The cultural integration of migrants and minorities in European societies is task and process in everyday life. Nonetheless, in European political debates it is commonly assigned a low priority compared to the political and economic dimensions of the issue.
On 11 December 2013, ifa (Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations) organised a conference on “Migration and Cultural Integration in Europe”, bringing together the heads and representatives of the network of European Union National Institutes for Culture (EUNIC) with researchers and practitioners from diverse backgrounds at the Representation of the State of Baden-Wurttemberg to the European Union in Brussels to explore the meanings of cultural integration.
SIRIUS Communications Manager Sarah Cooke O’Dowd spoke on the first panel “New perspectives on the Cultural Integration of Migrants”, highlighting the importance of intercultural education. According to the Migrant Integration Policy Index (MIPEX), education is a major area of weakness in the integration policies of all but a few countries.
“Migrant pupils may be struggling in school for different reasons than their peers. Schools retain wide discretion on whether or not to address the specific needs of migrant pupils, their teachers and parents, and monitor the results. Without clear requirements or entitlements, pupils do not get the support they need throughout their school career and across the country, especially in communities with many immigrants or few resources. Migrants are entitled to support to learn the language, but frequently it is not held to the same standard as the rest of the curriculum. Hardly any countries have systems to diversify schools or the teaching staff; most schools are therefore missing out on new opportunities brought by a diverse student body.” (MIPEX III 2010)
Summarising the SIRIUS study on citizenship education and ethnic and social diversity, across Europe there is a wide spectrum of citizenship education models ranging from assimilationist to integration and inclusion, which are based on the priority that each country gives to diversity in its education curriculum. SIRIUS works towards an inclusion model that encourages schools to become a space that welcomes all the differences, and consider diversity as a richness that constitutes a relevant aspect of the curriculum and teaching methods.
Following on from the stakeholder meeting on multilingualism that was held in Brussels in September 2013, the European institutions plea for trilingualism was supported as a good way to develop language learning for students with a migrant background. They should be encouraged and supported in their learning of the official language of the country/region, another major language such as English and a language of personal adoption (their mother tongue).
The upcoming stakeholder meeting on increasing the representation of people with a migrant background in education and the recent SIRIUS reports on building professional capacity and parental involvement show further examples of SIRIUS efforts to tackle the weaknesses in education highlighted by the Migrant Integration Policy Index.