The schooling of children of Greek immigrants in Germany

Teaser Bild Untertitel
"Heimatkunde" 2011 © Jannis Psychopedes

by Andromachi Grigoropolou

The education of Greek children in Germany is directly influenced by many factors like the political and economic situation, the educational status of the parents, the development and organization of the Greek community in Germany, the educational and professional level of the teachers, the syllabus, as well as the various school books for Greek students (Patiniotis 1990, 211).

The above mentioned factors have continuously contributed to the development of different types of schools that were founded since the first period of Greek migration to Germany. Responsible for the education of Greek children in Germany were first the parents, later the staff of the Greek consulates, the Greek students, in some occasions the church and in recent years Greek teachers sent from Greece.

This article focuses on the past 10 years, 2000 to 2010, and takes a closer look at children/pupils in the city of Berlin, the capital of Germany. The analysis deals with the historical phases of Greek migration to Germany, the various types of schools that developed through time, the different demands around the education of children by Greek communities and by teachers' associations, the type of the two European schools in Berlin and it concludes with some findings and the prospects for school education of Greek children in Germany.

The historical development

Today Greek children living in Germany for the most part belong to the third generation of Greek migrants. Their grandparents migrated to Germany in the largest wave of Greek immigration between the 1960s and 1970s. It was estimated that during this decade 500.000 young people migrated and only 30% of them returned to Greece (Nikolinakos 1973, 15).

The immigrants of this decade were not marginalized people, or those who did not have any kind of property and no perspectives, as it is often said. These people were forced to seek work abroad due to high rates of unemployment and they constituted the most healthy and productive part of the Greek population back then. They belonged to the age group 15 to 40 years and they were often open to new life options, had not very tight bonds with their home country and their traditions. It is often said that the most productive and useful people for the autonomous and full progression of the country have spend their most fruitful years in another country abroad (Uenk/Laarmann 1974).

During the first years of Greek migration to Germany, the first associations of Greek migrants were established such as the association of people from Epirus, Thrace, Crete etc. These associations, organized according to their region of origin, were founded not only as a reference and meeting point for Greek people, but as a helping tool in order to sustain the language, the Greek customs and the cultural tradition of their homeland. Later, the first Greek communities were organized and they were active in claiming the foundation of Greek schools. The education of the children was not a priority in the first years and only later became a primary demand, since 84 % of the immigrant families were living separated from their children. The younger pre-school children were living with the grand- parents in Greece and were raised by them (Savvidis 1975). In many cases, the children remained there until the age of 7 or 12.

The results of a survey conducted in Mannheim found that the 69,5 % of the total number of children of Greek immigrants have spent their first years separated from their parents in Greece, 2 % lived with one parent in Greece and only 8 % with both parents in Germany (Savvidis, 1975: 76). One can easily imagine the problems that occur when small children live separated from their parents during the most important years of their lives, a period when children learn and form their personality.

The children, who are growing up in Germany, were facing big problems during that first phase of Greek migration. In many cases, Greek children were growing up in ‘ghettos’, always stayed at home, were isolated from other children and had no contact with German children. These children were growing up in isolation to the German society but at the same time their relationship with Greece was only indirect as well.

According to a survey in Duisburg, completed in 1977, only 12.5 % of migrant families who were surveyed wanted to stay in Germany, while 68 % of children do not want to return with their parents back home (Frankfurter Rundschau, 1977). It seems that the children of migrants are deeper rooted and more integrated in the country of destination, than in the country of their parents’ origin. This kind of children’s alienation from the culture and the language of their parents causes fear in many parents that they will lose their children to the new country. Many speak about the phenomenon of ‘germanization’.

Greek parents try to ensure the Greek identity of their children by establishing or supporting of so called ‘national schools’ (Müller 1974). These efforts are doomed to fail since German society and the German state was not interested in supporting this type of school. The only exception is the local government of Bavaria, which established pure Greek national schools from elementary- up to high school (Lyzeum) level. The central German government promoted the integration of Greek migrants into German society by directing the more or less obligatory chanelling of migrant children into classes in regular German schools. Due to these regulations, the Federation of Greek communities in Germany, in a special congress held 1979 in Frankfurt finally accepted the integration of Greek children into regular German classes, stressing however the need for improvement and changes in the syllabus and the program of education of the Greek children, in order to not completely detach them from their language and culture (Savvidis 1975). 

