By Silvia Costa, MEP.

Refugees and migrants education, especially minors, is a top priority, the best way to empower them and foster their integration, but also one of the principles on which the EU is funded. It is incredible, though, that education of migrants - especially forced migrants and refugees - seems to be underestimated, both while they are in refugee camps or while travelling, and when they come to Europe.
I have always thought that it is unfair and wrong that only a small part of the EU funds destined to Humanitarian aid  goes to education. Despite the important role of education in emergencies, this policy area received less than 2% of all EU humanitarian funds in 2014. That is why, 3 years ago, in cooperation with Linda McAvan as Chair of DEVE Committee, in my capacity of Chair of CULT Committee, together with the S&D campaign Go For 4, we approved a Resolution on education for children in emergency situations and protracted crises. Thanks to it, we obtained from Commissioner Stylianides 52 million euros more, destined to education in emergencies, de facto doubling the share of 2% out of the 32 billion dedicated to humanitarian aid. 

In the same resolution, I proposed to the Member States to adopt the so-called Education Corridors to provide thousands of university students in refugee camps or in emergency situations with the possibility to study in European universities, but also via distance learning. Five major Italian universities have immediately endorsed our proposal and a Protocol was signed by our Education Minister in 2016.

As the research points out, all around Europe we lack systematic data collection and monitoring mechanism concerning the enrolment of refugees in education, especially in the case of unaccompanied minors. It would be decisive to improve inter-sectorial collaboration bringing together all key stakeholders, in order to adopt a comprehensive approach to refugee children’s rights. 

To guarantee so, in Italy we signed an agreement between the government, regions and municipalities (SPRAR) to spread refugees across the national territory, while foreseeing a focused approach to unaccompanied minors that are assigned to dedicated accommodation centres, and enrolled in schools or in training courses. Last May, we passed a new law proposed by my colleague Sandra Zampa that provides a comprehensive framework for all aspects related to the protection system for unaccompanied minors. It is a pioneer law in Europe, which can provide a good model for the overall issue of minor migrants’ reception, especially unaccompanied ones. Among other things, it foresees the right to education for all, the appointment of an individual tutor, the recognition of diplomas and qualifications of refugee students, even in absence of the permit to stay when they turn 18.

In the European Parliament we also presented, together with other European local authorities, the so-called Charter of San Gimignano, a little municipality in Tuscany that has adopted some guidelines for the reception and integration of minors. In fact, I do believe that it is of utmost importance to share at both national and European levels, guidelines on the reception, inclusion and education of newly-arrived students. 

The EI report “Education: Hope for Newcomers in Europe” points out a need to reform the approach to newcomers’ integration and ensure that schools are able to accommodate diversity and address specific needs. It identifies key issues such as insufficient resources, lack of professional development for school staff, lack of specialised second language and language support teachers, absence of coordination and cooperation with other sectors and political-administrative levels in society. It also highlights that schools tend to segregate newcomers in their own classes and groups without carrying out a personalised assessment, based on the best interests of students. 

I believe that a strategic integration approach also includes non-formal education, sport, creative activities and inclusion in youth organizations, together with the active engagement of parents, particularly mothers. 

We need a comprehensive framework and not fragmented local projects. Inclusion must be a primary organisational model and a starting point in all discussions on “what is in the best interest of children”, in line with Article 3 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Professional development of teachers in the areas of education of newly-arrived children, intercultural pedagogy, and multicultural classroom management must be a national priority in every country.
National governments and international organisations, such as the European Commission, must invest more in longitudinal and country comparative research in order to scientifically inform policy making. 

The European Parliament dedicated many reports to educational aspects of migrants’ inclusion and the role of education in intercultural dialogue. In March 2017, the European Commission organized a Joint Working Group seminar on the integration of migrants in Brussels. 

It  highlighted a number of key challenges faced by policymakers and practitioners for the successful integration of newly-arrived migrants into education and training, such as the need to coordinate different levels of government, types of actors and policy areas; the need to support students to improve access to and completion of education (e.g. through mentoring, language learning support, careers guidance, recognising prior learning); the need to create learning pathways and incorporate non-formal learning for migrants out of formal education and training. 

