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3rd Sirius thematic workshop on language support to immigrant (minority) children in Europe

On November 22, 3rd Sirius thematic workshop on language support to immigrant (minority) children in Europe took place in Vilnius. Workshop was organized by PPMI in collaboration with Lithuanian Ministry of Education and Science within SIRIUS network activities. Participants of a wide range – education policy-makers, national and international researchers, and education practitioners – shared their views on the situation of language support to immigrant and minority children in their countries and provided recommendations on fundamental policies targeting this group.

Public Policy and Management Institute in cooperation with the Ministry of Education and Science, in the framework of Lifelong Learning Programme of the European Commission-funded project SIRIUS: European Policy Network on the education of children and young people with a migrant background organized Workshop on language support to immigrant (minority) children in Europe. The event was held in Vilnius, on Friday, November 22nd from 9.00 to 16.30, at Naujamiesčio secondary school (T. Ševčenkos str., 17) and Collegium Hall (A. Volano str. 2/7). Event was moderated by senior researcher Ms. Hanna Siarova (PPMI).

Aims of the 3rd Workshop discussion were to discuss the state of art of host language/mother tongue acquisition approaches in Europe; clarify the roles of various stakeholders in language support policies; establish best practices and universal approaches in providing teaching of languages of the host country and respecting the languages of the country of origin; and assess possibilities of their transferability to different countries.

First part of the Workshop was held in Naujamiesčio secondary school, where participants were introduced to teaching practices in one bilingual school that enrolls children from various language backgrounds (presentation was made by the school vice principal Danutė Mišrienė. Participants were able to see interactive presentation, meet the students and school staff and ask questions regarding language support provided, teaching practices and challenges the school faces.

Second part of the Workshop was held in the Ministry of Education and Science where participants presented the state of art of language support in their countries, followed by round table discussion on the main issues. Vice Minister Genoveita Krasauskiene opened this part and gave a brief introduction to the topic. Basis for the discussion was the overview of the situation in immigrant students’ language support policies, practices and performance presented by Dr Jana Huttova, Senior Education Advisor at the Open Society Foundation London (OSI), based on findings of the SIRIUS network, OECD, NAMS and other international studies on immigrant education. Following Dr Huttova’s speech, international experts presented state of art language support in their countries: Dag Fjæstad (National Centre for Multicultural Education) – Norway, Liesma Ose (Global Development Institute) – Latvia, Miquel Angel Essomba Gelabert (General Sirius Coordinator; Autonomous University of Barcelona) – Spain, Merike Darmody (Economic and Social Research Institute) – Ireland and Vilma Bačkiūtė (Lower and Upper Secondary Education Division, MoES) – Lithuania.

All participants have agreed that one of the key policy elements for effective language support are:

  • Provision of systemic and continuous language support;
  • Necessity to incorporate bilingual teaching and understanding of the influence of heritage language, in both initial teacher training and in service training, for both language and subject teachers;
  • Community involvement is one of the crucial elements of language support policy and major resource, that can bridge lack of funds and human capacities within the school;
  • Parents have to be involved as much as possible and adult education should be connected with schools that have migrant students;
  • Informal education is a powerful tool that has to be promoted by education staff and policy makers, and learning should not be limited to school context.

However, it was emphasized that change can happen only if all stakeholders are committed to actual inclusive education, where everybody’s particularities are addressed and there are no majorities and minorities. Everybody involved in the teaching process should have relevant competences and always improve their cultural sensitivity. Professionalization and professional development in this area is obligatory for all participants, from teachers and principals to decision makers. Multilingualism should be promoted and advocated in class but also as part of the school ethos. Acceptance of diversity has to be visible at all the levels. This also means that it is important to always remind professionals and public that the demand for knowledge of two foreign languages is not limited to popular EU languages and that every child’s mother language is equally important and valued.

Since most countries face budget cuts, participants made a strong recommendation to promote collaboration and use of different resources like NGOs, communities of migrants, parents and other schools. Peer learning activities and exchange of good practices should be practiced more often and involve different types of stakeholders.

The discussion was concluded on a positive note about the necessity to turn to inclusive approach, which doesn’t always mean additional funds, but sometimes just a small change in thinking, good will and collaboration.

Ivana Ceneric,

Analyst at PPMI

The December issue of the Ministerial Journal (P.5) highlights the Sirius contribution for migrant children, while the January issue (P.12) followed-up on the content of the workshop and the school visit.

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