1 Dec 2015

Educating refugees – an investment in the future?

Dennis writes*

In August Hannelore Kraft, prime minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, stated in an interview: “We know that many will stay forever.”[1] Independent of one’s personal opinion about the increasing number of arriving refugees, this statement brings up the question of how to integrate admitted asylum-seekers into our societies. Naturally, these individuals will have to learn the language of the country by which they are offered asylum, and many national citizens expect them to understand and accept our norms and values. Such objectives can of course only be achieved in the long run as people have to adapt to their new homes first.

In the short term, however, we can help these people integrate and guide them in becoming full and equal members of our societies -- especially our young future fellow citizens who are still at the beginning of their educational and/or working careers. It is therefore the responsibility of the state to ease their integration and to invest into their future. Germany, for instance, which decided that refugee children, like German children, are subject to compulsory school attendance, has established a system aiming to foster the integration of these individuals. In some primary schools foreign and German children are taught in the same classes and it has turned out that multicultural interactions within this framework can benefit the community as a whole.[2] In other cases, and especially for older students, so called “welcome-classes” have been established. The aim of these courses is to give the arriving students the basic linguistic skills and the necessary knowledge to participate in regular school courses.[3] The latter policy reflects a compromise between the political and public interest to speed up integration and parents’ concerns about a possible decrease in the educational quality of their children. To finance such a program (and to master the overall costs of the refugee crisis) German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble decided to reduce next year’s budget of all federal ministries to gain an extra 500 million euros.[4]

‘Why is such an investment in the education of refugee children in our interest?’, many critics ask. In my opinion, and as my approach to this theme has shown, the answer is clear: The costs of (temporarily) employing additional teachers and financing additional learning material will be greatly outweighed by the benefits society can get from well-educated and well-integrated citizens in the future through tax-incomes, statutory welfare contributions, economic growth, etc.

To underline this position let us consider the following statistics: According to the Federal Statistical Office of Germany the annual costs of education per student lie between 5.400€ and 7.900€.[5] The average total annual tax income per person alone lies at 8.229€ [6] and thereby exceeds the costs of education. Additionally, one must not forget about the before-mentioned additional benefits of a larger well-educated workforce and the fact that the duration of educating individuals is far shorter than their working life. Since the benefits from educating young refugees exceed the current additional costs, educating refugee children can be seen as an investment in the future of our societies.

Bottom line: Establishing a sustainable and successful integration strategy with education as a major cornerstone does not only facilitate the integration process as a whole, but also lays the foundation for profiting from the current developments in the future.

* Please comment on these posts from my growth & development economics students, to help them with unclear analysis, other perspectives, data sources, etc.

  1. “'Wir wissen, dass viele für immer bleiben werden',” Rheinische Post, August 23, 2015, accessed November 14, 2015, http://www.rp-online.de/nrw/landespolitik/hannelore-kraft-viele-fluechtlinge-bleiben-fuer-immer-aid-1.5333275.
  2. Heike Klovert, “Flüchtlinge Retten Grundschule: Syrische Kinder Für Golzow,” Spiegel Online, September 10, 2015, accessed November 16, 2015, http://www.spiegel.de/schulspiegel/kinder-von-golzow-fluechtlinge-retten-grundschule-a-1052017.html.
  3. Sabine Menkens, “Wie Flüchtlingskinder in Willkommensklassen Lernen,” Die Welt, September 14, 2015, accessed November 14, 2015, http://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article146404309/Wie-Fluechtlingskinder-in-Willkommensklassen-lernen.html.
  4. “Wegen Flüchtlingskrise: Schäuble plant 500-Millionen-Euro-Sparpaket,” Focus Online Money, September 15, 2015, accessed November 14, 2015, http://www.focus.de/finanzen/news/bericht-wegen-fluechtlingskrise-schaeuble-plant-500-millionen-euro-sparpaket_id_4947248.html.
  5. Statistisches Bundesamt, Bildungsausgaben: Ausgaben Je Schülerin Und Schüler 2012 (Wiesbaden: Statistisches Bundesamt, 2015), accessed November 15, 2015, https://www.destatis.de/DE/Publikationen/Thematisch/BildungForschungKultur/BildungKulturFinanzen/AusgabenSchueler5217109127004.pdf;jsessionid=CEBA6006C9F75A28C3D556A9F4341264.cae4?__blob=publicationFile.
  6. Andreas Barth, “Steueruhr Zu Den Jährlichen Steuereinnahmen Deutschlands,” Haushaltssteuerung.de, accessed November 15, 2015, http://www.haushaltssteuerung.de/steueruhr.html.