As a matter of principle, the right and the obligation to attend school applies to all children in Germany, regardless of their status. However, since the education system falls within the responsibility of the Federal States, there are some important distinctions in laws and practices.
For example, compulsory education ends at the age of 16 in several Federal States, therefore children in those states do not have the right to enter schools when they are 16 or 17 years old. Furthermore, it has frequently been criticised that parts of the education system are insufficiently prepared to address the specific needs of newly arrived children. While there are “best practice” examples in some regions for the integration of refugee children into the education system, obstacles remain in other places, such as lack of access to language and literacy courses or to regular schools. One such best practice example for education during the Covid-19 pandemic is the district of Treptow-Köpenick in Berlin, which deployed mobile teams and tablets to support distance learning of children and youth living in youth welfare facilities in 2021.
Access to education is particularly problematic in initial reception centres such as arrival and AnkER centres. This has been exacerbated by the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, as a result of which education in many facilities was suspended (see Conditions in reception facilities). An additional complication is the lack of sufficient internet access and digital infrastructure in many reception centres, which has made it difficult to access online schooling or other education offers which have been moved online. In 2016, an association of various NGOs (regional refugee councils, Federal Association for Unaccompanied Refugee Minors, Youth without Borders) started a campaign called “School for all” (Schule für alle) to draw attention to the fact that children in many initial reception centres have only had very basic schooling and no access to the regular school system for the duration of their stay in these facilities (see Freedom of Movement: Obligation to Stay in Initial Reception Centres). Furthermore, the NGOs have criticised the fact that access to education services was severely limited for asylum seekers above the age of 16, many of whom have not finished school in their countries of origin and therefore need access to the school system in order to gain a degree.
These problems continue to exist today. Half of all federal states exempt asylum-seeking children from compulsory education until they have been assigned to a municipality (Hesse, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Lower Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Platinate, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt). Thus, as long as they stay in initial reception centres, they will not have access to the regular school system. Some initial reception centres do provide educational offers or provide state-organised schooling in the reception facilities. However, these offers are not comparable to regular schools.
Problems with access to the education system have particularly been reported with regard to initial reception centres renamed as AnKER centres in Bavaria in 2018. The general policy foresees the provision inside the AnkER centres of both schooling for children aged 6-16 and professional school (Berufschule) for persons aged 16-21. The AnKER centre in Regensburg is one of the only facilities allowing children up to the age of 16 to go to regular schools. This was originally only made possible because the authorities did not manage to build the necessary facilities on time, but has stayed that way. However, persons aged 16-21 are provided education in containers in the centre, not at school.
In the AnKER centre in Manching/Ingolstadt classes are provided within the facility. The classes mainly focus on German language, but also cover maths and other subjects. A certificate is provided upon completion of the course. However, asylum seekers do not undergo examinations at the end of the year since people stay for shorter periods. If an asylum seeker wishes to access regular schools, a test assessing his or her capacity to attend classes in regular schools is conducted, namely to assess German language level. This was done following successful litigation in March 2018, when Manching/Ingolstadt was a “transit centre”, which led authorities to grant access to regular schools for six children from Kosovo, after an Administrative Court had decided that children from these centres with sufficient German language skills had the right to attend the regular school system.
The problem of a lack of access to the education system in initial reception centres may have been mitigated to a certain extent by the legal clarification, introduced in 2019, according to which the general maximum time-limit for a stay in initial reception centres has been placed at six months for families with minor children. Because of this amendment, children should be allocated to decentralised accommodation after a few months (possibly earlier than the maximum six-months time-limit allows), which should in turn result in them having access to regular schools at their new place of residence. By way of example, in Saxony the authorities have “an established policy” of allocating families with school-age children to municipalities within three months. Due to the Cvid-19 outbreak, re-allocation has been suspended in several Federal States and initial reception centres in spring 2020.
In legal terms, asylum seekers generally have access to vocational training. In order to start vocational training, they need an employment permit. However, the fact that asylum seeker’s permission to stay (Aufenthaltsgestattung) are issued for a 6-month-period frequently renders the access to vocational training impossible. Training contracts usually have to be concluded for a duration of two or three years. Hence potential employers are often hesitant to offer vocational training to asylum seekers since there is a considerable risk that the training cannot be completed if the asylum application is rejected.
Studying at university is generally permitted for asylum seekers, but only possible with practical difficulties. The Federal States’ laws that regulate access to higher education do not impose any restrictions with regards to a foreigner’s residence status. Thus, asylum seekers with a permission to stay (Aufenthaltsgestattung) or tolerated stay (Duldung) legally have the same access to university as other foreigners. However, the higher education laws set requirements with regard to qualifications (university entrance qualification), knowledge of the German language and health insurance coverage, which are difficult to meet in practice for asylum seekers. Additionally, they are also not entitled to students’ financial aid when in possession of a permission to stay (Aufenthaltsgestattung). In the Federal States, which are responsible for university education, and on the Federal level there have been numerous initiatives to support refugees and asylum seekers to access universities and successfully conclude their studies.
An education measure of practical relevance for adult asylum seekers are the integration courses, coordinated and financed by the BAMF. In contrast to beneficiaries of international protection, asylum seekers are not entitled to participate in an integration course. Only two groups of asylum seekers are eligible to participate:
- those with a “good prospect to remain” based on their nationality and its recognition rate – as of 2021 these were Eritrea, Syria and Somalia. Afghanistan was added in early 2022.
- asylum seekers who have arrived in Germany before 1 August 2019 and who are employed, follow vocational training, are registered as unemployed, participate in preparatory training to take up employment, or are taking care of children under the age of three. According to the government, a registration as unemployed requires that access to the labour market exists in the first place. However, such access is very limited especially during the first nine months (see Access to the labour market).
Asylum seekers who meet these criteria can also be obliged to participate in integration courses by the authority providing social assistance. Participation is free of charge for asylum seekers. In their general form, integration courses their general form consist of 600 language lesson units and 100 lesson units in an “orientation course” where participants are meant to learn about the legal system as well as history and culture in Germany and about “community life” and “values that are important in Germany”. Next to the general integration courses, there are special courses e. g. courses for women or parents, literacy courses or intensive courses for experienced learners.
 For an overview of practices regarding the integration of refugee children into schools as of 2018, see See Julian Tangermann and Paula Hoffmeyer-Zlotnik, ‘Unaccompanied Minors in Germany – Challenges and Measures after the Clarification of Residence Status’, March 2018, 56-57, available in English at https://bit.ly/3KcEEe6.
 See AWO Bundesverband, ‘Unterbringung von geflüchteten Menschen und die Corona-Pandemie. Forderungen an die Politik und Empfehlungen an die Praxis, October 2021, 18, available in German at: https://bit.ly/3fDYj8U.
 See Federal State reports in BAMF, Evaluation of AnkER Facilities and Functionally Equivalent Facilities, Research Report 37 of the BAMF Research Centre, 2021, available in English at https://bit.ly/3FgxXnq
 Section 32(2)(1) Employment Regulation.
 Section 44 para. 4 Residence Act.
 Der Paritätische Gesamtverband, ‘Arbeitshilfe zum Thema Flucht und Migration. Soziale Rechte für Flüchtlinge, 3. aktualisierte Auflage, December 2019, available in German at: https://bit.ly/3fDooVv.
 Section 44a para. 1 Residence Act.