On 26 May 2019, at the same time as the European parliamentary election, regional elections were held in the German State of Bremen. To date, it is unclear which coalition will be able to take power - whether a coalition of the Greens with the Christian Democrats and Liberals on the Green Center - Right, or an alliance of the Social Democrats, Greens and the Left Party  - which would be a first for western Germany. Prior to these elections, some 40 people attended a pre-election panel hosted by the GEW Bremen Working Group “Teachers Organising For Quality Education for Refugees.” Nick Strauss, the treasurer of the GEW Bremen State branch reflects back on the outcomes of this panel and declarations made by the then candidates from the main political parties on refugee education in the State.

“Mostly teachers directly affected by the challenge of teaching the more than 10% of students in Bremen, who have arrived in the past 5 years, but also community organisers from the Bremen Refugee’s Council were there, along with interested students and even the chief officer for vocational education from the education department.

On the panel were 5 politicians who had spent a morning in a preparatory course in a Primary, Junior Secondary or Vocational School in Bremen. These visits were conducted away from the gaze of the media – they were meant to be a time for the politicians to learn as well.

All opposition parties were represented from the pro market liberal ‘Free Democrats’ (FDP), the party of the German Chancellor Merkel the Christian Democrats (CDU) to the left wing party ‘die Linke’. As well the ruling coalition in Bremen of the Social Democratic (SPD) and their junior partners, the Greens, were there.

In line with GEW policy, and that of the broader German trade union movement, far right parties such as the so called ‘Alternative for Germany’ (AfD) and the local populist party ‘Angry Citizens’ (BiW) were not given a platform.

As Ina von Boetticher, one of the State Spokespersons of the GEW in Bremen, said in her opening words:

“It’s not just about learning German and getting to know a new school and school system – and that’s hard enough for many (!) – at the same time many of the children and young people have brought with them severe trauma – including the loss of family and a secure, known home. … becoming a part of a new society as opposed to just coping, is an enormous challenge which needs time!” 

So what did the politicians say?

Julie Kohlrausch, a former head teacher standing for the FDP said that her party supported integration as opposed to segregation and that without additional resources no improvements would be possible. For example she supported the campaign for additional basic literacy support in primary schools. She also supported a mother tongue offer in every neighbourhood and encouraged the participants to stay active on the issues affecting refugee and migrant children. Ms Kohlrausch emphasised the importance of early years education as one of her goals for the first 100 days should the FDP be in government after the élections.

Sandra Ahrens from the CDU was the one speaker who hadn’t been able to spend time in a preparatory course - she did make a date for a visit at the end of the meeting though. Ms Ahrens could see the point of a more ‘dynamic approach’ to the length of attendance at school – which met many of the concerns about refugee and migrant children being put through the system too fast. The CDU supported mother tongue tuition but with an increase of state provision as opposed to relying on the home countries governments for teachers and curriculum.

Sophie Leonidakis from the Left Party had come straight from a visit that morning as the party leader who had done a visit before Easter was unable to attend. She criticized long waiting times of up to one year for some students to access courses, and the ongoing outsourcing of initial provision in Bremerhaven. Ms Leonidakis pointed out that she preferred to talk about inclusion rather than integration and said the “role of education was to meet the challenge of heterogeneity” with a wide range of offers including more public provision of mother tongue tuition.

Mustafa Güngür from the SPD, who’s his party spokesperson on education said that his visit to a preparatory course at a high school in Gröplingen, a working class suburb of Bremen, had made a deep impression on him … and also proudly showed the monster he had drawn during his visit. He supported child based solutions but agreed that the communication between the education department and practitioners need to be improved. Mr Güngür stated that the state had the best range of mother tongue tuition in the country but that this could be better supported with legislative guidelines.

Christopher Rupp from the Greens was the one representative who was not an existing member of the Bremen state parliament. He was the one visitor to a vocational college – the sector which has educated the significant number of unaccompanied minors over the last years. He argued for a far better advice service for, and placement of, the students in their vocational courses. “Successful integration is when the students like going to school”. He said that his party would strive to improve flexibility of provision in the first 100 days after the election if they were returned to government.

