Wisthaler, V.: The Paradox Immigration Puts Traditional Minorities in: A Case Study on the Education System of South Tyrol, 2008

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This article examines the relation between autochthonous minorities and immigrant groups with reference to their education rights. Societies characterized by different cultural, linguistic or religious minorities may especially encounter challenges and obstacles in integrating more diversity stemming from immigration while at the same time preserving their own culture and identity. This paradox of being itself a minority on the one hand and thus trying to protect the own culture and on the other hand having the knowledge and understanding of the necessity of diversity resulting from the arrival of other communities in a territory inhabited by autochthonous minorities is evident in the education system which is a decisive element in identity formation, in the transmission of values and in the preparation for a socially congruent society. A case study on the integration of immigrant groups in the education system of South Tyrol, the northernmost province of Italy inhabited by the German and Ladin communities, is presented.
Immigration is nowadays considered to be one of Europe’s biggest challenges and poses a series of new questions to nation states and their populations: Who are we? Who belongs to us? The definition of one’s own culture and values and one’s own identity, interests and future get blurred when confronted with values and interests from other communities.
Those autochthonous, cultural, linguistic or religious groups may encounter challenges and obstacles in integrating more diversity stemming from immigration while at the same time preserving their own culture and identity crucial for their own differentiation vis-á-vis the majority population. Due to the traditional minorities’ experiences of exclusion, segregation, or integration, other resources and approaches for a more successful accommodation of diversity might be used than those that would be applied by communities characterized by a common culture, language and religion. However, traditional minorities may also be more inclined to adopt conservative policies in order to protect themselves from the impact of immigration, as Kymlicka observed. The integration of immigrants thus becomes a key test for the openness and stability of civil societies.
According to the indicators on integration developed by the Italian National Council of Economy and Labour (CNEL, Consiglio Nazionale dell’ Economia e del Lavoro), South Tyrol, the northernmost autonomous province of Italy, is among the most successful Italian provinces in integrating immigrants into the labour market while maintaining social stability. South Tyrol is also “considered to be one of the most successful examples in the accommodation of minorities” - the German and Ladin speaking populations - which have decisively influenced the development of the territory. Having in mind that education is a vital element in identity formation and an effective transmitter of values and traditions, thereby providing a basis for social cohesion, one could be tempted to assume that the educational system in South Tyrol uses a highly successful approach towards the integration of diversity. Yet one of the peculiarities of this province is its segregated educational system, with separated establishments for the Italian speaking, the German speaking and the Ladin speaking population. Therefore this paper will not consider the educational system as an indicator of successful or less successful integration but it will examine whether the educational system in South Tyrol implements illiberal policies trying to protect the German speaking minority, or if it is more open towards the integration of added diversity and a multi- or intercultural approach is applied.
The guiding question of this paper is the mutual relationship established in the education system between immigrants and the autochthonous minorities present in the territory. The institutional approach shall be compared to the debate taking place in the public sphere, especially among political parties competing through their election campaigns for the local elections in autumn 2008.

South Tyrol, General Overview

South Tyrol is the northernmost province of Italy sharing its borders with Austria and Switzerland. For centuries, the territory belonged to the Austrian Empire. It was annexed by Italy with the Treaty of St. Germain-en-Laye in 1919. In 1910, 89% of the population was German; 4% was Ladin; and 3% was Italian. Despite promises made by the Italian government to maintain the identity of the linguistic minorities, measures were taken, especially after 1922, to assimilate the German population into the Italian. These measures included, among others, the prohibition of the use of the German language in private as well as public life, the closing down of all German schools, and the substitution of all German names with Italian names. .
The period between 1920 and 1946 shaped and traumatized the common memory of the German-speaking population of South Tyrol. Attempts to be returned to Austria were in vain. At the same time, negotiations with the fascist Italian government for an autonomous statute for the province and the protection for its linguistic minorities failed. Finally the Peace Treaty of Paris in 1947 reconfirmed the Italian borders, while also leading to the agreement on self-government between the Italian Prime Minister De Gasperi and the Austrian Foreign Minister Gruber in 1946, thus giving the conflict an international standing.
The agreement was followed by the first Autonomy Statute of South Tyrol, which put the German language with the Italian on an equal level in the private as well as in the public sphere and reestablished the German schools. Together with its southern neighboring province of Trento, South Tyrol was given autonomous status as the region “Trentino-South Tyrol.” By combining the two, the German speaking population remained a minority, despite its majority in the Province of South Tyrol. The post-war years were characterized by disputes between the German and the Italian groups, leading to an outbreak of violence in the 1960s. Austria, as the kin-state of the German speaking minority, brought the case before the UN. Consequently, a new agreement, known as the “Packet”, consisting of 173 concrete measures to establish an effective autonomy in South Tyrol was reached. As a result, the Second Autonomy Statute was drafted in 1972, and in 1992 the international conflict was settled with the “full implementation of the autonomy system and a satisfactory protection of the German-speaking minority”. The Second Autonomy Statute, amended in 2000, forms the current legal base for the territorial autonomy of South Tyrol. Moreover the Autonomy Statute is the backbone of the protection of the German and Ladin minority.

