School choice is a minority

Schleswig-HolsteinDanish minority are fighting for their schools

The Danish school in Rieseby is located in a small, cozy brick building. 25 pupils from the first to the sixth grade are taught here. The first four years together in one group - the fifth and sixth graders in the other. With the oldest, waste separation is on the curriculum that morning: "Vi klipper nogle billeder ud til. Hvordan man. Til skrald." - "We are currently cutting out pictures for waste from residual waste and - yes," says the 10-year-old boss.

A success-story

With the exception of German and English, all subjects in Rieseby are taught in Danish. Headmaster Niels-Jørgen Hansen moved from Denmark to Schleswig-Holstein in 1981. At that time, the schools of the Danish minority did not have the best reputation among the majority population, the now 61-year-old recalls: "It was mostly like that, I'll say, the students who had difficulties in the German school, that is, problem children or so who came to the Danish school. "

But the Danish schools have long been considered a success story. They are now on an equal footing with German public institutions. Almost 8,000 children and young people attend the 57 kindergartens and 43 minority schools. The families do not always have a connection to Denmark or to the minority. Many German parents without prior ties to Scandinavia also send their children to the Danish institutions.

Because of the good reputation but also the prospect of bilingual teaching - and of becoming part of the minority. Because on both sides of the German-Danish border: a minority is whoever wants to be a minority!

Minority fears for cultural identity

But for a few months now, four small Danish schools have been threatened with closure. Even the one in Rieseby. The cause is the austerity course that the school authority has prescribed. "Of course I can understand that. But when you see it that way, you have to think about the children too. They really have a nice school here and they feel at home here," says headmaster Hansen.

Headmaster Niels-Jørgen Hansen sees the Danish community in Rieseby in danger (Deutschlandradio / Johannes Kulms)

In the last five years the student population at the Danish school in Rieseby has decreased by almost a third. Headmaster Hansen knows that a general school of this size in Germany or Denmark would be closed long ago. Nevertheless: The learning conditions and the cohesion in the student body are special. And the school is now the cultural center for the Danish minority in the 2,000-inhabitant community near the Schlei, says Hansen:

"It's not just the school, it's also our SSF - the cultural association, the Danish sports club. Everything is connected with it. If the school is gone, the sports club might more or less die out, or the Danish SSF. Because then move to Eckernförde and at some point there is no longer a Danish minority in Rieseby. "

School closings - not a new phenomenon

The school sponsor of the minority schools is the Dansk Skoleforening for Sydslesvig - the Danish school association for southern Schleswig. Udo Jessen is the chairman of the parent-run association. Jessen states: "No Danish minority as strong as we have without a functioning education system! Every minority I know that does not have its own schools and kindergartens has no way of maintaining their language outside of the family context in public space, has problems in Europe. "

Unfortunately, the school association spends more than it receives from donations from Kiel, Copenhagen and the parents. Jessen puts the deficit at three million euros. Money that is missing, for example, for further training or digitization. He is convinced that Jessen is reluctant to ask the Schleswig-Holstein state government or the government in Copenhagen that the public grants are completely appropriate.

In Rieseby, the students are currently contributing 25 or 30 euros towards material costs - per year. But to increase these fees significantly would be political suicide, says Udo Jessen. Because education is of course free in Denmark. He cannot see that the local minority will die when the school closes: "You know: The Danish school association once had almost 100 schools. We still have 43. So it is not a new phenomenon that you as a school authority thinks about school closings. "

"A lifeblood for the minority"

Flemming Meyer sees it very differently. Meyer has taught in Danish schools for many years, has been a member of the Kiel state parliament since 2009 and is chairman of the Südschleswigschen Voters' Association - the party of the Danish and Frisian minorities: "I think it's a very, very big mistake when we as a minority have small schools close in the outside areas. Because that's a lifeblood for the minority. And that's why I think we have to do everything possible to prevent such school closings! "

As a sign of solidarity, several hundred people recently formed a human chain in Rieseby. Kathrin Frank also hopes that the Danish school will continue to exist here. She comes from Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, her husband from southern Germany. The parents of all three children opted for the Danish school: "Well, it was really a surprise that something like this even exists here. And because we were uprooted anyway, we said we are now looking for new roots and we are rooted in the Danish minority! "

In the next few months, the parent representatives in the Danish school association for southern Schleswig will decide whether there will be such a story from Rieseby to be told in the future.