‘New to Vienna’ classes for refugee children

'New to Vienna' classes for refugee children
A class with 12 different nationalities at the Amstetten business academy. Photo: HaK Amstetten
Schools in Vienna are setting up separate classes for refugee children, to help them learn German and European values and give them extra support for maths and literacy.

Currently there are around 10,000 refugee children attending school in Austria, and 2,000 of these are in Vienna.

Ten ‘New to Vienna’ classes, specially designed for refugees, are available in Vienna and there are plans to set up four more. The classes are taught in German and supported by teachers who speak the refugees’ mother-language.

18 refugee students have been accepted at a Middle School in Döbling. Headmaster Werner Zimmer told ORF radio that the students are learning German very quickly and he hopes that some will soon be ready to switch to a regular class. The school will hold project days and sports events to help promote integration.

The conservative People’s Party (ÖVP) has praised the initiative, with Vienna ÖVP leader Gernot Blümel saying that it’s “the only way to make sure that children are ready to attend regular classes”.

Education spokesperson for the Greens, Harald Walser, said that the classes made sense as a first step but must not become an “emergency measure” and that schools “must ensure they are preparing children for the fastest possible transfer into regular classes”.

Schools in Lower Austria introduced special classes for refugee children last autumn.

The Amstetten business academy has a “transition class” for 15 refugee children but school director Brigitte Bartmann said that such classes are not without challenges: “We don’t have suitable teaching materials and the student’s level of education varies widely. Some have only been to school for a year and others are close to Matura level. With the majority it’s not even possible to communicate in English.”

She said that it was unlikely that most of the students would be ready to join regular classes at the business school next year.