DENMARK. Michael de Laine on the controversy over a scheme to help immigrant children integrate. A rebellion by Danish parents has squashed a plan to bus their children to schools in areas where immigrants live.
The scheme, intended to help foreign children integrate, is being tried out in Arhus, Denmark's second largest city which has an immigrant population of 17,000. The council is currently deciding whether the pilot project, which involves immigrant pupils being taken to schools in Danish-dominated areas, should be expanded and made permanent.
Immigrant pupils account for 6 per cent of children attending Danish primary and lower secondary schools, and this figure is set to rise to 9 per cent within the next five years. In 33 schools in Copenhagen, Odense and Arhus, between 30 and 90 per cent of the pupils are immigrants.
Some politicians, teachers, parents and pupils demanded that these children should not be confined to what they see as ghettos.
Per Kaalund, a Social Democrat member of the Danish parliament, said bussing should be used if more than 25 per cent of children in a class were immigrants.
Mr Kaalund said: "Good intentions, experiments and voluntary efforts are not enough if we really want to integrate immigrants. We must legislate.
"Today there are schools where over half the pupils are immigrants. We can't continue to wait until we've solved the ghetto problem in housing areas.
"We must act before the immigrants start going to school. If more than 25 per cent of school enrolments are immigrants, the local education authority must refer them to other schools."
Ole Vig Jensen, minister of education, rejected Mr Kaalund's proposal. He said immigrant children need to be able to speak Danish before they start at school.
Arhus council said that only children attending reception classes will be forced to change school. These classes, in which the immigrant children learn Danish while they and their classmates prepare for the school system, will be scattered throughout the city.
The original plans also proposed to bus Danish children to schools in immigrant-dominated areas, but massive parental resistance means this will now not happen.
Experience from the pilot project showed that 75 per cent of immigrant children sent to reception classes at a school outside their home district continued attending that school.
According to the theory behind the Arhus plan, when the immigrant children have settled down in the new schools, their parents will be offered housing nearby in the hope that the whole family can be integrated. Rules will prevent too high a quota of immigrants in any housing area, although this would require an amendment to current legislation.
However, the scheme has critics other than Danish parents. Hans Jorgen Graversen, head of Nordgard school in Arhus, where 98 per cent of pupils are immigrants, believes children should attend their local school. He said: "You put a six-year-old child, who can't speak Danish, on a bus at 7.30 in the morning and drive her to a classroom somewhere in the city where can't be sure anyone will talk to her.
"There are no foreign pupils, no bilingual children and no problems at Nordgard school - just children. My standpoint is rooted in the pupils we have, not a wish that they should be different."
The transfer of immigrant pupils is also an issue in Copenhagen. Jan Trojaborg, chair of the Copenhagen teachers' union, said pupils should not be forced to move school in order to spread immigrant children.
The ministry of education has promised DKr 7 million (Pounds 810,000) over the next three years for a special centre to investigate the problems of bilingual pupils. Mr Jensen said: "I hope it can indicate some new and better path we can take."