In my view, students and teachers need to understand the history and backgrounds of the newly arrived students in order to see them as resources for enriching the school community. 

Lastly, I think that the EU also has a role to play in encouraging Member States and other stakeholders to provide more support for the integration of migrants and improving coordination across Member States in integrating migrants or promoting better skills recognition across countries. It is necessary to define permanent networks of confrontation and discussion to which also migrant minors and education unions are part. I think that it would also be useful to have some European-level guidelines to support their inclusion. 

Whatever strategies we may undertake, we risk to lose children’s potential if we only consider them as victims and do not see the resources they represent for our communities, in terms of humanity, professionalism, courage, determination, sense of togetherness.  

Note: This text is based on remarks made by Silvia Costa MEP at the Hearing “Refugees in Europe: Education as a Path to Inclusion” that Education International held at the European Economic and Social Committee in Brussels on 20 February 2018. Silvia Costa is a Member of the European Parliament (Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, S&D) since 2009. She is S&D coordinator and former Chair of the Committee on Culture and Education. She is also a member of the Intergroup on Children’s rights.

On 20 February 2018, Education International and its European region ETUCE held a hearing in the premises of the European Economic and Social Committee to present the outcomes of a new report bringing together four national case studies analysing the state of education for refugees and newcomers’ in Germany, Italy, Spain and Sweden.

The report highlights cross-cutting issues concerning refugees’ education and in particular, the need to reform the approach to newcomers’ integration across Europe, to ensure that schools are able to accommodate diversity and address newcomers’ specific needs.

It shows how in most cases, the obstacles facing students when integrating European education systems relate to insufficient resources, lack of professional development of school staff, lack of specialised, second language and language support teachers, and absence of coordination and cooperation across sectors and political-administrative levels in society. 

The study also reveals that European schools tend to segregate newcomers in their own classes and groups without carrying out a personalised assessment, based on the best interests of students. It warns against fragmented local projects, reliant on civil society and dependent on the individual efforts of committed teachers and principals, which cannot replace a comprehensive Framework.

Based on the findings of the four national case studies, it draws the following recommendations:

  • Every country must adopt a comprehensive national framework defining the baseline with regards to the reception, inclusion, and education of newly-arrived students. A system of monitoring and supporting local practices must be installed, granting the proper implementation. 
  • Every country must make it mandatory, as well as provide material and instructions, to teachers on how to conduct initial assessment of students’ previous life and school experiences. An individual approach is essential. 
  • Inclusion must be a primary organisational model and a starting point in all discussions on “what is in the best interests of children”, as Article 3 in Convention on the Rights of the Child stipulates. Nevertheless, there is no inclusion without additional support. Thus, the main question is not whether a student will be included into the mainstream, but how to support him/her there.
  • A child’s first language should be acknowledged and valued as an important vehicle for learning and identity development. The presence of language support teachers (cultural and linguistic mediators or bilingual classroom assistants) and the support from inside the school for their work is indispensable. 
  • Professional development of teachers in the areas of education of newly-arrived children, intercultural pedagogy, and multicultural classrooms must be a national priority in every country. A well-designed plan must be produced in every school, preferably in cooperation with universities, on how to create a learning community and support teachers’ peer-learning.
  • Networks drawing on resources from the local community, civil society, and parents must be fostered and further promoted but they cannot be accountable for what and how schools are doing. 
  • National governments and international organisations, such as the European Commission, must invest more in longitudinal and country comparative research in order to scientifically inform policy making.

The  project “Teachers obtaining competences for working with migrants and refugees and helping them in the process of inclusion through education” aims to provide teachers and principals with adequate professional competences to work with migrants and refugee children and facilitate their inclusion.

The target group of the project includes teachers and principals from kindergartens, as well as primary and secondary schools that have shown interest and willingness to work with migrants.

246 teachers from across the country took part in seven training seminars.