The different school types - The Afternoon School

All Greek children were attending the regular German school from morning until noon, from 8 until 14.30 hrs. In the afternoon the Greek school program was following. The curriculum included the subjects of each course that have been taught in the respective classes in Greece. Teachers from Greece were sent for five years to Germany, receiving two extra benefits: They were paid a double salary by the Greek state and their children had easier access to Greek universities, since they were not participating in the regular panhellenic examinations for university admission, but were attending special examinations. The teachers, who were appointed abroad, usually came from the same electoral region as the Minister of Education.

Students were receiving a final report with grades at the end of the year, they were using the same textbooks as the students in Greece, they were organizing school events similar to these in Greece and generally the afternoon schools followed the idea and content of Greek schooling.

In the late 1980s, as a consequence of an economic crisis in Germany, many Greeks became unemployed and so the first ‘students’ leakage’ in the afternoon schools started. Since for many parents, one of the major reasons to send their children to the afternoon schools was that they had to work and had no time to take care of the children, they now preferred to keep the children at home with them.

The integrated Greek language courses

Towards the end of the 1990s, another type of Greek school was formed, the so called TEG (Greek language courses). In every industrial city in Germany, where Greeks live and work, such a model works mainly with a restricted number of school teachers and a much shorter daily schedule from 14.30-17.30 hrs. The curriculum was restricted to the teaching of the Greek language and to some few hours of history, geography and culture. During these years new types of families were formed. A bigger number of the so called “mixed marriages” between Greek and German citizens was established. The children of these families learned German, Greece and another foreign language. In those years the number of children attending the Greek schools was diminished.

Immigrant parents who were not organized members in their unions and not well informed about the political, social and economic events in Germany, often did not realize the political and economic changes in the country they were living in. By that time, in Germany, there was a fast development of technological advances, which created a high volatility in many areas of production. The economy emphasized the need for flexibility and fast growth rates. This had an influence on the field of education. The focus on education and extended school curriculum now shifted to the transmission of basic knowledge in language and mathematics and attempts to provide skills that enable the students to adapt easily to the changes in the existing job market. It was emphasized that the students have to learn to be disciplined employees and citizens, who will be able to cope in an ever- changing job situations and become autonomous, capable and flexible. There was a big focus on ‘self-education’ of students and employees in general, as they are encouraged to pursue more qualifications through attending seminars, workshops and usually unpaid internships (Babiniotis, 2005). 
Slowly knowledge is yielding its place to skills. School education is focusing on the training of certain skills and competences rather than the accumulation of a broad spectrum of knowledge, as was the purpose of the classical system of education based on a humanist and anthropocentric world view.   The teachers, who were now better educated than their colleagues a generation before had less and not fixed working hours, lower wages and lower social acknowledgement than before. Here we have to note, that Greece has not and could not take care of the needs of the Greek students and teachers abroad. The report number 98 of the OECD concludes: ‘the economic, political and cultural globalization considers useless the institution of school and the role of the educator as it was established and has worked so far.’ (European Commission Report, December 1996)

Linking recent changes in migration and education

In the last 10 years, after the year 2000, a new perception of the immigration movement and education started. The new guidelines that were established required a continuous education for migrant children from kindergarten to university and their equal treatment in the German workplaces.

First, with the intensification of economic crisis, many Greek immigrants are changing cities to find work. The parents of the students are now educated, they know perfectly well the German language, they are integrated into the German political, social and economic life, and they participate in cultural, sport and scientific associations. The Greek teachers who come from Greece have a very good knowledge of German, many of them have post-graduate degrees and others continue post-graduate studies at German universities. Teachers associations (e.g. Association of Greek Teachers in Berlin, ‘Sokrates’) elect representatives, who meet twice a year on a countrywide level. The Greek teachers’ delegation deals with issues such as wages, licenses, the establishing of new schools and the access of Greek migrants to German universities. These requests are forwarded to the relevant Ministry of Education in Greece and the Greek Federation of School Teachers. In recent years, the Greek high school teachers in Germany have also become members of the “Association of Greek Teachers”, who were mostly elementary school teachers and the name has been changed into “Associations of Education”.

In the last years, due to poor financing and economic crisis, the Greek government claims inability to sustain the Greek schools abroad. In 2006 strikes were launched first in Berlin and continued throughout Germany with principal claims against the closing of Greek schools in Germany and against the reduction of positions and reducing of teachers’ salaries. Many students stopped attending the Greek schools and pursue further education in German high schools. Students who attend Greek universities stopped their attendance and returned to Germany.