Demographic Development

The composition of the population in South Tyrol has changed significantly since the annexation of the territory in 1919. Not only did it nearly double from 251.451 in 1910 to 496.435 in 2008 but there was also a significant increase in the Italian speaking population, from 2,9% to 26,4%. In the census of 2001, 69,1/% of the population declared themselves as members of the German speaking minority; 4,4% as members of the Ladin speaking minority; and 26,4% as members of the Italian speaking group.
Beginning in the 1980s, population changes also resulted from an increase in the foreign population. According to 2006 statistics, there are 28.396 immigrants legally residing in South Tyrol, making up 5,8% of the total population. Nearly half of the immigrant population (49,5%) is women and more than two thirds (47,2%) is less than 40 years old, with 21,8% below the age of 18. 39 out of 1000 minors in South Tyrol come from immigrant backgrounds, most of them from former Yugoslavia, Albania, Morocco and Pakistan. The distribution of immigrants due to economic reasons is concentrated in the cities, with 60,9% living in the capital city Bolzano, while 22,4% live in the city of Merano; 10,4% in the city of Sterzing; and 6,3% in the city of Bruneck.

Integration Measures in the Province of South Tyrol

Immigration is considered to be a relatively new phenomenon in South Tyrol compared to other provinces in Italy or other European countries. The high percentage of seasonal workers might lead to the assumption that immigration is also a temporary phenomenon. Yet, immigration is characterized by a noticeable strong will on behalf of immigrants to remain in the host country through high rates of family reunion, permanent residence permits or the acquisition of property. Thus the presence of immigrants is omnipresent in the public discourse and is often referred to as an enormous challenge. 48,6% of the public perceive immigration as the biggest problem of South Tyrol, revealed by a study by the provincial Institute for statistics ASTAT on “Social Problems in the public view”.
The already diverse society consisting of the Italian speaking population and the German and Ladin speaking population (usually referred to as the autochthonous minorities) forms a very special background for the accommodation of new diversity stemming from immigration. According to the Provincial Monitoring Centre for Immigration, cohabitation between the traditional linguistic groups is well regulated by the Autonomy Statute, but the living together with the immigrant population is a situation with rather insecure outcomes. However, as said earlier, the national indicators for the successful integration of immigrants developed by the CNEL list the province on first and second rank.
The province of South Tyrol has not yet elaborated a provincial law regulating immigration. Thus the legal status of migrants is regulated according to Art. 10, para. 2 of the Italian National Law on immigration (no. 42/98 and 189/2002) but the National Law leaves integration as a competence of regions and provinces. Thus the lacking provincial law regulating the integration of immigrants results in uncoordinated measures by different stakeholders, municipalities and NGOs. Further instruments and especially the allocation of resources are regulated through the Provincial Social Plan For the period 2007-2009 the Social Plan foresaw the establishment of an integration plan to coordinate the statistics on immigrants and to elaborate guidelines for a successful integration. Moreover the missing resources as well as the joint responsibility of all provincial departments, municipalities, education institutes, trade unions, associations, the Statistic Institute ASTAT and the Provincial Monitoring Centre were pointed out.
The election campaigns for the provincial elections in autumn 2008 highlighted some of the reasons of not having a provincial law on immigration since approaches towards immigration and integration among the different parties range from segregationist models and assimilationist tendencies to a true intercultural approach.
The governing South Tyrolean People’s Party (SVP) – traditionally also collecting most of the votes from the autochthonous German population – issued in June 2008, 16 guidelines for the integration of so-called “Foreigners in South Tyrol”. The guidelines demand control over immigration numbers, better involvement of local labour forces thus avoiding the need for foreign labour, prevention of immigration only for social benefits, and separate waiting lists for natives and for immigrants regarding the allocation of social housing. Furthermore, adequate knowledge of language shall be the precondition for school enrolment.
However, the guidelines proposed are to be evaluated critically because they contradict not only the National Integration Law 42/98 (immediate integration in the regular classes), but they would also violate human rights (right to education for all; discrimination on ethnic grounds etc.). Moreover, the provincial guidelines seem not to be aware of approaches proposed by guidelines on the integration of immigrants by the Council of Europe or the Eurydice-Network.
Secondly, the language used in the provincial guidelines does not show any willingness to integrate: terms like “possible inevitable foreigners” are not expressions of tolerance and respect, even if the package highlights the human dignity, international law, cultural diversity “(…) avoiding discrimination and segregation”. Thirdly, the package focuses on immigrants as labour forces and wants first to elaborate measures for a better integration of the South Tyrolean population, secondly to hire immigrants already residing in South Tyrol because of family reunions and thirdly, only if absolutely needed, immigrants from EU countries should be recruited. Consequently immigrants are reduced to labour forces eventually needed in the prospering South Tyrolean economy. The proposed provincial guidelines, though, do not mention any specific rights of immigrants or their cultural, religious or linguistic diversity to be respected.
