Sarah Lukas is a Junior-Professor of Pedagogic Psychology at Pädagogische Hochschule Weingarten (PH Weingarten) since 2014, and is the responsible person for FIER at this institution. PH Weingarten offers higher education for pedagogical professions through a wide range of courses.
The research profile of this institution stems from educational science and related scientific and application-oriented questions, mainly related to sustainable teaching and learning in schools and other educational institutions. Within the FIER framework, PH Weingarten has developed an in-company mentor training programme to help third country nationals who are following the FIER language integrated learning courses, as well as videotraining materials.
Which activities have already begun to take place within the FIER project at PH Weingarten?
After having developed a training programme for in-company mentors to support language learning, we are organising an info-day in January for companies who are interested in implementing this mentoring concept to help integrating third-country nationals in the labour market. We have already received very positive feedback from hotel directors, who state that this is exactly what they need.Being in close contact with businesses also allows us to get good “insider tips” that help make the event a success; for example, we have been recommended to organise the info-session in the evening rather than in the morning, since this is how things are done in the gastronomy sector. The main lesson we have learnt is the importance of listening to target groups.
Which are your expectations for the FIER project?
We have many missions and goals for this project. The concept is now being implemented in Stuttgart, but contact has been established with other job centres in Baden-Württemberg. Also in terms of sectors, new areas other than gastronomy will be considered, but they are yet to be decided.
Even if our biggest fear is people not being interested, I must admit that this is not a realistic view, since our programme has already raised a lot of interest. We are having very positive feedback, and as soon as people get to know us, the programme catches fire.
Main challenges come from the fact of having different target groups and the need to adapt the concept to them. Intercultural communication also raises a challenge as there are many cultures and subcultures, and we cannot simplify them or reduce them to boxes. And we must not forget the specific business culture of each company, as their corporate behaviour differing is a challenge also for local workers.
How can language learning be improved by integrating it into the job context?
Language courses are important for basics and to learn examples, but in company learning allows contact with real language, which may not be very complex in terms of grammar, but is the reality in which we all live. Also, students need advice and to have their questions answered, since we are social creatures, and we need social feedback. And that is the role of mentors, who also help participants learn about business behaviour and corporate culture, so they not only learn the language more quickly, but also get better at their job.
Besides, we must acknowledge the learning outcomes for mentors too. People in Germany are feeling left alone when it comes to integration, and they find difficulties in dealing with other cultures and transmitting a welcoming feeling while trying to explain the rules in German society. This mentor concept strengthens therefore the intercultural skills and self-confidence of locals, who will also transmit it within their private life and, ultimately, to the society in general, as integration is a two-way process and we all take part in it.
Is your institution carrying out other activities in the field of integration of third-country nationals?
We are currently developing a course for third-country nationals who are teachers or have worked as such but their diplomas are not accepted in Germany. By means of this programme, called IGEL (Integration geflüchteter Lehrkräfte in die LehrerInnenausbildung), we acknowledge their experience and qualifications, and provide them with a short course that helps them get their degree in education, allowing them to work as teachers again so they can still pursue their career in Germany. This programme is funded by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), and we are working together with job centres and education institutions.
As for FIER, we are planning to continue with the mentor training programme after the project ends and implement it at AWW (Akademie für wissenschaftliche Weiterbildung), an institution of PH Weingarten promoting the implementation of research results through knowledge transfer. In a wider perspective, the goal is to help manage the situation of job integration of third country nationals with a change of perspective: as I was mentioning before, we are all living here together and we all have a role in it.
An academic publication is being produced as well, to help analyse and evaluate the results of the train-the-mentor concept. We are also conducting a related research project dealing with writing skills in Berufsschulen (professional schools), in which we analyse the correlation of factors (such as socio-economic background, type of education followed, etc.) for low writing competences of both migrants and locals who follow this kind of education.
What do you feel most fier (‘proud’) of regarding your institution’s activities?
Even if this is a bumpy-ride and we face many challenges, we have good tires that help us go forward: a strongly motivated team and the conviction that our project will be a success. I am very proud of my team, and I feel very positive emotions for this project. Everyone is very committed and enthusiastic for FIER and this the key that will make it prosper.
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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any official body or the FIER project itself.