22 / 2005
Barbara Friehs


Approximately 45 % of all non-Austrian residents in Austria are nationals of the former Yugoslavia and 17.5 % are of Turkish origin. This is largely due to Austria’s geographical location, its earlier policy of recruiting workers from abroad and the admission, in the early 1990s, of refugees from the former Yugoslavia.. The Austrian constitution stipulates that state schools have to be accessible to all pupils, regardless of their origin, sex, race, class, language or religious belief. School attendance is compulsory for nine years for all children who have their permanent residence in Austria, regardless of their nationality. The total number of pupils attending compulsory schools in 2002/03 whose mother tongue is a language other than German was 103 877 (15.2 % of all pupils).

Austrian education policy rejects the idea of segregation. Hence, pupils who are not Austrian nationals and who have a mother tongue other than German are not taught in separate schools or classes but are educated alongside their Austrian colleagues. By law, immigrant pupils shall be integrated and at the same time their cultural identity be conserved and promoted which often creates problems with the daily school routine. For this purpose, intercultural education was introduced as a so-called ‘educational principle’ in Austrian compulsory and academic secondary schools in the early 1990s. Intercultural education aims at a mutual understanding between pupils of various social, cultural and linguistic backgrounds. It also aims to make them aware of their similarities and differences and to reduce Eurocentrism and racism in Austrian schools.
Nevertheless, reality shows that there are still a lot of problems to solve. Foreign pupils have worse chances than their Austrian colleagues in the educational system, there is a lack of intercultural friendships among pupils which often leads to an outcast-situation for immigrant pupils, and also conflicts between expectations of immigrant families and the Western culture can be observed. This again leads to an alienation from families and/or integration and identity problems of immigrant pupils.
Hence, a number of measures in the field of educational policy has to be implemented. Thereby an intercultural approach, as a chance of mutual learning from all different cultures, is to be preferred.