The existence of those provincial guidelines could be interpreted in the light of the election campaign to show voters that also the SVP is engaging in immigration since other competing right wing parties like Die Freiheitlichen and Die Union für Südtirol have been successfully active in this field. At the same time (end of June 2008) the Provincial Monitoring Centre was closed down and media were reporting on “abandoned immigrants”. Even if the Monitoring Centre was a project financed by the European Social Fund, the “Province did not want to pay from its own pocket” for the continuation of this project. Moreover “nobody wanted to burn one’s fingers in face of the upcoming elections”.
Besides the above mentioned guidelines the position of the governing SVP towards immigration is not transparent and congruent either. Besides the above mentioned 16 guidelines on integration the right aligned wing of the same party issued in 2007, 10 principles for integration called “Immigration und Integration in South Tyrol”. These principles focus on immigrants from non EU countries, since “most of those immigrants are Muslims and thus not shaped by occidental culture”. This is said to be the reason for integration problems all over Europe. An integration concept which is not only supporting immigrants financially but especially focusing on moral and cultural aspects is demanded. Social benefits and other financial support should not be given to everybody but only in cases of emergency. Otherwise it would corrupt immigrants morally and their willingness to work could decline “as the case of Berlin shows, where 3rd generation immigrants are still living on social benefits.” The principles focus also very much on the role of Islam, labelling its followers as the most difficult to integrate and the headscarf as a “political-religious symbol against western decadence.” Thus, Pahl, Ladurner et.al. acting as the initiators of the 10 Integration principles, demand a separation of immigrants from EU countries and non-EU countries claiming much stricter measures for the latter.
Thus the position of the SVP could be summarized as a mixture of quite extreme segregation and assimilation measures trying to hide the crude and non-congruent vision of the party. Moreover, the party rather seems to try to present itself against immigration in order to respond to emerging trends within the population but in the background being quite liberal regarding the day-to-day implementation of integration.
The German right wing parties Union für Südtirol and Die Freiheitlichen have been very active in their fight against immigration, demanding a much stronger control over immigration, the assignment of those competences from the state to the province, few to no immigrants from non-EU countries, immediate expulsion of persons with criminal records, obligatory language courses before school enrolment and before getting access to social benefits; social benefits connected to five to ten years of residency as well as a positive discrimination for the native traditional South Tyrolean population in the ambit of social housing and family allowances, no tolerance for diverse religions and concentration on the traditional catholic identity. Those conservative demands could be the expression of racism presented to the public under the umbrella of fear of weakening the identity and losing political power of the German minority in South Tyrol. Diversity is thus not considered a positive factor but quite the contrary; a threatening fact one has to fight.
A totally different approach towards immigration is supported by Die Grünen (The Greens). Immigration was not per se part of their election campaign but is addressed in the framework of multilingualism and the abolition of strict linguistic separation especially in the school system. Die Grünen call for the use of South Tyrol’s specific experiences with the protection of minorities to better integrate immigrants. Thus not only linguistic integration is needed but a focus should also be social integration via humanitarian measures. Furthermore, an open dialogue is demanded to finally resolve the underlying unease between German and Italian speakers being seen as the precondition for a successful integration of new diversity. Under the existing conditions for immigration Die Grünen see a tendency that second and third generations might reproduce the conflict between German and Italian groups in a more violant form. Thus the approach taken by the governing party SVP is not considered to be efficient and sustainable for a long term management of diversity.
The Italian right wing parties present in the Autonomous Province of South Tyrol focus especially on the minor role the Italian population has obtained through history. In their view immigration is thus again weakening the Italian identity, because besides the autochthonous German and Ladin population other strong and large ethnic groups could take away the weight of the Italians, labelling them as a minority in their own state. As shown, fear and endangerment spread amongst the local population are supported and heated up by political campaigns and used for selfish interests (more votes).
The Autonomous Province of South Tyrol does not apply a harmonious and congruent approach towards the integration of immigrants. A gap can be noted between the restrictive approach expressed in political manifests and the rather open and inclusive approach on a day-to-day level. However, the daily implementation of various scattered measures is not sustainable, because there is no long-term planning, no recognition of second and third generation migrants, hence not truly considering immigration as an irreversible challenge and integration as a long-term process.

