country, especially from rural areas. The women's education is rudimentary. Children often hear no word of German until their first day at school.

The Turkish embassy and the Parents' Federation have sent out letters urging Turkish families in Berlin to "start your children in kindergarten as early as possible". But Ms Unsal says many Turkish parents are either too poor to pay the fees - the unemployment rate among Berlin's Turks is 30 per cent - or reluctant to put their offspring in a non-Muslim environment in their impressionable early years.

Ms Unsal grew up in a suburb where her family were in those days the only Turks. There was no choice but to conform. But successful as she has become in German society, she does not think she is a suitable role model for her people. "This country has gifted me a language, but deprived me of my own," she says. "I spoke no Turkish until I was 20. I was not integrated, I was assimilated."

No such threat faces the majority of Turks in Kreuzberg. German parents are pulling their children out of local schools, and the emerging Turkish middle class is fleeing into the suburbs. The ghetto is closing its gates.

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