Many of the politicians spent much of the discussion learning about new aspects the field and taking notes. Many in the audience found this listening to practitioners a pleasant change from our usual experiences … but it is election time.

What were some of the points colleagues made?

  • Some union members pointed out the bizarre situation (during a massive staffing shortage) where staff wanting to work more hours were not allowed – the reason being: ‘unqualified’ staff are good enough to teach the preparatory courses but not to work in the rest of the school system.
  • Many colleagues called for improvements in vocational education – more time than the two years and better and more flexible placements.
  • The difficulties of teaching cross aged groups in the preparatory courses – either from 6 to11 year olds in primary or 1o to 16 year olds in secondary was noted.
  • Special needs provision for migrant and refugee children as part of an inclusive education system – at the moment there is simply no provision made.
  • Better communication – many problems had been raised before – again and again and yet it felt like nothing was being achieved.

“Leading up the election, almost all the parties in Bremen have said that education is a vital theme. As a union that’s pleasing news and it means that it’s particularly interesting to see what actually happens after the election … because that’s when it is that it really counts.” 

Ina von Boetticher, State Spokesperson for the GEW in Bremen.

Sometimes elections feel like the Olympics – the politicians compete every four years and win or lose. 

But for the children and young people in the education system in the state of Bremen and the education workers, teachers and social workers who work with them … education is more like a marathon. We just have to keep on keeping on.”

The Global Education Monitoring Report team has released a new policy paper in relation to this year’s report theme on migration and displacement, entitled “Education as healing : Addressing the trauma of displacement through social and emotional learning”.

“The conditions under which migrants and refugees have to leave their homes and homelands can be traumatic in the extreme. Even those fortunate enough to find a sanctuary often face further hardship or discrimination in their host communities that can exacerbate their vulnerability. Traumatic experiences can cause long-lasting physical, emotional and cognitive effects.This can be particularly damaging when experienced during the sensitive periods of brain development (Teicher, 2018).

However, even at critical times of brain development, the effects of traumatic experiences can be addressed with appropriate medical treatment and a responsive environment (Weder and Kaufman, 2011). Access to specialized medical care may present a challenge for populations affected by the trauma of displacement. In such situations, schools can connect healthcare professionals, communities, teachers, parents and students (Vostanis, 2016). In resource-poor contexts, the lack of health facilities means that teachers may be the only professionals affected families may encounter and psychosocial support interventions may take place in schools (Fazel and Betancourt, 2018; Munz and Melcop, 2018). This is despite the fact that teachers themselves may need support.

Education can stimulate resilience, nurture learners’ social and emotional development and give children and communities hope for the future. It can help communities rebuild, by healing some of the trauma and thus in the long term encouraging social cohesion, reconciliation and peacebuilding (Nicolai, 2009; Novelli and Smith, 2011). Schools can help migrant and refugee children deal with trauma through psychosocial support integrated with social and emotional learning interventions, helping to build self-confidence, resilience and emotional regulation skills, and teaching children to create relationships based on trust with others (Betancourt et al., 2013).

This paper discusses formal and non-formal education interventions, notably those focused on social and emotional learning, as a promising approach to providing psychosocial support for mitigating the negative effects of trauma on migrants and refugees. The review covers emergency settings as well as community settings where migrant and refugee children eventually settle. The paper deals with access and the learning environment; the content of teaching and learning both for children and their parents; and the role that teachers and other professionals can play.

Download the policy paper here.

During its two days’ visit to the Refugee Reception Center of Samos island, the Executive board of the Greek Primary Teachers’ Federation DOE observed utterly disappointing, unacceptable and miserable conditions.

The camp with a capacity to accommodate hardly 800 refugees, counts now at least 3.805 residents, according to official sources. A figure, however, which is very much disputed by other reliable sources that estimate it close to six thousand. There are in total 813 children, 75% of which are aged less than 12 years old.

The board took note that the kindergarten, welcoming 25 children in a class, operates under indescribable conditions, noticeably lacking even a toilet, and without any basic teaching material, thanks to the great efforts of the staff. 