The two-day training was part of the training program of the SEB’s Permanent Academy for Science and Innovation in Education (PANIO). The training seminars were held in the city of Hisarya, Plovdiv district. Participants were divided in seven groups, with every group including participants from different regions of the country. The broad geographic scope allowed participants to share good practices and information, as well as discuss the difficulties they encountered in dealing with migrants.

After completing the training, participants gained the following competencies and knowledge:

  • the cultural and psychological features of refugee children;
  • basics of the Bulgarian legislative base;
  • how to develop strategies for the successful integration of refugee children into the classroom;
  • how to effectively cope with the problems encountered in the integration of refugee children;
  • how to improve the overall integration process of refugee children in schools and in extracurricular activities.

On the basis of the feedback received from teachers involved in the training, the Bulgarian union of teachers (SEB) developed an adapted program for work with refugees and refugee children, which will be included in the Information Register of the approved programs for raising the qualification of pedagogical specialists at the Ministry of Education and science. 

The Bulgarian Union of Teachers also prepared training materials (brochure), adapted curriculum and methodical aid handbook in collaboration with Prof. Rosica Penkova (Sofia University), entitled “For the first time in Bulgaria”.

 

 

Forcibly displaced children’s journey may last several years before they and their family settle in their final destination country with their family. Once attained this goal, getting enrolled in school may not be an absolute priority, having to deal with many pressing issues such as administrative procedures, securing accommodation, healthcare, etc. 

As a consequence, getting back to school for those children, kept away from classrooms for such a long time when  they had a chance to attend school at all – is not a linear path. And very often, these children leave the school much faster than they got into it.

To prevent these situations, two Belgian teachers, Marie Pierrard et Juliette Pirlet, created la Petite Ecole which supports children and families in their integration process in education. The objective of la Petite Ecole is beyond getting children enrolled in school, getting them succeed. It offers them a smooth transition period in which they get used to being away from their families, learn the language but above all, the basic social rules and behaviours that they’re expected to follow when at school and finally, build the self-esteem they’ll need to take up this new challenge. The project is very much oriented towards developing an individual approach for each child and prioritises building a solid trust relationship between the school and the parents which is key to the academic success of the newly enrolled students.

It has been run since February 2016 and hosts in two classes an average of 12 children aged from 6 to 15 and coming from all regions of the world (Syria, Guinea, Senegal, Morocco, etc). Several institutions collaborate with the initiative to accompany children and offer them a broad range of support activities: sports, psychological assistance, artistic activities, etc. 

The transition period spent at la Petite Ecole is decided on a case-by-case basis according to children’s and families’ readiness. The project’s team accompanies them during the enrolment process by contacting the schools, presenting the child’s situation, showing the school, etc.

Since January 2017, « La petite école des devoirs » has been created to provide homework support to alumnis and maintain contact with children and families that once attended La petite école.

On December 18-19, 2017 the Polish Teachers' Union and the Foundation for Social Diversity organised a conference in Warsaw entitled "Teachers for high quality education of students and students with migration experience". The conference concluded an 18-month project aiming to improve refugees’ and migrants’ education in Poland. 

Among other things, it aimed to: 

  • improve procedures related to psychological and pedagogical counselling of diagnoses of students and students with migration experience;
  • present proposals for activities to prepare schools for the admission of pupils and students with migration experience, their integration in the school environment and cooperation with their families;
  • familiarize with the role of intercultural assistants and legal conditions of their employment in schools;
  • exchange experiences between representatives of schools and clinics from Gdańsk and Warsaw;
  • discuss the latest changes in regulations and the first results of their implementation.

During the two-days conference, the 50 participants had the opportunity to discuss the role of local governments – with examples from Warsaw and Gdańsk - in shaping local policies for including students and students and their families in the life of local communities; first experiences of preparatory classes/ welcome classes in Warsaw presented by experts from Warsaw Centre for Socio-Educational Innovation and Training; how to recognise a child's facing posttraumatic stress; the role of intercultural assistants and legal rules for employing assistants and non-governmental organizations at school; and how to build coalitions with parents of foreign students in schools. 

At the end of the conference, participants decided to continue cooperation, which will be supported by representatives of local authorities of both cities involved in the project.