On Friday 19 May, the closing event of the project “Together we can” took place in Trapani, Sicily. The project aiming to promote integration activities for young refugees and unaccompanied minors was supported by Education International, in collaboration with Uil Scuola and IRASE and implemented by the Adult Learning Centre (CPIA) of Trapani.

It involved 40 students and teachers, with the support of a team formed by a psychologist, a cultural mediator and a social worker, to tackle issues related to integration and intercultural communication.

"The project - explains Giuseppe Termini, local coordinator and provincial secretary of UIL Scuola - has been carried out on three levels: teacher training activities, tutoring activities by the specialised support team on intercultural and interreligious communication, as well as school-work training opportunities for students through cooking and electricity professional workshops. The feedback we received was very positive, on the one hand, it has been helpful for teachers who have been able to sharpen their skills in dealing with students from different cultural backgrounds and on the other, it has allowed students to experience new vocational training opportunities with dedicated support to familiarize with the activities.”

A video (in Italian) presenting the project’s activities and outcomes has been produced and screened during the event.

The Beehive programme is promoted by the Melissa foundation, which aims to strengthen bonds between migrant women, promote refugee women empowerment and build bridges with the host society.

With support from Education international, the non-profit organization was able to develop further learning opportunities for young refugee women aged 16-28 with the creation of a film club where students can meet weekly to watch and discuss film and learn how to make their own films. Participants started bringing in some of their favorite videos  and progressed from these cinematic influences to making short films on their cell-phones as homework assignments. More recently, filmmaking equipment was made available to students, with activities inviting them to develop storyboards and start shooting them with video cameras.

According to the project coordinator, students show great interest in experimenting with film-making technology, in particular creating films about their journey. Indeed, the project ultimately helps students find ways to explore their environment with an artistic eye and share thoughts and feelings about their own personal story. 

In the next phase of the project, students from a Greek high school film club will meet Melissa students and collaborate on a joint film project. Melissa students will also develop digital skills around blogging and video editing.

Education International launches today in Beyrouth a new report by Dr. Francine Menashy and Dr. Zeena Zakharia (University of Massachusetts Boston) exploring the complex interrelationship between conflict and private sector participation in education through a case study of the education of Syrian refugees.

The research findings reveal the growing role of corporate actors in the education of refugee children and highlight the ethical tensions between humanitarian and profit motivations in the context of crisis and displacement.

According to the research, 144 non-state actors are currently involved in the education of Syrian refugees in Jordan, Tukey and Lebanon, of which 61 are businesses and private foundations, the majority based in the Global North.

Many private actors with different aims and priorities – some explicitly putting forward profit-oriented arguments for getting involved in the education of refugee children - results in a fragmented education response. Coordination is deemed insufficient by many stakeholders on the ground, resulting in duplicated, disorganised or imbalanced interventions. Without consulting local stakeholders, including Ministries of Education, teachers or teacher unions, private actors also lack an adequate awareness of the issues at play for successful implementation of initiatives at a classroom level.

The study shows that nearly half of private actors involved in Syrian refugee education are supporting some form of educational technology, which is often decontextualized from the reality on the ground, in terms of content, form, delivery, and needs.

Finally, the collected evidence indicates a growing role of private actors as key decision-makers in the field of education policy, at the expense of democratic, transparent and accountable decision-making processes.

The researchers identified a number of recommendations emphasizing the duty of the State with respect to rights of Syrian refugee children including the provision of free quality public education.

The report is available in English and Arabic.

According to the UNHCR, Lebanon is currently hosting approximately one million Syrian refugees, half of which are children. Over 252,000 Syrian refugee children are of school-age, but only 30% are actually enrolled in school.

To assess the underlying causes of this situation, Education International and the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung have decided to conduct a survey, in collaboration with the League of Public Primary School Teachers (PPSTL), the League of Public Secondary School (LPESPL) and the Teachers Syndicate of Lebanon (TSL).

Following a one-day planning meeting with all affiliates in May 2016 aiming to define the objectives, scope and methodology of the survey, it was administered during four regional consultation workshops  between October and November 2016 in the Bekaa region, South Lebanon, Beirut/Mount Lebanon and North areas, bringing together a total of 213 teachers and administrative staff.

The analysis of the questionnaires allows for a comprehensive understanding of factors preventing Syrian refugee children from accessing education, such as the lack of spaces in public schools or the dire financial situation of Syrian families to afford transportation costs and resulting in children working to support the households’ expenses.

