by Shadin Kitma
Beaming with pride, Maia, Sansa and Natalia hold up their first ever report cards to the camera. The young girls are just three of a handful of 1st-graders who do not have any German language background and yet are enrolled in the German-speaking branch of the German European School Manila (GESM). All of them speak German in school. Otherwise, no one in their purely Filipino households speaks the language at home.
“We saw a significant increase in non-German-speaking families who enrolled their children in the German section,” said Christoph-Boris Frank, Head of School at GESM. “We think families in the Philippines are opening up to the idea that language learning – specifically German language learning – will be immensely beneficial for their children in the long run.”
GESM offers schooling in two sections defined mainly by the language of instruction: English or German. For the most part, enrollees in the German section come from predominantly German-speaking households. But over the years, local residents without any German background have ventured to enroll their children in this section over the years, driven by the desire to have them learn the language, and the long-term goal of being able to send their children to a German university upon graduation.
Such is the case for Maia, Sansa and Natalia, who learned German through supervised play, and by imitating classmates and teachers while they were in the kindergarten and preschool groups. By the time they stepped into Grade 1, they know the language well enough to follow the lessons without problems.
While students like the three girls mentioned used to be outliers at GESM, it’s become quite common in the current school year. Before August 2022, there were six students from non-German-speaking households in the German section from Grades 1 to 10. One year later, there are five students in the Grade 1 class alone.
And the numbers are expected to rise further. “We’re seeing a trend develop,” observed Mr. Frank. “Last school year, only one in every ten students come from non-German-speaking families. Now, the ratio has gone up to one in every four. And in our kindergarten group, there are eight such children out of a total of 15.”
GESM’s management attributes the dramatic increase to a shift in the school’s marketing
efforts that position the German school as an option for families of any nationality, not necessarily Germans.
Mrs. Saehee Canizares, for example, opted to enroll her Korean-Filipino son Julian in the German-speaking kindergarten after watching a GESM promotional video. It featured then-Grade 7 student Hannah Seo. A full Korean national residing in the Philippines, Hannah attended GESM’s German-speaking preschool nine years ago. Now in Grade 10, she speaks German, English and Korean fluently, all the while learning French.
“For us, it’s a matter of giving him double the opportunities, double the chances,” said Mrs. Canizares. “Just the fact that he’d be speaking another language fluently would open a lot of doors for him.”
Julian has been attending the German-speaking kindergarten for six months. At four years old, he already fully understands instructions in German like “Hände waschen” (“wash hands”) or “aufräumen” (“tidy up”). At home, he would listen and sing along children’s songs in German.
Long-term, parents of these students are hoping that they might be able to study in a German university after graduating from GESM. With their command of the language and eventual German school diploma, there is little doubt they would achieve this down the line. State universities in Germany are famous for their standards, but also for being essentially free of charge. Most would ask for a couple hundred euros for administrative costs and then zero for tuition. This cost effectiveness has been catching attention outside Germany and brings more and more international students into the German educational system.
While many still assume that German schools are made by and for Germans exclusively, it is clear that in Manila, this notion is starting to break.
At GESM at least, a German education is not a German privilege.