What is the definition of alternative school

Alternative educational concepts - laboratories for the school of the future

They turn common educational concepts upside down: Laboratory schools, free alternative schools and other innovative approaches give schoolchildren in Germany more freedom. The potential for the integration of schoolchildren with a migration background also appears to be great.

A school without a break bell - anyone who has ever waited longingly for the signal to end class will find this idea irritating. The teachers and students at the laboratory school in Bielefeld have been doing very well without the gong for decades; they can keep an eye on when they need a break.
In the 1970s, Bielefeld University set up two experimental schools that were supposed to turn current teaching concepts on their head: the laboratory school (LS), which accepts school beginners and teaches up to the tenth grade, and the upper-level college, which is designed for the Gymnasium upper level prepared for the Abitur. To this day, schools see themselves as providers of ideas for the education system. In the first three years, the five- to seven-year-olds study together in mixed-age courses, until the eighth school year the laboratory school does without subjects. Independent work and experience-based learning in projects also characterize the lessons at the upper level college. There are no classrooms at either school: the study groups share open spaces with sinks and elevations that are as big as gyms. Work tables, seating groups or wall units give the open learning landscapes structure and also offer smaller groups space to work together.
Many of the innovations that have been tried and tested in Bielefeld, such as open teaching, working on projects or teaching English to primary school age groups, have long been standard in mainstream schools. Over the years, generations of student teachers who had their first school experience at one of the two Bielefeld schools exported new approaches to their everyday school life. In research and development projects, teachers and scientists accompany the work at the experimental schools and develop new concepts.

The classic teaching role has had its day

For example, working in multi-professional teams, in which teachers and psychologists work together with special needs and social pedagogues, has been tested in practice in Bielefeld for many years. "It's still a draft," clarifies education researcher Peter Drewek. “But it will also be used in mainstream schools, because the classic teaching role is changing.” Classes are becoming more heterogeneous, and pupils come to school with different personal and biographical requirements.

Self-determined learning, democratic participation and mutual respect are among the central principles at the around 100 member schools in the Federal Association of Independent Alternative Schools (BFAS). “The question of how much the students decide for themselves and where they need fixed structures is discussed intensively at all schools,” observes Managing Director Tilmann Kern. "Some let the pupils decide freely throughout the day, others have compulsory core areas." Very different school models are represented in the BFAS. Many of them, such as the Freie Schule Frankfurt or the Glockseeschule in Hanover, emerged from parents' initiatives at the beginning of the 1970s, and to this day the parents mainly come from an educated, creative milieu. What they all have in common is a pedagogy that promotes the sense of community and the independence of the children. However, not every student gets along equally well with the high degree of freedom, emphasizes Tilmann Kern.

Everyone learns from everyone

Since the “Pisa shock”, alternative school forms have experienced a kind of renaissance in Germany. The nationwide education study had given German schools surprisingly poor results. Innovative educational concepts such as the Bielefeld Laboratory School, on the other hand, performed above average. The idea of ​​the Jenaplan schools is also gaining in relevance in Germany. In the 1920s, the educational scientist Peter Petersen developed his ideas of a “school of self-affirmation” and implemented them in an experimental school in Jena. In core groups, each comprising three years, everyone learns from each other. The aim is to give all students time to develop their skills.

In addition to the Jenaplan schools in Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium, there are teachers around the world who work according to Peter Petersen's pedagogy. Exciting: Against the background of the current educational policy challenges, the educational reform model has potential for lessons for pupils with a migration background and for the didactics of German as a second language. The results of a study at one of the few Jenaplan schools in Germany with a high proportion of immigrants in Berlin-Neukölln show that one thing is particularly important for the success of language promotion, intercultural teaching and integration measures for students with a migration background: children as whole people not only in their role as students.

Gunda Achterhold
works as a freelance journalist for educational topics in Munich.
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e.V., Internet editorial office
September 2016