Meetings and school visits were held with the local Education Trade Unions, especially in those schools having reception classes for refugee children. The board  discussed with teachers the severe everyday problems, both of staff and students,  as well as unfortunate developments relating to locals’ reaction which sometimes refrained from sending their children to school because of the presence of refugee children.  Productive meetings were also held with parents and other institutions. These meetings brought to light, once more, the inefficacy of the government to find solutions to the whole tragic situation regarding health, social and educational issues.

The board strongly condemned any aggressive behavior targeting either teachers or parents that want to defend the educational rights of all children, Greek or refugee ones.

This visit proved once again the already known and widely recognized crucial role of the teachers who, with an incredible zeal and self-denial and without real support, undeniably create through their work “an oasis in the turmoil”.

As part of the the EU Convince project, a joint European project of EI/ETUCE, the European Federation of Education Employers (EFEE) and the European School Heads Association(ESHA) on democratic citizenship and inclusive education, an online 6-week course entitled “Citizenship and Human Rights Education for Change” will take place from 29 April to 9 June 2019.

This initiative is free of charge and offers teachers, school leaders, other education personnel, and education employers, an opportunity to acquire knowledge and skills in teaching and learning about democratic citizenship, human rights and inclusive education. The course is held in English and French. It combines theoretical knowledge (key definitions, framework and principles) and practical teaching, through an analysis of existing and innovative practices, teaching styles, approaches and methods in these domains.

The course encompasses three modules:

Module 1 focuses on the international and regional definitions and framework in relation to Human Rights Education.

Module 2 looks at specific contexts and issues (such as disability rights and migration) as well as aspects related to inclusive education (such as for instance inclusion of minorities or the preventative role of inclusive education against violence and extremism).

Module 3 deals with the principles of the whole school and a rights-based approach to education. In particular, it stresses the importance of participatory management of the school community, which involves addressing the needs of learners, education personnel and the wider community, not only within the curriculum, but across the whole-school and learning environment.

The online course is coordinated by the Global Campus of Human Rights and is taught by academics and experts drawn from a cross-section of constituencies. The faculty includes, among others: Prof. Léonce Bekemans, University of Padova; Prof. Florence Bénoit-Rohmer, University of Strasbourg; Prof. Paolo de Stefani, University of Padova; Prof. Anja Mihr, OSCE Academy in Bishkek; Prof. Manfred Nowak, Global Campus of Human Rights.

Free enrolment is possible from 25 March until 19 May 2019, please visit : https://eiuc.org/education/e-learning/moocs/eu-convince/how-to-enrol.html

More information and material for the promotion of the MOOC (flyer, video teaser, Tweets, and others) is available on the MOOC webpage.

 

Access to education and training for children with migrant backgrounds is not sufficient if it is not combined with quality education and learning which meets students’ learning needs and aspiration, concludes the Eurydice report on “Integrating Students from Migrant Backgrounds into Schools in Europe: National Policies and Measures” published on 17 January 2019. 

The report provides a comparative analysis of key policies and measures on integration of migrant students promoted by top-level education authorities in 42 European education systems (in 28 EU member states). This mapping covers a variety of areas, such as governance; access to education; language, learning and psycho-social support; and teachers and school heads.

The report highlights that even though in majority of education systems in Europe, the access to education is provided for children with migrant background and intercultural education is integrated to some extend in the national curricula, policies and measures on learning support tend to focus on academic aspects, rather than students’ social and emotional needs (‘whole-child approach’). 

Moreover, according to the report, an initial and continued assessment of migrant students’ educational progress is not widely carried out and mainly focuses on the language of instruction.

Other challenges emphasised in the study include unpreparedness of teachers to work in culturally diverse classrooms due to the lack of teacher training on these topics, migrant students whose home language differs from the language of instruction not having a right to study their home language at school, and lack of support provided for teachers and school heads (for example, providing teaching assistants and intercultural mediators). 

Among countries having good strategies for integrating migrant students in education, the report names Germany and Austria for a strong emphasis on diversity, Spain (Comunidad Autonoma de Cataluña), Portugal and Slovenia as successful in following a whole-child approach, and Finland and Sweden for keeping both the diversity dimension and the whole-child approach.