• 4/28/2016

Study reveals large disparities among recent young immigrants in vocational training schools

Illiterate students and high-school leavers in the same classroom

55 native languages, 78 career aspirations, between zero and 17 years of educational experience: A pioneering classroom study among more than 500 students conducted in Bavaria by educational researchers from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) shows that the diversity in vocational training school classrooms for recent young immigrants is greater than usually expected. The scientists therefore recommend significantly more differentiated approaches to teaching, job profiles and teacher training.

Young people at a classroom table
How can young immigrants with different native languages and educational experience can be taught in the same classroom? (Photo: Rawpixel.com / Fotolia.com)

In Bavaria, young immigrants aged 16 to 21 initially attend vocational training schools for two years. In special classes, they learn German and are expected to acquire fundamental skills for further education or direct career entry. Given a rise in the number of migrants, the number of such classes has increased significantly in recent years. Up until now, however, there has been little well-founded research on their composition, and the level of education and language skills of young immigrants.

Educational researchers from the TUM School of Education thus conducted an online survey during Spring and Summer 2015, involving some 540 students from approximately 40 Bavarian vocational training schools. The majority of respondents had been living in Germany for one to three years, 60 percent of them without adult relatives or friends. Four fifths of the questionnaires were completed by men. The study sponsored by a German research institution for language development and German as a second language (Mercator-Institut für Sprachförderung und Deutsch als Zweitsprache) reveals large disparities among young immigrants in all characteristics examined.

Origin and migration

The study involved students from 44 countries. By far the largest group (approx. 40 percent of respondents) were young immigrants from Afghanistan. By continent, most study participants were from Asia (62 percent), followed by Africa (24 percent). Nine percent of participants, however, were EU citizens.

“These classrooms are by no means just made up of refugees”, emphasizes study author Prof. Alfred Riedl, Head of the Department of Vocational Education at the Chair of Mathematics Education. “The reasons for immigration and therefore the range of different backgrounds seem to be more varied than terms like 'refugee classes' would suggest.”

Educational experience and language skills

The question on the number of years in education so far resulted in a range from zero to 17 years. Approximately half of young immigrants had attended school for nine years or longer. Educational institutions attended ranged from elementary school to university. Twelve percent of respondents had no previous educational experience and six percent had been illiterate upon their arrival in Germany.

Participants had a total of 55 mother tongues and spoke 64 different languages. 70 percent of young immigrants who had attended school in their home country had studied English.

“The level of diversity could not be greater“, says Barbara Baumann, coauthor of the study. “While some students are learning how to read, others are asking when they can obtain their university entrance qualifications.”

Career aspirations

The respondents named 78 different career aspirations. The majority of men wanted to work in technical professions in the metal, electronics and automotive industries, while women tended to favor careers in social and nursing care. Respondents of both sexes were open to roles in administration and in the fields of nutrition and home economics. Some 40 percent had already worked in their country of origin.

“Incomparable heterogeneity”: what the researchers recommend

“Issues arising from heterogeneity in standard classrooms are a frequently discussed topic. These problems, however, are by no means comparable to the level of heterogeneity among the student population surveyed”, says Baumann.

The educational scientists therefore recommend a significantly more differentiated design for both the curriculum, teacher training and career profiles:

High school classes

The authors recommend making curricula and learning objectives flexible, and to adapt learning materials more specifically to the diversity of educational backgrounds and language skills. For highly educated young immigrants, they additionally recommend the introduction of classes at high schools, junior highs and higher vocational schools. For young immigrants with limited educational backgrounds, they advocate the option of extending the special vocational orientation by a third year. “Pilot projects in Bavaria are already underway and the results of our study show that they are heading in the right direction”, says Baumann.

More specific teacher training

Teachers are faced with the challenging task of having to identify the individual requirements of each student and to design highly differentiated teaching for the classes examined. The educational researchers suggest that more specific teacher training is required in this respect.

What is more, there are virtually no existing modules for German as a second language in teacher training for vocational schools. Munich's universities are one of the rare exceptions in this respect. Since 2014, trainee teachers for vocational schools have been able to specialize in 'German Language and Communication' where teaching recent young immigrants is a core topic.

New entry-level assistant roles

The researchers believe that, due to insufficient German skills and basic knowledge, the theoretical component of the actual vocational training, which follows the two-year special classes examined, is unmanageable for the majority of students surveyed, even in ideal classroom settings. They therefore make a case for expanding the options for so-called partial vocational qualifications, including from a legal perspective.

“Following some predominantly practical training, assistant roles could give young immigrants access to the job market”, says Riedl. “Potential roles could include that of a kitchen porter or a geriatric care assistant, for example. At a later stage, there should be opportunities to obtain a full vocational qualification.” Schools, however, face the additional challenge of having to prepare young immigrants for the fact that they may not be able to pursue all of their career aspirations in the short term.

More in-depth research

The authors emphasize that more in-depth research is required in order to arrive at more specific insights with respect to the above-mentioned recommendations: “Our study provides first basic data. We must, for instance, find out more about the living environments of these young immigrants.” This issue is addressed in a pilot scheme called “Perspektive Beruf für Asylbewerber und Flüchtlinge” (Career prospects for asylum-seekers and refugees), initiated by the Bildungspakt Bayern Foundation with the support of the TUM School of Education.


Barbara Baumann, Alfred Riedl: Neu zugewanderte Jugendliche und junge Erwachsene an Berufsschulen. Ergebnisse einer Befragung zu Sprach- und Bildungsbiografien. Frankfurt am Main 2016 (Beiträge zur Arbeits-, Berufs- und Wirtschaftspädagogik 34)


Prof. Dr. Alfred Riedl
Technical University of Munich
Chair of Mathematics Education
Phone: +49 89 289 24355
riedlspam prevention@tum.de

Barbara Baumann
Technical University of Munich
Chair of Mathematics Education
Phone: +49 89 289 24284
barbara.baumannspam prevention@tum.de

Technical University of Munich

Corporate Communications Center

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