As of today and until 11 May 2018, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on racism Tendayi Achiume is conducting an official visit to the UK. The UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner had previously announced that her mission would pay particular attention to the impact of Brexit on racial equality in the country.  

The expert’s mission will include stops in London and Belfast and she anticipated that she will pay special attention to structural forms of discrimination and exclusion that may have been exacerbated by Brexit, with a specific focus on “xenophobic discrimination and intolerance aimed at refugees, migrants and even British racial, religious and ethnic minorities”. To that end, she will review obstacles that these groups may face in terms of fulfilling their economic, social and political rights.

A news conference will be held at the end of her visit, on 11 May 2018, to share her preliminary assessment of the situation in the UK. A full report of the visit will be submitted to the June 2019 session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Member organisations of Education International in the UK have been particularly active to counter racism in schools and promote the rights of migrants and refugees, in particular their right to quality public education. You can find more information about activities and resources developed by education unions in the UK in the “refugees’ education toolkit” section.

The school system in Bremen envisages that the majority of the refugee youths who are older than 16 years and come to Bremen, will be schooled at vocational colleges. There, they have two years to get a BBR (einfache Berufsbildungsreife, Basic Vocational Qualification), or an EBBR (Erweiterte Berufsbildungsreife, Advanced Vocational Qualification). During this period of time, the students face the challenge of not only attaining language proficiency level B1, but also of pursuing more specialist education.

The union GEW claims that enrolment in and completion of vocational education has to be handled flexibly, especially for refugee young people. "It is utopian to think that the majority of young people who have just arrived in Germany will, within two years, acquire the advanced vocational training qualification and German language skills at B1 level," said GEW spokesperson Ina von Boetticher.

Despite their initial motivation, refugee adolescents have two years to catch up on nine years of previous schooling, in often very heterogeneous classes. Few students manage to reach the required level of language proficiency (B1) within two years. For this reason, in many vocational schools, informal arrangements are set up and the young people have the opportunity to repeat the last school year. The union considers that offering children a third year is only a first step in terms of extra support required to accompany these students with specific educational needs.

"Integration needs enough time and resources. The Education Department must act in a timely manner to relieve the teachers in the schools and offer young people a school and career prospects. Enabling a third school year for the adolescents is just a start here, "said GEW spokesperson Ina von Boetticher.

Take a look at the May Day joint GEW-Bremen Refugee Council press release (in English).

You can read more about the GEW’s position on refugee education in the following press release (in German).

The National Education Union (NEU) has released a series of resources to support schools welcoming refugee children. 

A series of inspiring short film clips in which refugee children and young people talk about their experiences of coming to a school in the UK has been made available on NEU’s website, together with Staff training notes for use with the clips.

Each video clip focuses on a different aspect of newly arrived students’ integration in school and are classified in three categories: 

  • being included: “Stand by their side”; “Everyone says "Salaam" even the teachers”; “Let your feelings out”;
  • entering the UK Education system: “A trusted pupil showed me around”; “Everything is possible”;
  • being a refugee pupil: “I really like learning”; “Just stay strong”.

The training notes are meant to give education staff the opportunity to think about existing good practice in their school/setting/ college and to consider collectively ways in which their school/setting/college can effectively welcome refugee children and young people. A refugee quiz was also created as a warm up activity of these training sessions.

The NEU “Welcoming Refugee Children to Your School” guide also provides information about ways in which schools can create a refugee-friendly environment, make an accessible curriculum and think about some principles of effective practice.

For the first time this year for the special 20th anniversary edition, the union has partnered with the Refugee Week and all these resources were presented on the occasion of the Refugee Week Conference that was held last month.

 

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.