[Parenting and Childcare in Germany - Insights from Berlin]<br />Inclusive Education in Germany: A Japanese Perspective on Practices, Challenges, and Pathways to the Future - Papers & Essays



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Inclusive Education in Germany: A Japanese Perspective on Practices, Challenges, and Pathways to the Future

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[Parenting and Childcare in Germany - Insights from Berlin]
Inclusive Education in Germany: A Japanese Perspective on Practices, Challenges, and Pathways to the Future


In the academic year 2020-21, children in Germany requiring special support constituted approximately 7% of the total student population. Among them, 45% attended regular schools, while the remainder received education in special needs schools. Concurrently, there is a growing emphasis on the societal concept of inclusion in Germany, leading to the promotion of inclusive education, with an increase in schools designated as inclusive education focal points. This article outlines the current situation, advantages, and challenges associated with inclusive education in Germany from the perspective of a Japanese author.

Keywords: Germany, Berlin, Japan, Inclusion, Inclusive Education, Special Needs Schools, Developmental Disabilities, Learning Disabilities, Autism, Momoko Schlitt-Dittrich
Special Education in Germany for Children in Need of Additional Support

In the academic year 2020-21, approximately 568,000 children, which is around 7% of the total student population of Germany, required special educational support.*1 Among them, approximately 254,000 attended regular schools, while the remaining 314,000 received education in special support schools. The focal areas for special support include learning disabilities, emotional and social developmental disorders, intellectual disabilities, visual impairments, auditory impairments, speech disorders, physical disabilities, among others. It is noted that about 40% of children requiring special support have learning disabilities, and approximately 20% exhibit emotional and social developmental disorders.*1 Special support schools address these focal areas, and the student-to-teacher ratio in these institutions is significantly lower, compared to mainstream schools.

Furthermore, Germany ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2009, and in 2013, inclusive education was incorporated into German school education laws.

In this context, Germany aspires to build an inclusive society where everyone, regardless of disability, race, or religion, can participate on an equal basis in social life. This commitment has strengthened in recent years. Germany has actively welcomed immigrants and refugees and, in particular, its capital Berlin boasts a diverse population with various ethnic backgrounds. This diversity is in stark contrast to Japan, the author's home country with a predominantly single ethnicity. Given this environment, the pursuit of an inclusive society has become imperative in Berlin, extending its influence to the realm of education. This paper aims to describe the current state of inclusive education in Germany from the perspective of a Japanese author.

Note: Germany operates under a federal system, that is, its 16 states have their own education systems. Therefore, please be aware that the content of this paper is an illustrative example and may not reflect the country-wide practice.

Objectives of Inclusive Education

In my recent interviews with the director of a daycare center holding qualifications in inclusive education and a special support childcare professional, they emphasized that the primary objective of inclusive education is to create a learning environment where all students can live and learn together. Such an environment includes classrooms and school life that promotes the inclusion of students with diverse abilities and individuals with disabilities are considered equal members of the group, not as outsiders. In alignment with this philosophy, they should have the freedom to engage in various activities just like their peers without disabilities. *2*3

To facilitate inclusive education, schools implementing this approach are equipped with various rooms and facilities capable of accommodating different types of disabilities. Trained staff members are also essential components of these institutions. In other words, the premise is not that individuals must adapt to the environment, but rather, that the living space (environment) is designed to adapt to the individuals. Therefore, when planning facilities for inclusive education, it is crucial to focus on eliminating any barriers that may hinder people's actions or movement, such as removing obstacles (barrier-free) and installing inclined slopes instead of stairs, as well as employing specialized staff.

By the way, it is noteworthy that the term "integration," which has been discussed in the context of accepting refugee children, differs in meaning from inclusion. Integration involves acknowledging differences while expecting minority groups (in this case, refugee children) to adapt to and conform to the existing system. This distinction is clearly recognized in Germany. *3

Inclusive Education in Berlin

Since the 2004 enactment of a new school law, Berlin has prioritized the co-education of students with and without disabilities. Additionally, the "National Action Plan for the Implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities," adopted by the German federal government in 2011, prompted various measures within the city of Berlin.

