Dr. Roland Kaehlbrandt: Don’t forget the Families!

June 27th, 2011

Cities of Migration asked Dr. Roland Kaehlbrandt, Chair of the Stiftung Polytechnische Gesellschaft Frankfurt am Main to give us his opinion of what makes the Good Idea, the Diesterweg Scholarship, work so well.

Strengthening immigrant families by showing them appreciation promises long-term success

I’m a bit experienced in setting up programs fostering integration of migrants in Germany. In 2001, when I was working for the Hertie Foundation, I launched the START-program for talented 14 – 18 year old students with a migration background, not at least with the arrière pensée to make the chances of immigration in our country understandable to a broader audience.

But in 2006, when I was invited to develop programs for the new ‘Foundation of the Polytechnical Society’ in Frankfurt, I received a cry for help from a schoolmaster in a difficult part of the town.

“We need something attractive for the immigrant families,” she said. “Many of these families withdraw from public places and stay in their narrow flats. They don’t come to the parents’ evenings. We don’t reach them anymore. We need to show them ways into our city and into the educational system!”

She was definitely right. Don’t we know that many families can’t find their way into our well organized cities? Quite often they get used to live in a sort of restricted area, where they feel secure. We don’t reach them by the internet, by hotlines or flyers. But we need to reach them if we want them to be successful in our country. We want them to use our libraries, our Popular Universities, our museums. We want their children to be successful at school. We want the parents to understand our educational system – in their own interest and in the interest of our country.

As a young foundation aiming at giving impulses to progress, we decided to start the first education scholarship for families in Germany, the Diesterweg Scholarship, named after the man who invented the German primary school in the 19th century. We support both children and parents. Most of them are immigrants. The families are recommended by the primary schools.

They are willing to get on the way to integration into the educational system, but they need support. We offer them academies for children and for parents, excursions with the whole family, accompaniment of teacher discussions, holiday courses.

But most important for the families are personal relationships and appreciation. They are all officially scholars of our Foundation. We welcome them in a big ceremony. Our two project managers accompany them to school discussions, to the museum, to the public library.

And this is what we have learned: Many of these families need a personal companion to institutions, they need a personal relationship to the education system; but once they have established this relationship, they get on their way together with their children. And this will become a long-term effect, because families – as we know from research – do have the deepest influence on their children’s success. Considering the good results of two rotations of Diesterweg scholars, I recommend: Don’t forget the families!

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Dr. Roland Kaehlbrandt is the Chairman of the Stiftung Polytechnische Gesellschaft Frankfurt am Main. He studied at Cologne and Paris University. He holds a degree in Romance and German studies and Ethnology as well as a doctorate title in Linguistic studies. He worked as a lecturer for German language and literature at the Sorbonne and headed the “German Foundation Heinrich Heine” in Paris. For 6 years, he was the spokesman of Public Relations for the “Bertelsmann Foundation” in Gütersloh, Germany. From 1999 until 2006, he was managing director of the “Hertie-Foundation” in Frankfurt. He developed several projects with the focus on Integration of Migrants and Education for Democracy and started a nationwide Youth Debating Competition. Since August 1st, 2006, he has been a member of the managing board of the “Foundation Polytechnische Gesellschaft” and responsible for topics, projects and communication. Since December 1st, 2008, he was the chairman of the “Foundation Polytechnische Gesellschaft”. Dr. Roland Kaehlbrandt is a member of the board of directors of the “National Council of German Foundations” (BVDSt) and heads the “Initiative of Foundations in Frankfurt.”

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