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When new worlds open up - WG Education's annual conference provided inspiration and exciting perspectives

"Investments in education have immense economic benefits. One euro invested brings up to 16 times the benefit." With this, Peter Kaiser, Governor of Carinthia/Koroška, made clear right at the beginning the great relevance of the topics discussed at this year's annual meeting of the FUEN Working Group on Education from 16-19 October 2022 in Klagenfurt/Celovec, Austria.

The focus was on early childhood education, which has a life-shaping character in general, but even more so for minority communities. What customs and songs does the child grow up with? What languages does he or she come into contact with naturally? The course is set in nursery and primary school, which is why the Education Working Group has been working intensively on this age group for a long time.

Twenty-two representatives from eight minorities and seven countries took advantage of the opportunity to engage in a personal exchange at the annual conference and to gain exciting insights into the educational structures of the Slovenian minority in Carinthia/Koroška. Especially the expert visits to different educational institutions were appreciated by the participants.

First the theory, then the practice: After Regional School Inspector Sabine Sandrieser presented the minority school system in Carinthia, the participants went on an excursion to various practical examples.

In the bilingual kindergarten "Sonce" of the Slovenian School Association (Slovensko šolsko društvo), the group was given an insight into the organisation and everyday life by very committed management staff and teachers. Particularly exciting was the description of the language pedagogical framework concept, which was tried out, observed and revised again and again in many steps - a kind of "learning by doing" with the aim of improving the language acquisition but also the well-being of the children. For more than 20 years, the concept has served as a guideline for promoting bilingual and multilingual education in elementary educational institutions (children from 0 to 6 years) in Carinthia. Through continuous scientific documentation by the educational researcher Georg Gombos and his team from the University of Klagenfurt, it is professionally accompanied and constantly further developed.

After the guided tour of the Carinthian Music Academy in Ossiach, the tour through the Carinthian-Slovenian educational landscape led the participants to the bilingual primary school of the Hermagoras Verein/Mohorjeva družba - a truly multifaceted institution that is home to a publishing house, bilingual bookshop, primary school, after-school care centre, print shop and dormitory at the same time. "Our goal is for the children to master both languages, German and Slovenian, by the age of ten," explained Dr. Karl Hren, director of the Hermagoras Association.

In Carinthia, cooperation between educational institutions and science plays an important role. Ema Gračner from the University of Education Burgenland gave a good insight into this in her lecture on "Bi- and Multilingualism in Elementary Educational Institutions".

She also presented the "Kärnten Input Quality Observation Scheme" (KIQOS), a cooperation project between the province of Carinthia and the Alpen-Adria-Universität Klagenfurt, which aims to improve the pedagogical language skills of professionals in Carinthian child education and care institutions. It includes mutual observation and consultation by colleagues on the basis of a quality grid.

Finally, future plans and projects were discussed at an internal working session. A possible topic for the next annual meeting could be the transition from kindergarten to school. A teacher exchange was also suggested for 2023. An online platform for the exchange of best practice examples, pedagogical concepts, etc. in the field of minority education is to be launched this year.

"Above all, the visits to the institutions and discussions with educational professionals were enriching and inspiring for all participants," said Bérengère Vogel, coordinator of the Education WG, summarising her impressions. The exchange among the participants was also excellent. "A world opened up for me," said one participant as she said goodbye.

Picture gallery of the event

Photocredit: László Mihály