Text: Milena Kowarik [AT] | Photos: SEKEM-Austria International Class
Refugees often have to wait months (or even years) in uncertainty until their refugee status has been clarified by the government. Besides them not being allowed to work and waiting for a long period of time before a decision on their status arrives (which, by the way, does not guarantee a stay in the country they seek refuge in), the refugees have limited opportunities for learning and meaningful human encounters, making them feel vulnerable, disoriented, and in a “state of constant limbo”. This condition gnaws an individual’s self-esteem, stagnates one’s potential, and makes one lose a sense of meaning in living.
In Spring 2016, SEKEM-Austria and Freie Waldorfschule Graz found this gap and started a one-year full-time International Class for fifteen young refugees. The International Class aims to help these individuals unlock their full potential and find meaning in life through holistic learning and active participation. They learn the main subjects (German, Mathematics, English, Natural Science, Social Studies), along with a wide range of artistic and craft courses. They also find their orientation in the new environment they live in by learning the language, knowing more about Austrian culture, and getting acquainted with the practical aspects of daily life. In addition to a holistic approach to learning, the programme also includes leisure and social activities, bringing together the students from the International Class with the Upper Class of the Freie Waldorfschule Graz. These meetings create a window of opportunity for cultures to connect, and at the same time, spark encounters between individuals to know more about who the other truly is.
The main goal of the International Class is to help the young refugees prepare for the working life, while offering them tools for a healthy emotional anchoring—making it possible for them to take hold of one’s Self and engage actively in the world. Through the International Class, an individual’s yearning to integrate oneself meaningfully into society is strengthened, an impulse which is already living in the hearts of the young refugees.
Concept of the International Class:
General education – Attainment of a class or compulsory school leaving certificate;
Preparation for certificate examinations in language competence (ÖSD A1, A2, B1);
Integration through interaction – Cross-class projects in a variety of encounters and interactions that are of importance in strengthening equality between nationals and migrants, as well as men and women;
Personal development through additional cognitive, artistic and manual instruction;
Arrangement of internships – social internship, agricultural training;
Respect for an individual’s fate and unique circumstances through intensive and empathic human encounter.
Focus of the Daily Main Lesson: The first two hours are spent on an intensive lesson of the German language. Afterwards, classes are held in subjects such as English, Mathematics, History, and Geography. Hours are also added in the weekly schedule in order to consolidate the knowledge acquired. When the language ability is good enough, individual students can join the main subjects of the Upper School (Chemistry, Art History, Biology, etc.). Many cross-class projects are also organised to enrich the curriculum.
Cognitive, Artistic and Craft Lessons: Horticulture, Music & Singing, Eurythmy, Art of Movement & Speech, Sports for Girls & Boys, Arts & Crafts, Cooking & Eating; Cross-Class Projects with the Upper School.
Since 2018, the International Class is holding their classes in the premises of the Freie Waldorfschule Graz, making it possible for them to extensively use the school facilities.
The following video shows the work of the International Class in different fields. Taking a glimpse of how the programme began, this short film gives one an impression of what the young refugees are learning. Moreover, it highlights how a holistic, inclusive educational programme, such as the International Class in Graz, is important in the unfolding of a human being – a beacon of hope that can transform one’s difficult circumstance into a brighter, more fulfilled future.
To know more about SEKEM-Austria International Class, visit their WEBSITE.