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School sets standard for racial integration

Ethnic mix yields good results

(swissinfo.ch)

According to the education authorities, Fluhmühle primary school in Littau, central Switzerland, should be one of the country’s worst schools. But it’s not.

The school is on the edge of a high-rise estate for low-income families. Diesel fumes waft through the air from a busy highway along which buses and trucks roar into the nearby city of Lucerne.

The place has a bad reputation; it has been described as a ghetto. Most of the locals are immigrants, who say you have to be tough to survive.

Many Swiss families moved out of the neighbourhood decades ago, fearing that the influx of foreigners would negatively influence their children’s education.

But a visitor to the area might wonder what all the fuss is about. The doors have single locks, there is no graffiti, and sunlight reflects off perfectly intact windows. There are no obvious signs of racial dissent.

The same peaceful atmosphere prevails at the Fluhmühle primary school. Its director, Regula Kuhn, says the pupils are highly motivated and determined to achieve through education the kind of lives their parents could only dream of.

Bucking the trend

Various studies into the relationship between immigration and education suggest that the presence of foreigners causes standards to decline.

At the end of 2004, Hans Ulrich Stöckling, president of the cantonal educational authorities, maintained that immigration had lowered the level of education in Switzerland.

But Fluhmühle’s academic results are the same as those of any other primary school in the area, even though more than 67 percent of its 300 pupils are foreigners, originating from 21 different countries.

Teacher Cilla Schläfli estimates that four of her pupils from class 5B will make it through to the cantonal school for academically gifted children - double the normal figure per class.

Schläfli attributes the good results to successful integration. "[Much] has been achieved here with learning German, with getting along – I have rarely known it to work this well in other schools where I have taught."

German makes the difference

The Littau school won a cantonal prize earlier this year for its unique approach to language teaching.

Unlike most primary schools in German-speaking Switzerland, High German is the language of instruction at Fluhmühle, and three German teachers are employed specifically to bring the children’s language skills up to scratch.

New pupils from abroad have to undergo six hours of intensive German per week and are not graded on their other class work until they have achieved the required language standard.

The German teachers also participate in general classes, helping students with phrases they do not understand.

Twelve-year-old Byan Marabu from Kenya and Lendita Rexhepi from Kosovo arrived only recently in Switzerland.

Both find learning German a big challenge, but say they appreciate the help they get from teachers and class colleagues alike.

Class 5B

Among the 21 pupils in class 5B, only three are Swiss. Schläfli says ethnically mixed classes have several advantages. "These children are open to everything. They automatically learn about other cultures, other languages, and they are more tolerant."

As a supply teacher, she maintains that she has encountered more "problem" children in classes with predominantly Swiss children than here in Littau.

Schläfli also believes foreign children from poorer families make more effort than their Swiss counterparts. "They seem to be much more aware that education provides an opportunity to achieve something worthwhile in life."

Fighting

The 5B pupils have drawn up their own set of rules for classroom behaviour, which seem to be observed.

For example, only high German may be spoken in class, fighting is not allowed, pupils are expected to respect and help each other, and stealing is strictly forbidden.

Serb children play happily with Kosovar Albanians in the schoolyard. Armin Sehovic from Serbia and Besfort Gaxherri, a fugitive from the war in Kosovo, say there are hardly ever any fights during break times.

Regula Kuhn explains that staff members have a common approach to discipline, which helps with conflict resolution.

"If a fight does break out, teachers intervene immediately, and try to discuss with the students the reason for the flare up," she told swissinfo.

Even so, Littau has its problems. 5B pupil, Stefanie Schorno, was once threatened with a thrashing by older students at the school.

Her father, a soccer coach, came up with a successful way of addressing the problem.

"He said, if you join the local football club you will get used to being with these people from different countries and they won

swissinfo, Julie Hunt in Littau

In brief

67 percent of Fluhmühle’s more than 300 pupils are foreigners, originating from 21 different countries.

The Littau school won a cantonal prize earlier this year for its unique approach to language teaching.

Three German teachers are employed specifically to bring the children’s language skills up to scratch.

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