The Education System in South Tyrol

To a large extent, the education system in South Tyrol follows the national Italian education system. It is in particular regulated by Art. 19 of the Autonomy Statute focusing on the regulation of mother tongue instruction thus protecting the German and Ladin minorities in the territory.
Thus three parallel school systems exist, with pre-school, elementary, secondary and high school pupils taught in their mother tongue (German or Italian) by teachers of the same language. The other language (German in the Italian system; Italian in the German system) is taught as second language.
The Ladin school system (from pre-schooling until secondary education) forms an exception in South Tyrol: Instruction is on an equal basis in German and Italian, the Ladin language is taught as a subject. The Ladin system is thus considered a more inclusive system. In addition to the three parallel school systems, there are also three administrative bodies and three independent education authorities, directing bodies and evaluation boards, one for each language. The administrative body is responsible for the effective management of the school program, the legal treatment and the salary of teachers. The education authorities are responsible for the education and didactic policies.
According to Art 19 of the Autonomy Statute each pupil or his/her parents are free to choose their preferred system, but the administrative body has the right to refuse enrolment based on insufficient knowledge of the language of instruction. In the 70s and 80s there were cases reported, but the last 20 years have not provoked any denial of enrolment. It could, however, not be applied to immigrants because of their right to get support for lacking knowledge of language at school through the National Law No. 40/98 and the National Guidelines elaborated in D.Lgs 286/1998 and D.P.R. 394/1999. The application would also lead to a discrimination of immigrants, because if autochtonous pupils are denied access to one school system based on insufficient knowledge, they can always enrol in the other. If immigrant pupils are denied access because of insufficient knowledge of language, they would be  denied access to education, because certainly there is no school system in their mother tongue.
To summarize it can be said that education policy in South Tyrol is, to a large extent, language policy mirroring the region’s historic ballast and the traumatisation the German population suffered during Fascism.
Thus the strict separation between the linguistic groups establishing different school systems was comprehensible and led to a “peaceful coexistence (...) complicating the coexistence of the two big linguistic groups”. The fear of loss of identity as well as of assimilation is still deeply enshrined in the group’s collective memory. Thus the interaction between the two language groups is still characterized by its “after-effects”. Moreover, the political level is keen to keep alive this strict separation between the language groups, since “language in South Tyrol has been racialized (...) [and] represents the core element of identity and the main factor of division”. Apart from scattered initiatives introducing German and Italian as language of instruction applying the school autonomy (National Law L. 59/1997) and the provincial education law (Provincial Law 147/2007) promoting innovative language learning it has hitherto been unfeasible to share one education system in South Tyrol, and thus the separated schooling systems continue to exist. The heart of the German education system is reflected in the “embracement of monolingualism and monoculturalism” and the “effort to preserve the German mother tongue against ‘foreign’ influences and a ‘mixture’ with the other language”. In a survey carried out by the local weekly newspaper FF questioning the necessity of a bilingual school, out of 15 political parties the 6 German Parties were against it. Only the Grünen/Bürgerliste together with all the Italian parties were in favour of a bilingual school.
Problems of this segregated system arise particularly for mixed families and immigrants, because they either feel affiliated to both systems, as is often the case for mixed families, or they don’t feel affiliated to any of the systems, as is common among immigrants. A more serious problem starting with the strict segregation in the education system is the establishment of parallel societies. Considering education as “social engineering”, values taught in the school are reflected in the lives of individuals. Thus full integration of diversity between the German and the Italian speaking population is still not reached. In 1980, the Provincial Minister for Culture summarized the guiding principle of the South Tyrolean government stating that “the better we separate each other, the better we understand each other”. This guiding principle from the 1980s is still omnipresent in the minds of a large population, hindering successful integration and cohabitation.