However, in the year 2000 the Ministry of Education assigned the Department of Pedagogics of the University of Rethymno the task to prepare new books for children of Greek migrants. In 2012 in Berlin, there are still 4 TEG (Greek language courses) in Tempelhof, Spandau, Neukölln and Tiergarten with a total number of 100 students. There are also two European elementary schools: Homer and Athena and they have around 100 students and 20 teachers. There is still a Greek high school with 30 students and one high school with a Greek curriculum in addition to the regular German curriculum. In the schools “Homer” and “Athena” courses are taught in Greek and German.

Within the last year, because of the increasing number of pupils that were coming from Greece without any knowledge of the German language, a debate has started around the establishment of so called ‘reception classes’ that focus on teaching the German language within the European elementary schools.

The European School

The model of the European School in Berlin appears to meet the preference of parents and teachers. The European School was issued as a model of combined teaching of two European languages. Already 14 schools of this type were established in 7 European countries.
After the Maastricht Agreement in 1991, which declared the free movement within a single European market, there was a shift towards a unification of educational models within Europe. The proposals that were submitted by member countries were making clear that teachers and parents were opposed to a European model of school. They preferred that children all over Europe should be able to attend a school in the neighborhood in which they live and to get the opportunity to study as well in their native language in these schools (Babiniotis 2005).

In 1996-97 the first Greek-German European School “Homer” opened in Berlin in the area of Prenzlauerberg. In 1999-2000 the second Greek-German European School, “Athena” was founded in Berlin in the area of Lichterfelde-West. The children are taught the Greek language by Greek teachers and mathematics and German are taught by German teachers. There are combined training seminars for teachers of these schools. At the end of the year the students get one report with grades in all courses, Greek and German. Parents participate in the formation of the school program. The teachers are paid separately from their respective countries - the Germans from the German government and the Greeks from the Greek government.

However, there are huge wage variations, since the Greek teachers for the same job, same hours and the same obligations are paid half the salary of what their German colleagues are earning. School administration is exercised by German colleagues. The curriculum is supplemented every year according to the students’ performance. Many see in the model of the European School the new type of school that will help in integrating children with migrant backgrounds and a model that will enable the multilingual education from Kindergarten to high school level. With the new wave of Greek migration to Germany and the growing numbers of Greek migrants in the years 2011-2012 discussions started about the expansion of the two Greek-German European Schools to help find a place in these schools for more Greek migrant. Teachers of the Euopean Schools demand the creation of more classes and extra teaching hours for German language classes.


The sociology of education, philosophy of education and linguistic science argue that the school is the most important institution, because it distributes ideas and forms children’s and young people’s consciousness (Voros 2010). For the Greeks of the diaspora and their children, there is no other more direct, more effective and fast way to integrate into the German society, meet other children and their parents, to learn German and also their mother tongue, except the school. Language is the way someone sees, captures, sorts and understands the world. There is no language that has not borrowed or has lent words and meanings. This fruitful process is accelerated when people and cultures meet and cooperate and for this the model of the European School can be very progressive and helpful.

However, many critics note that the European schools in Berlin have a very tight and strict management, focus a lot on administration and bureaucracy and establish an early categorization of the students through a rigorous grading system that promotes exclusion of children from the German educational system rather than inclusion. Many of the Greek students find their way to the ”Realschule” and very early orientate towards a technical education and only a small number of migrant students attend university.

Concluding as an experienced teacher I want to suggest that all migrant children in Germany and also the Greek ones should have the opportunity to learn their mother tongue parallel to the German language within a regular German school accompanied by supportive language courses.


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  • European Commission. Report ‘Reflexions on Education’, December 1996. Themata Paidieas, 2000, 2.
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  • National Centre for Social Research (1990). Oi Ellines stin Ollandia. Athens: EKKE.
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  • Savvidis, G. (1975). Zum Problem der Gastarbeiterkinder in der BRD. Eine empirische sozialpädagogische Untersuchung. Wien: Jugend and Volk.
  • Voros, F.K.(2010). Philosophia kai o thesmos tis ekpaideusis. Themata Paideias, 40.
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  • Discussions with members of the Association of Greek teachers of Berlin, 2010.
  • Discussions with members of the Parents' Association of Berlin Schools.
  • Discussions with members of the Association of Greek Academics in Berlin.


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Andromachi Grigoropoulou studied Chemistry at the University of Hamburg. She was a member of the Greek Students Association and started teaching in different Greek schools in Germany. She has two children and lives now in Athens.