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Every second schoolchild in Vienna not a native speaker

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A special class for refugee children in Vienna. Photo: ORF
11:00 CET+01:00
The number of schoolchildren in Austria who don't speak German as their first language is increasing. Nationwide, one in five children speak a foreign language at home and in Vienna almost one in two children don't speak German as their mother language.

With the number of migrant families in the capital increasing last year, Integration Minister Sebastian Kurz (ÖVP) has called for a "rational solution".

Currently, foreign-born residents in Vienna make up 33 percent of the population, and this is expected to increase to more than 40 percent by 2035.

In Vienna's Kindergartens around 58 percent of children don't speak German as their mother language. Statistics show that children from migrant families tend to have a disadvantage when it comes to education, with the majority going on to attend vocational schools rather than gymnasium and then university.  

Austrians with higher qualifications generally have better employment opportunities and earnings increase as an adult's level of education and skills increase.

In Vienna 47.5 percent of school pupils say that they don't speak German at home. Kurz wants to introduce special German classes for children who speak it as a second language. "Only when children have a sufficient grasp of German, should they be allowed to join regular classes," he said. He added that this shouldn't be “an emergency solution” but was the only "rational solution".

A report last year from the OECD showed that Austria spent €4.5bn in 2013 on tertiary education, yet literacy skills remain poor compared with other industrialised countries.

Asylum seekers who have been granted leave to remain in Austria will soon have their benefits cut if they don't attend German courses and show that they are willing to look for work.

There are currently 2,300 refugee children attending school in Vienna and since the start of the year ten ‘New to Vienna' classes have been set up especially for refugee children, which are designed to enable them learn German as quickly as possible.

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Education experts have admitted that it is a major challenge to make sure refugee children can be speedily integrated into Austrian schools. There is also a need for private tutors, trauma counsellors and violence prevention courses.

Vienna city council has said it plans to increase the number of social workers and psychologists working within schools - and has pledged to set aside €24 million for this purpose.

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