Immigrants in the Education System in South Tyrol: Numbers

In 1990 the first study was conducted counting 142 foreign pupils enrolled in the South Tyrolean schools for the academic year 1989/1990. Ten years later, in 2000/2001, there were already 1.564 foreign students, 986 in the Italian schools and 578 in the German schools. Thus there was an increase of 1001,4%.
In 2006/2007 there were 4.435 pupils without Italian citizenship enrolled in the German and Italian schools in South Tyrol, 2.426 in the Italian school and 2.009 in the German school. Thus the immigrant pupils count for 6.5% of the total number. However, numbers include also pupils with German or Austrian citizenship enrolled especially in the German system, who cannot truly be considered immigrants. Thus the term used and numbers presented might lead to the assumption that immigrant pupils are distributed quite equally among the two schooling systems. However, the Italian school has much more third country nationals from e.g. Morocco, Tunisia, Pakistan or Albania.
A significant difference can be seen in the enrolment of immigrant pupils in the different education systems. In the first years more immigrants enrolled in the Italian education system, while numbers are more balanced lately. As the director of the German education institute Meraner pointed out “the decision to enroll in one system or another is taken more and more consciously.” There is a trend to enroll in the German school among immigrants who either have already been residing in Italy for a long time or who have relatives there. Due to knowledge and understanding of the society and the minority situation a deliberate decision is taken to send the children in the German school because of better economic and social expectations. Another reason for preferring one system over the other might also be already existing cultural ties with the Italian or German traditions.
However, immigrant students in the German system count for only 3.3% (2.009) of the total pupils while in the Italian system nearly the same number (2.426) counts for 13% of the total students. This is due to population distribution of 68% Germans and 26% Italians.
There is also a noticeable difference in the distribution of immigrant pupils through the various school systems. Especially numbers in the high school can be interpreted as the logical development of larger enrolment in the Italian school more than five years ago.
The German group is concerned that, once immigrant children have attended an entire school cycle in Italian and acquired Italian citizenship, they might be tempted to declare themselves to belong to the Italian-speaking-group. Through this declaration of affiliation the ethnic balance in the public administration is guaranteed. Consequently this would lead to a modification of the ethnic balance. The Italian group also has a particular interest in immigrant children because they often guarantee the preservation of Italian classes in the countryside and smaller villages inhabited mostly by German speakers which risk being closed because of a lack of Italian speaking students.