As an example, the city developed its own educational model and established six "Inclusive Education Focus Schools" to implement this model in 2016. The number of such schools has increased to 20 in the current academic year, while there are 56 special support schools in the city.*4*5

Unlike special support schools, all children, regardless of the presence of disabilities, attend class together in these inclusive schools. Regular school teachers collaborate with assistant teachers holding special support qualifications, as well as counselors, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, clinical psychologists, and social workers to conduct classes.*5

The "Inclusive Education Focus Schools" are equipped with spaces where everyone can move freely and facilities accommodate various disabilities. These schools accept children with special educational needs, such as visual or auditory impairments, mental and physical development issues, intellectual disabilities, autism, and others, just like their peers without such disabilities. Each of these schools provides support in up to three areas of these diverse needs.*5

In Berlin, specialized medical examinations for school enrollment are conducted six months before the school starts. The choice of school is influenced by the severity of the disability and the preferences of the parents. However, it is noteworthy that children with disabilities are not necessarily limited to attending special support schools; they can also attend regular schools with well-established inclusive systems, as described above.

In Japan, a similar approach is also taken and parents and children can decide which school is suitable for attendance. In other words, in addition to pre-school medical examinations, further tests can be conducted through school enrollment consultations for the decision of the school.*6 However, the final permission for the special support school is made by the municipal school board and the Board of Education based on the child's condition as well as the school and community support systems.*7

Inclusive Education Practices: A Case Study of a Primary School in Aachen, Germany

In examining the practical implementation of inclusive education, let us consider a primary school in the western German city of Aachen. This school has 1,200 students, among whom 62 have reported disabilities. The staff comprises 110 teachers, including 10 special education teachers, 4 social workers, and 1 clinical psychologist. The school is organized into six classes per grade, where children with developmental disorders and typically developing children learn together, apart from during foreign language classes. It is common for students with disabilities to progress at a slower learning pace than their peers. However, support staff are assigned to assist these children, and classes are organized into small groups, with tasks tailored to individual skill levels. Importantly, the presence of children with disabilities in the same class is reported to have only minimal impact on the overall learning levels of the class.*8

Advantages and Challenges of Inclusive Education

In Germany, there seems to be a gradual increase in the number of inclusive education practices. What are the advantages and challenges associated with this approach?

-Advantage 1: Cultivation of Interpersonal Relationships and Sociability
Inclusive education is believed to foster essential skills for real-world social integration, such as interpersonal relationships and sociability, from early childhood. The idea is that learning alongside a majority of students without disabilities, rather than in a setting exclusively composed of peers with similar disabilities in special support schools, facilitates the development of these skills. In actual fact, voices from within larger mainstream schools suggest that students often form a greater number of friendships in such settings.*8

Moreover, neurotypical children also benefit from learning about their peers with disabilities, gaining insights into their characteristics and appropriate ways to interact. This mutual understanding contributes to the development of socially responsible patterns of behavior, preparing all students for meaningful engagement with others as they navigate the complexities of societal interactions.

Encouraging the acquisition of social skills and empathy is advocated for all students, and these are beneficial skills for every child, irrespective of disabilities. Given that individuals with disabilities are integral parts of society rather than living in isolation, inclusive education can be considered advantageous for all children.

According to a survey targeting students in schools practicing inclusive education, nearly 80% of respondents answered affirmatively to the question, "Has collaborative work between students with and without disabilities progressed successfully through inclusion?" Furthermore, when asked if inclusion had deepened understanding among children, 85% responded that understanding had indeed deepened. These findings underscore the overwhelmingly positive impact of inclusive education.*8

-Advantage 2: Diverse Career Paths after Graduation
In Germany, the degrees obtained from special support schools are not considered equivalent to those from mainstream schools, even if both provide education at the same level.*8

Additionally, for employment purposes, it is required to specify all degrees from the schools that we have attended when we apply for a job here. Therefore, acquiring a degree from a mainstream school practicing inclusive education significantly enhances job opportunities, presenting a substantial advantage for achieving societal independence. Many disabled students who attend mainstream schools express joy in learning and demonstrate tangible academic achievements, factors contributing to enhanced employability.