Respondents also highlighted a series of factors provoking absenteeism and dropout amongst Syrian refugee children, such as the language barrier related to the implementation of a multilingual Lebanese curriculum, the low education level of Syrian children and parents and the interruption of education for a long period of time due to conflict and displacement.

The study shows that only 55 per cent of surveyed teachers and staff had participated in professional development and training initiatives in the last two years although the presence of refugee children in class had impacted their teaching and assessment methods.

Overall, the survey shows the relationship between access to quality education for refugee children and the needed reforms of the Lebanese education system, beyond current policies and programmes, in order to improve access to schools, learning environments, teaching and learning processes as well as the working conditions of Lebanese teachers and school staff.

Following the publication of the report of the survey, a series of workshops will be organized in collaboration with all participating education unions to develop advocacy strategies based on the evidence collected through the survey.

The report of the survey is available here.

By Fred van Leeuwen, General Secretary, Education International.

The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination was proclaimed by the UN General Assembly-in 1966. It is 21 March, the anniversary of the 1960 attack on a peaceful demonstration in Sharpeville, South Africa. Police killed 69 people. To call brutal carnage “racial discrimination” strikes me as a gross understatement. It is like considering torture to be a form of harassment.

However, that may serve as a good point of departure to examine racism, racial discrimination, bigotry and other injustices. Eliminating racial discrimination may not be completely achievable, but progress can and has been made. Eliminating racism is more difficult.

South Africa and the US illustrate that point. Both had institutionalised racism with apartheid and segregation, respectively.

In the United States, legal racial discrimination has been eliminated, but racism and discrimination have not. Changes in the legal system in the US did not eliminate racism in the South or in the North.

In South Africa, apartheid has no longer exists in the law, but there is still racial discrimination. Racism is still alive and well.

In both countries, legal changes constitute monumental progress and have affected attitudes. Some changes, however, are only skin deep.

The roots of racism in both countries have been revived and refreshed by hostility to migrants and refugees. And, some attacks recall Sharpsville. The rebirth of white supremacism in the US and the riots against migrants and refugees in South Africa indicate that progress is neither permanent nor irreversible.

It is astonishing to witness fear reshape the political and social topography. Fear is the most politically potent not where the most migrants are found, but where there are few. It is fear of the unknown, fear of the “other”.  It is the fear of the imagined monster hiding under the bed.
Fear is irrational and toxic. As the 18th century philosopher Edmund Burke said, “No power so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear.”

In part of the world, the Great Depression of the 1930s, spawned totalitarianism. Fear was the weapon of choice and fear was the blanket that suffocated democracy.

By contrast, the crisis in the United States had the opposite effect. The newly elected President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in the bleakest days of the crisis, said, “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and of vigour has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. And I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.”

During the Great Depression, the United States had a bumper crop of populists, demagogues, and totalitarians of the Right and the Left, but there was a democratic and emotional alternative combined with political will. It defined America, brought people together, and offered hope.

Reason is not the vaccine against fear. It is only other powerful, but positive emotions that can neutralise fear and give space to reason.

Children, left to their own devices, are emotional. Education can develop those emotions into values that create community rather than scattered isolated individuals, build trust rather than alienation, and enhance humanity rather than stripping it of its value and dignity. 

Many EI member organisations are fighting intolerance, hate, and all forms of bigotry in the classroom to bridge gaps and build understanding. Many are improving and deepening citizen education. They are fostering acceptance, appreciation of differences, and integration.

There are a lot of different ways to view integration. To me, it does not mean that everybody must be the same or in perfect conformity with host nation cultures. Diversity has great value and is worthy of celebration and protection. It enriches and enhances culture. But, it must respect universal human rights. As the Indian economist and philosopher Amartya Sen put it, "multiculturalism must serve liberty.”

There are a lot of stories about the latest generation of more sensitive, “friendly” robots in the service economy. I sometimes wonder if there will be a convergence between cutting edge technology and some incarnations of education “reform.” Will the robots being programmed to be more like humans come together with humans being programmed to be more like robots?

Education on auto-pilot or driven by algorithms or forcing square pegs into round holes will not combat racial discrimination or build the future. Humanity at its splendid best, can only be developed and inspired by human beings. And, that is, first and foremost, the contribution of highly qualified, dedicated professional teachers.  

Tolerance, inclusion, acceptance, curiosity, openness and respect for others cannot be imposed or force fed.  It will, rather, be part of and contribute to the adventure and excitement of learning.
Good education shines light in dark places and shapes more complete, well-rounded young people. So equipped, they may even put older people on their best behaviour and, together, build more decent societies where all can live their lives as successes, not failures.