Integration Measures

Art. 19 of the Autonomy Statute regulating mother tongue instruction applies also to immigrants. Thus immigrant children or their parents have to decide in which education system to enrol. The fact of having to choose an education system might be confusing especially for newly arrived immigrants, but as argued before, there is now a very conscious choice for one or the other system.
The education systems implement the national legislation for the integration of immigrants (regulated through National Law 42/98) In addition the Provincial law No. 147/2007 (Bildungsgesetz/Education Law) specifies the criteria and aims of the education system in the Autonomous Province for nursery schools and compulsory education. Art. 1 highlights the development of one’s own personality and democratic attitude and the respect of the CRC, UDHR and the Autonomy Statute, with a special focus on the knowledge of the minority situation (Art. 2b), the Christian tradition (Art. 2c) and the knowledge of the history of the Province (Art. 2d). The Education Law also takes into account the immigrant children, defining education as a “subjective duty and social right” allocating more personnel to nursery schools with immigrant children and granting the right to education authorities to distribute immigrant students equally among different schools. Nevertheless the Education Law does not specify on specific rights granted to immigrant children and the approach taken towards their culture and languages. The Education Law only establishes diversity as a value but does not go deeper in defining it.
The same law introduced “innovative language learning projects” and in that frame the provincial government issued a “resolution on a cross-language concept for the establishment of language-centres and competence-centres for the integration of immigrant children” with the aim to guarantee equal formation and thus equal chances to immigrant children and their native peers. The resolution was rather vague in its formulation and from the wording it was not clear if segregated language schools for immigrant children were supported. Consequently an implementation concept was developed clarifying the role of the language- and competence-centre focusing on the one hand on the cross-language and thus cross-institutional approach and on the other on integration and the inclusion of all relevant stakeholders. Thus in 2007 a competence centre was established in Bozen/Bolzano coordinating six language centres equally distributed in the province. The competence centre has its office within the German education institute but is not attributed to a certain language group. It’s three collaborators are chosen according to population distribution: two for the German language group, responsible also for the Ladin schools and one for the Italian group. Moreover the competence centre is supposed to bridge the three education systems. Thus it is “one of the first substantial projects” that unifies the different education systems in South Tyrol.
The centres were not defined by the implementation concept as stable and localized institutions to learn the language in a segregated class only among immigrants, but rather as centres of knowledge and consultation for immigrant pupils, parents, teachers and all relevant stakeholders.
The tasks of the language centres are:
•    Consultation for parents concerning the decision on school enrolment, their rights and duties; for teachers and school personnel on the distribution of pupils, on the elaboration of individual learning plans; for various stakeholders to facilitate the participation in associations, youth clubs, sports club etc;
•    Evaluation of immigrants’ already existing language-knowledge, that forms the basis for the additional supporting measures, language courses etc. (following the National Guidelines);
•    Organization and Coordination of language courses in the official language German and Italian and supporting measures in the school for pupils as well as parents and of courses to deepen the knowledge of the mother tongue;
•    Coordination of personnel resources, the cultural mediators and the cooperation between schools, associations and youth associations;
The task of the competence centre is:
•    Elaboration of didactic and pedagogical concepts and resources in line with the intercultural approach suggested by the National Guidelines; Elaboration of teaching material and information material for parents;
•    Scientific evaluation of integration approaches in other countries;
•    Scientific coordination of the language centres;
•    Coordination of teacher formation;
•    Evaluation of immigrants’ assessment and of language support measures;
At the core of the Provincial Resolution No. 1482/2007 and the implementation concept elaborated by the education institute is the knowledge of the language of instruction and in a second step the other language (either German or Italian). Thus language support is offered to the children from enrolment onwards either during normal school hours by a second teacher or in additional courses (for a limited period of time) during holidays or in the afternoons. However, there is a strong focus on not separating immigrant children from their regular classes and when unavoidable, then only for max. 10 hours a week (25% of total hours). The competence centre coordinates language courses and thus a network amongst schools is elaborated to group pupils of the same age and the same language skills to facilitate language learning.
However, networks are only possible in the cities with a higher number of immigrants. In the rural areas with less immigrants, pupils are supported on an individual basis by language teachers teaching directly at the school or coming from another school for a defined number of hours (according to the needs). Additionally intensive courses especially for pupils in high school are offered during holidays or afternoons. These courses are especially important for older immigrant pupils because the gap between knowledge of language and expertise in the various subjects widens constantly.
Secondly the implementation concept relies on offers and consultation rather than forced language courses and integration measures. Thus integration is not  perceived as a negative course of action putting high demands on immigrants but rather motivating pupils and parents to participate in the bi-directional process.
Thirdly the competence centre shall be a real centre connecting networks built among various stakeholders including cultural mediators, social/welfare associations and private language schools. Networks are perceived as important to manage the diversity better amongst immigrants (age, knowledge of language, religions, countries...) and to reduce personnel and costs.
Already in 2001 the Provincial Government, as the first Italian province, institutionalised in resolution No. 4266/2001 the cultural mediator as a “function owner who educates for the perception of cultural differences. He/she has specific intercultural competences and works towards transforming egotism, racism and social centrism to tolerance and understanding”. Thus the cultural mediators already started working before the establishment of the competence centre/language centres and proved to be very successful in assisting teachers as well as immigrant students and families in their first steps at school. The cultural mediator is, as defined by national law, also responsible for the consultation between families and school authorities, the evaluation of the immigrants’ competences and their placement in adequate regular classes. Moreover he/she offers language support prior to the acquisition of adequate German or Italian competences and eventually offers language courses in the mother tongue of immigrants.
Hence there is a certain an overlap in the competences of the cultural mediator and the language centres, even though  the latter claim to work in close collaboration with the cultural mediators. Subsequently the role of the cultural mediators is reduced to bridging the language and culture barriers in the initial phase and during conflicts.
After one year of existence, the competence centre/languages mastered initial organisational difficulties especially between the two existing school systems: Moreover, competences and responsibilities of the competence centre/language centre and their collaborators were not clear in the initial phase.
The first year of functioning  provoked also a huge amount of criticism especially among the right wing parties Union für Südtirol and Die Freiheitlichen, labelling the competence centre/language centre as “blandishing institution” far away from the reality of the schools. The parties demand language instruction prior to school enrolment in order to prevent the native children from a declining standard at school, thus negating the guidelines at national level. The low level of instruction is seen as a result of lacking language competences and consequently of migrant children at school. The establishment of segregated language classes is proposed as a solution. However, the two parties assume that once migrant children are able to communicate fluently in the language of instruction (German or Italian) they will automatically integrate in the existing society without further integration measures.