Moreover, the overlap with the first advantage notwithstanding, attending a mainstream school often involves learning to manage behavioral challenges through guidance and group interactions. As a result, individuals who undergo inclusive education tend to have an easier time finding employment after graduation. Given the emphasis on economic independence for all children in the German education system, this represents a significant advantage.

Challenges in Inclusive Education

On the other hand, some challenges associated with inclusive education can be considered:

-Challenge 1: Substantial Burden on Teachers and Stakeholders
While parents of children undergoing inclusive education express higher satisfaction with schools, classes, and teachers compared to parents without such experiences, many teachers feel unprepared and burdened by the demands of inclusive education. The challenges extend beyond lesson planning, encompassing the need for careful management of relationships among children, in particular those with disabilities. The requirement for specialized knowledge, collaboration with multidisciplinary experts, and close involvement with parents contribute to the substantial burden placed on teachers.*8*9

-Challenge 2: Comfort of Students
According to Meteas, the director of the Aachen City Educational Research Institute in Germany, a survey on children with developmental disorders in Switzerland revealed that students in special support schools often have better memories of their school years than those in inclusive education.*8 This observation is attributed to the smaller class sizes (6-8 students) and close relationships with teachers in special support schools.

In contrast, the tension within larger classes (20-30 students) with only 1-2 students with disabilities at mainstream schools, can be more pronounced. This tension may impact the overall comfort of students, especially considering the diverse nature and degree of disabilities, potentially making the mainstream school environment challenging for some individuals.*8


Inclusive education is an application of the inclusion concept in which a diverse range of individuals can live together in a society where everyone is accepted and can participate according to their own will. To achieve success in inclusive education, essential elements include support for teachers, as well as the preparation of facilities and the implementation of appropriate methods. When these factors are adequately prepared, learning together becomes effective for children at various levels. Consequently, administrative financial support is crucial, making it significantly intertwined with political involvement.

In Berlin, even regular schools accept a significant number of children with disabilities. In the academic year 2021/22, 72% of children with disabilities attended regular schools, not designated as focus schools here. This indicates a significant acceptance of children with disabilities in many mainstream schools.*10

Berlin's schools generally have smaller class sizes and emphasize more individualized instruction compared to Japanese schools. Nevertheless, there remains a disparity in the quality of education between regular schools implementing inclusive education with specialized staff and facilities and those that do not.

The question arises whether children with disabilities are merely cared for alongside typically developed children or if genuinely equal support is provided. Ideally, it would be optimal to have an environment conducive to inclusive education in all regular schools. However, achieving this requires further advocacy towards politics and society.

According to interviews with the daycare center director and special needs educator, the success of inclusive education depends on the environment and the degree of each child's disability. This aligns with the results of a survey quoted in Meteas's lecture, where responses to questions about the benefits of inclusive education for children with disabilities were divided.*8

Cases exist where children with severe disabilities or developmental differences, such as autism, face challenges in regular classrooms. In such instances, special support schools with smaller class sizes and closer teacher-student interaction may provide a more comfortable environment for children. This observation appears to be a commonality in both Germany and Japan.

Finally, it is noteworthy that over half the number of children with developmental or learning disabilities come from families facing social issues such as low income or poverty. Additionally, more than 30% of these children have backgrounds related to immigration or refugees.*8 Changing the environment and society surrounding these children is crucial, and political advocacy will play a key role in addressing these challenges.

The author of this manuscript expresses gratitude to Director A and Special Needs Educator Y for their cooperation in the interviews.


Momoko Schlitt-Dittrich

Momoko Schlitt-Dittrich received a master's degree in linguistics from the University of California, Davis. After building her career as an English teacher, interpreter/translator, and university lecturer in Japan and the US, she moved to Germany in 2011. Currently, she works as a freelance writer in Berlin, mainly comparing education and environment systems in Japan and Germany.
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