What is your favourite German word? That is something to which Bhavika, a 16-year old schoolgirl from India, has a spontaneous answer. At the opening of the “Moving People – Forum on Cultural Relations and Education Policy” in the “Weltsaal” conference centre at the Federal Foreign Office in Berlin she straight away answers “Ellenbogengesellschaft” (dog-eat-dog society). She has clearly not actually experienced it herself: Her dream is to study Mechanical Engineering and – for a while at least – settle in Germany. Should she one day return to India, she says in fluent German, she would like to get other schoolchildren interested in the German language and help them on their way.
Bhavika is one of 170 students who, together with teachers, scholarship holders, and alumni, are attending the Education Forum from 13 to 15 April 2016 in Berlin. They have come from Japan, Kenya and Croatia, from Mexico and the Palestinian territories. And what they all have in common is their enthusiasm for German and Germany. “We are living in a globalised era, and language means immersing oneself in a new culture,” avowed Minister of State Maria Böhmer at the opening of the forum. Worldwide there are a total of 15.4 million people learning German. “They are the best ambassadors I can imagine.”
Greetings by video
Bhavika learned to speak German at Carmel Convent School in New Delhi, one of 1,800 schools that are part of an initiative called PASCH. PASCH stands for the “Schools: Partners for the Future” initiative and since 2008 has been a network of schools worldwide at which German is particularly important. PASCH is an initiative of the Federal Foreign Office together with the Central Agency for Schools Abroad (ZfA), the Goethe Institute, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), and the Educational Exchange Service of the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Länder in the Federal Republic of Germany (PAD). It became evident in the “Weltsaal” that schools abroad are the calling card of German cultural affairs and education policy. Accordingly, the first day of the Education Forum, the motto of which was “Welt-Klasse! Schule. Bildung. Zukunft” (World-class. School. Education. Future) was dedicated to the partner school initiative. Whereas in 2008 there were some 500 PASCH schools, there are now in 1800 PASCH schools and a total of more than 600,000 schoolchildren learning German in them. Some of them sent video greetings and messages of thanks to Berlin from Columbia, Tunisia, and Vietnam. “German is a bridge,” a Spanish schoolkid says in the video, “it’s like a ticket to learn something about German culture and make new friends,” another from Vietnam comments.
“Germany’s cultural affairs and education policy impacts directly, to establish contacts across borders,” emphasises politician Bernd Fabritius during the panel discussion. As a schoolboy Fabritius himself attended Brukenthal Grammar School in Sibiu, Romania, where to this day German is still the main language of instruction. The school is now part of the PASCH network. Alexandru from Sibiu is learning German there today and talks of his hopes of studying “Law, Journalism, or Human Rights in Germany. It takes him longer to think of his favourite German word: tolerance.
The enormous diversity of the cultural affairs and education policy becomes evident in the panel discussions and interviews with schoolchildren and alumni: There’s the school in Germany, which on its own initiative managed to establish contact with a PASCH school in Senegal. Or there are the representatives of the important education organisations all deep in discussion. And there are schoolkids rapping with refugees. Because language connects, as became clear on this Wednesday evening in the “Weltsaal” – across continents and borders.