Implementation of the Normative Framework and the European/National Guidelines

For the time being the education system in South Tyrol implements the National Law No. 40/1998 guaranteeing compulsory education to all and equal access with possible enrolment at any point during the school year. Equal access to education implies in South Tyrol to also have the choice between the two (eventually three) education systems guaranteed by Art. 19 of the Autonomy Statute. A rejection based on insufficient knowledge of language is no longer possible, as explained above.
Prior to access, the National Guidelines recommend a consultation and/or written information in the language of origin in order to explain the school system to the parents. In South Tyrol this recommendation is executed by the cultural mediators or the language centre/competence centre. This consultation is of central importance in South Tyrol because in addition to the information on the education system it is in many cases the first contact of immigrants with the minority/majority situation in South Tyrol and could be used to raise awareness and understanding. Consequently the choice of the school system could become a real tool for immigrants, offering active participation in the society and not just passive integration.
The South Tyrolean education system also guarantees the acquisition of the official languages as demanded in the National Law No.. 40/1998, taking into account, however, that the official language in the province is not one but two: German and Italian. Thus immigrant children enjoy language facilitation firstly for the language of the respective school system in order to guarantee their education in the different subjects (through either individual teaching during regular school hours or courses organized for groups during regular school period with the possibility to extend learning into the afternoons) and secondly for the other official language. The organization of these courses or support measures depends on the level of education, because the higher the level, the greater is the gap in knowledge of language between the  native and the immigrant children.
However, personnel with appropriate qualification are still lacking, although the Free University of Bolzano/Faculty of Pedagogy is offering compulsory seminars in Didactic of German/Italian as a second language and Intercultural Education.
Last but not least, the National Law 40/1998 theoretically guarantees the protection and preservation of the language of origin. The language centres are equipped with the competence to offer and organize language and culture courses for immigrant children and their parents in collaboration with NGOs and municipalities. Those courses, however, are only organized if there is a request from a substantial number of immigrants.
Summarizing, one can admit that the South Tyrolean education system follows the Italian system implementing the National Guidelines which are in line with international treaties and conventions, the Guidelines set by the Council of Europe and the Eurydice Network and their given recommendations. There is however a discrepancy between the formal implementation of the normative framework including guidelines and recommendations, and actual implementation.
Especially the demand to guarantee some sort of preservation of the mother tongue and knowledge of the history and culture of the country of origin is not executed on a regular base. Secondly, the principle of interculturality as a bi-directional process providing mutual understanding and adaptation is not substantially implemented.
Even if the competence centre provides for didactic material in line with interculturality, it depends on the level of engagement and willingness of individual teachers to use and work with it in regular classes. The curricula do not include multicultural/intercultural education per se, but allows for the implementation in subjects like languages, history, geography etc.
Also religious education in South Tyrol, as in the rest of Italy, following Catholic values and traditions, includes in the curriculum the knowledge and understanding of other religions, human rights and aims to educate pupils in tolerance and mutual understanding. According to statistics in the academic year 2007/2008, 979 pupils (3,5%) opted out of religious education. Data does not distinguish between pupils with an immigration background and the native population. However, the local Statistical Institute ASTAT sees a “close interrelation between the increasing deregistration in religious education and the number of immigrants in the schools”. In order to confirm that interrelation one would have to collect data based on citizenship. Moreover, data should also take into account the motivation for opting out of religious classes.
The education system in South Tyrol allows for the implementation of intercultural approach but does not enforce it, thereby leaving its implementation to individual schools and teachers. This is, thus, in line with the idea of school autonomy as granted to each Italian school by National Law  L. 59/1997. The school autonomy has many advantages which allows adaptation to the specific situation in each school. Immigrant pupils could be, on the one hand, supported according to their needs and demands, but on the other hand there is also the possibility that no attention is given to their necessities , their differences neglected or reduced to a lacking knowledge of the host language.


