By Sybille Fleischmann
Eight young refugees are working together on a class project at Nikolaus-Lehner-Schule, a public trade school in Dachau, Germany. They have pushed their tables together to form two groups. On their desks, the students have laid out large blueprints for a bathroom. Each of the young men has a small laptop on his desk: a Google Chromebook. The young refugees are searching online for tiles for their model bathroom. "They will never forget 'fliese,' the German word for tile, as often as they have already used this word," says teacher Markus Hoffmann with a smile.
Markus Hoffmann (shown above at center, with Wieland Holfelder, from Google Germany, and Sybille Fleischmann) teaches German in a preparatory class for refugees at Nikolaus-Lehner-Schule. This class is one of several designed to prepare young refugees for a professional education in Germany, and these government-paid "pre-training" classes take up to two years in Bavaria. In the first year, participants receive instruction in German and math, and are introduced to how life in Germany works: Who pays when I go to the doctor? How do I read the Munich subway map? How do I behave in traffic?
In the second year, students progress to the vocational integration classes. With the help of school staff, they find internships with companies that match their career interests. "The internships are an opportunity for the students to catch the attention of the employers," explains teacher Isabelle Bichler. "In the ideal case, the students will be offered an apprenticeship after the internship," for example, as a painter or a nurse. Some of the young refugees who remain in the area continue courses at the trade school in Dachau during their apprenticeship.
The school in Dachau received Google Chromebooks from NetHope’s Project Reconnect for the refugee classes. The use of these laptops motivates the students, and Markus Hoffmann's German class is no exception: "The students are alway happy when I come into the classroom with the laptops." They enjoy Markus’ project-based approach to teaching German. For the bathroom project, the young refugees are researching the websites of building supply stores for tiles and other materials they could use and they are watching German-language how-to videos about planning and building a bathroom.
Through these projects, the students learn and practice a lot more than just the German language. They also apply their mathematical skills and learn to work independently. When Isabelle Bichler uses the Chromebooks for traffic education, she lets her students search street signs or watch explanatory videos online. The laptops help learners progress at their own speed: "One can solve a worksheet, while another can work on a more advanced test."
The refugees also have specific computer lessons: they learn touch typing and how to keep their data safe on the internet. Christian Oswald, who coordinates the IT initiatives at the trade school, hopes that the laptops will one day become a normal working tool. "The laptop is on the table and if I don’t know something, I simply open it and look for the solution."