Germany ratified in 1992 the Convention on the Rights of the Child (commonly abbreviated as the CRC or UNCRC), a human rights treaty which sets out the civil, political, economic, social, health and cultural rights of children, with the exception that refugees between 16 and 18 were considered adults so they had no rights to go to school or to do vocational training. In 2000 Michael Stenger thought about creating something analogous to the formal school and founded the SchlaU-Schule to address this «gap» in Germany’s assylum system of young refugees. In 2010 when the exception was took back they started working closely with the government and regular schools to export their knowledge. In 2016 they created the SchlaU-Werkstatt a transfer agency of knowledge to other schools. They have scientific work, they publish newspapers and interviews and teaching materials.

In this interview we talk with Björn Schalles, managing director of SchlaU. You can see the full transcription below.

A school for refugees analogue to the regular school, that started in the founder’s living room

«SchlaU is an abbreviation for «school analogue education«. Germany ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (commonly abbreviated as the CRC or UNCRC) in 1992 with the exception of the refugees between 16 and 18 which are considered adults. So they have no right in Germany to go to school or do vocational trainings.

The founder Michael said that’s impossible. In a rich city like Munich, in a country like Germany there cannot be a group of people between 16 and 18 who have no right to build a future. So he said, if they don’t have the right to go to the school let’s do something analogue to school and he called it Schlau-Schule.

He started in his living room with a group of 10 students. By the time I arrived to the school we were 140 students on 400 m2. So you can see that they are not the best facilities but what I saw when I first entered SchlaU was a school I wish I would go when I was young because it had both, a group power, a dynamics in the group and a very careful regard of individuality which you need if you work with refugees. Because they have dramatic geographic backpacks and if you don’t take them into consideration you don’t know how to teach, what to teach, with what aim or goal you are teaching.

Eight years later we have a school with 300 students in three main levels, so you have the beginners level, the intermediate level and there is the final level. We have open progressions so people can go through in the proper speed, so if someone who might have been to a high education or to school in his home country and only need to learn german can go through quicker, and those who need more time can take the time and go slower.

«We are not focused in examinations but in helping young people to develop their own vision and be self-eficient»

One main emphasise is always in self-eficiency so we try to make them understand why they are learning so we can place them after the school in their own proper future and vision. That’s because we have an after school program in which students get help from social workers or from teachers during their careers after school. So our vision in comparison to the regular school system is not the final examination but self-eficiency in their own life.

The core of SchlaU is trust so if you manage to get a relationship between the teacher or social worker and the student you have this triangle of power and you can really ensure that the student will not be deported, that the student will find his or her way to their own proper future.

We have high success rates. Over 90% of our students pass the final examinations and the same amount go further to vocational training, high education or directly into the labour market. It’s a good number but anyway what I think success is more to be self-eficient to believe in their own vision and to realize that vision and that vision can be anything.

«They need to probe society that they have something to bring on the table»

But of course for the situation here in Germany they really need a job. They need to prove society that they can be an active part in society. Otherwise society will neglect them even more. So we have this friction between time, individuality and other factors: they need to have a job, they need to probe society that they can be an active part, that they have something to bring on the table.

Arriving from a trip from Afghanistan here to Germany only to realize that this is a country that doesn’t want me, then arriving and coming to rest to a hole is also stressful because you think where you are coming from, you see all your future, that you live in the camps, that you don’t have medical, you have no passing, no friends, you have to find a school, you have to learn the language, you have to trust people you don’t know that good and then you have to learn german, Maths, English, biology, all these things you need to pass vocational trainings and this is only in the first three years of arrival… By the end of the school a lot of students still don’t know if they can still stay here. And they keep going on.

«We have to be a bridge between society and students and educate both»

We try to be a bridge between society and students to empower society in the end. So what we need is to work with the officials of the city hall, we need to work with the economy (employers), with the civil society, volunteer workers are very important, and first of all we need to work with the students.

There is a lot of enlightenment to be done in both sides, what does it mean to work, what does it mean a diversity arrive somewhere, all these stranger people that haven’t been here before. Do I have to be afraid? They come from war… Are they taking my job? We have to negotiate, we have to give students the power and the ability to be ambassadors for their own good.

«Their mother language must be an active part during learning»

Dealing with diversity in languages also leads to acknowledge that the mother language is an active part. So you have to have both. You have to give them the chance of thinking, talking and dreaming in the mother language and at the same time deal with the natural progression of learning a language.

While you are in the country people speak german. And since we have many different nationalities in languages in our school german is the common language for them so people from Algeria, from Afghanistan they don’t speak English with each other, they speak german with each other. So this is another aspect of dynamic groups.

Again we have 70% of students coming from Afghanistan so there is a huge group of students that speak the same language but they are keen on learning german of course. But when they start their apprenticeship they come back and say “Why do we learn german? The people here speak Bavarian”, they don’t understand why we teach the wrong language. So funny coincidences.

The SchlaU model extends to the regular school system

Michael founded Schlau and Schlau found the solution for this gap but it is only for 300 students each year but there is more out there and there is a regular school system. So our goal must be to fill the gap but we cannot do this and has to be done by the regular system. So what we did is create “the best practices” something that is tangible and people can look at and understand that there is a solution and that these people are human beings and of course you can find a way to help them to educate themselves. And this is what happened in 2010 Angela Merkel took back this exception from 1992 so the refugees had the right to go to school.

In the federal school system in Germany all the states are responsible for schooling and police so we have all these different solutions now in each country in Germany about how to deal with the same phenomenon. So what we did in Bavaria is that we worked closely with the Ministry. We had to reevaluate ourselves, what we were doing, which is also hard task, and then try to find the perspective through the regular system, see what is transferible into the regular system and what is not possible and possible but later in time, in order to help regular schools by example, by teaching, by training, by teaching materials.

A knowledge transfer agency to recreate impact

In 2016 we founded the SchlaU-Werkstatt which is a transfer agency of knowledge from SchlaU to other schools in Munich, in Bavaria, in Germany. We have a pyramid of steps so we have scientific work, we publish newspapers and interviews about what we are doing, we produce teaching materials in the Schlau Schule together with Schlau Werksatt in order to export to other places in Germany so in order other students in other regions can learn from the teaching materials.

We have a trainer training program with ten modules with aspects we identify in our school, in our system, knowledge that we think is important to share like for example, dealing with diversity or maths in a foreign language and so on. So we train teachers, we train social workers but also institutions like a teacher training institution in Frankfurt. They are using our knowledge to train their teachers.

We identified other partners in other regions suchs as Friburg, and they are trying to recreate our impact change. Like from beginning, arrival with social work and teaching, stabilization, educating to the after school program… And they are trying to rebuild it in other regions because we acknowledge that every city is different and every city in Germany is different, and we cannot place our school in Friburg, that is the wrong answer. Friburg has to find the answer, Hamburg has to find the answer, Berlin, they have to find their own answers and we can help in what we think is important to successfully educate and build up school.


I am a telecommunications engineer, teacher in innovative education and freelance filmmaker questioning not the "Why?" but the "Why not?" in every aspect of life. Since 2017 I travel the world looking for stories worth telling.

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