Immigration has become a key feature also in the Province of South Tyrol and as such it does not distinguish itself from other regions in Europe anymore. For the time being numbers are still low (6,5%), but an increase is expected in the next years. Thus it is important that the province develops a congruent and outspoken approach towards the integration of the differences stemming from immigration. The challenge to shape immigration is clearly twofold, since the Province is already marked by three autochthonous linguistic groups (and a small group of Roma and Sinti) living in the territory. Nevertheless, due to the Autonomy Statute granted to the Province of South Tyrol, the protection and coexistence of these autochthonous groups is well regulated and the distinctive traditions and cultures of the minorities well protected. New diversity mixing itself into the already existing one challenges the self-conception and self-understanding of the traditional groups and their identities.
The school system, crucial for the protection of each minority culture, was especially developed in South Tyrol to effectively protect the differences between the groups. The separation between the linguistic groups is indeed preserving the distinctiveness of the minority, but often also hindering a true cohabitation by extending the separation to daily life. Consequently more than 50 years after the annexation, the South Tyrolean society is still divided and in particular regarding the school system which is not ready to overcome the partition. The fear of losing its own identity and distinctiveness and the endangerment of assimilation is still omnipresent amongst the German population,  particularly on the political level, as seen earlier.
Immigrants, once enrolled in a South Tyrolean school, are automatically subject to this separation and the question arises if they should adapt to the separation, integrate and assimilate to one or the other group; or to become a distinctive group keeping some of their own traditions and values. This, however, seems paradoxical since immigrants present in the territory are so different amongst themselves regarding language, religions etc.
Being aware of the present discourse within the South Tyrolean society it would be too visionary to see the immigrants as instrumental in abandoning the separated school system or as a  bridge between the two groups.
At the moment the presence of immigrants in this separated education system is questioning the definition of identity and moreover testing the openness and tolerance of a society. In South Tyrol it can be noted that the Italian language group, which has of course a less vulnerable identity than the German autochthonous minority, is reacting more flexibly and openly to the integration of new diversity stemming from immigration. The political representation of the German group is, on the contrary, more concerned and tries to protect the identity and culture of the German population by demanding control over the number of immigrants or trying to introduce language courses prior to school enrolment, in order not to risk a decrease in the standard of education. The election campaign in autumn 2008 has revealed once more that the German political parties including the governing party SVP and excluding Die Grünen/Bürgerliste are misusing data on immigration, showing the negative impacts for their own political interests and heating fear and endangerment within the population. Thus the approach highlighted on the political level does not coincide with the approach taken by institutions, especially the education system.
The establishment of the competence centre is a unique cross-language collaboration between the German and Italian education systems promoting integration on all levels including all concerned parties: Immigration in the education system is considered a common challenge and it has to be worked on together using the best applicable approach. Moreover, not only the competence centre but also the Italian legal framework, which is implemented in South Tyrol together with the Provincial Laws on Education would allow the implementation of interculturality as a true bi-directional process, promoting tolerance and understanding among the different cultures and languages. However, the translation of interculturality in the daily life of the schools depends on individual teachers and projects.
It must be noted that the education system in South Tyrol highlights the importance of the knowledge of the host country language and thus offers language facilitation and integration of immigrant children in regular classes, rejecting the establishment of segregated classes as demanded by some right wing parties like Die Freiheitlichen and Union für Südtirol. Having two (three, if one takes into account also Ladin) host languages and two cultures might be a disadvantage for newly arrived immigrants, but as argued a conscious choice of one or the other education system proves that immigrants are adapting to the specific situation in South Tyrol and trying to take the best out of it. Interviews with the collaborators of the competence centre revealed that immigrant children quickly learn to use the two official languages in South Tyrol, sometimes even quicker than native children. It is of course questionable if this is due to impartiality amongst immigrants and a lack of historic ballast connected to the two languages. Thus for immigrants the German and Italian languages are not identity building factors as they are for the native population, where being part of the German speaking group means automatically not being part of the Italian speaking group and vice-versa. But the languages are means of communication and a window for integration in the existing society.
For the time being, there are neither reports on how immigrants educated in South Tyrol integrate into the local labour market, proving the success or failure of the education policies in South Tyrol, nor any studies on the needs, problems and wishes of immigrants in the education system. A further evaluation of the education system is also difficult, because there are no second or even third generation migrants who have already completed the entire school system in South Tyrol and there is no policy plan developed yet on how to integrate second and third generations of migrants. Presently the whole integration measures concentrate on knowledge of language, but second or third generation probably do not have any language disadvantages anymore.
The current education system is preparing immigrants to integrate in the existing society, preparing them for a successful inclusion in the labour market, but not fully taking into account one of the major aims of education, namely to develop the personality of pupils. At the moment, nothing more than the sparsely organized courses in the mother tongue of immigrants and some slight adaptation in the daily school life (for e.g allowing immigrants to opt out from swimming classes or catholic religious education) is feasible because the society, especially the German group, is still concerned with their own struggle for identity and differentiation from the Italian group. The German population is for the moment not willing to use their traumatizing experiences resulting from attempts of assimilation from the fascist Italian government to engage in a process of common understanding and mutual adaptation.


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Verena Wisthaler, Junior Researcher, Europäische Akademie Bozen/Bolzano, Institut für Minderheitenrecht, 2008