The National Round Table (NRT) 2019 program was structured around 4+1 topics related to educational integration of refugee children. The 4 main topics were chosen by the participants in the NRT 2018 in Sofia as the most relevant nationally. To take advantage of the pan-European nature of the SIRIUS Network and its spin-off projects, a special focus was put on sharing research findings and best practices from other EU countries to allow Bulgarian stakeholders to get inspired to try new approaches or methods. In addition, the organizers offered 1 extra topic on funding opportunities where 3 panelists from a private company, a community foundation and an umbrella donors’ organization shared their expertise for successful fundraising along with information on open calls for proposals. The four main topics were:
Unaccompanied asylum-seeking and refugee minors of school-age
The situation of unaccompanied minors in Bulgaria was thoroughly discussed at the NRT 2018 as one of the most challenging topics, especially in the context of Bulgaria being a “transit country” and thus often being unattractive to young refugees. This, together with the limited capacities of their guardians (social workers from the State Agency for Refugees) and the lack of a comprehensive national coordination mechanism, leaves this particularly vulnerable group with insufficient support. Therefore, the need identified last year was to collect good practices from other European countries. Several of them were presented (for example a student-centered job-placement approach from a Flemish school in Belgium). At national level, a special focus was put on a new promising project realized by Know How Center for Alternative Care for Children, New Bulgarian University in a partnership with State Agency for Refugees. “To fulfil (im)possible dreams” uses a student-centered approach and draws a “map” of the desired future and provides mentoring to young unaccompanied refugees.
Cooperation between schools and NGOs
The cooperation between schools and NGOs in Bulgaria often happens spontaneously and based on short-term projects. A more structured approach would ensure that the gaps in refugees’ education are filled in a timely and well-planned manner. To feed the discussion with best practices from the EU, the SIRIUS Watch 2018 “Role of non-formal education in migrant children inclusion: links with schools” was presented with a focus on practices which could be implemented in Bulgaria. The panel continued with input from a school principal from the city of Harmanli, where the biggest refugee reception center in Bulgaria is located. She discussed the accessibility of schools, the needs of schools and children and opportunities for cooperation.
Materials in support of teachers for working with refugee students
Since the Bulgarian educational system has been facing a higher number of refugee students only in recent years, the capacity of teachers and the amount of materials they can use in the classroom is not very high. In this panel several organizations presented new methodologies they have created to support teachers working with refugee students Such materials are not widely distributed and only a limited number of teachers is being trained how to use them. However, the policy reform opportunity would be to train more current and future teachers in various forms – at university level, summer schools, lifelong learning training programs, etc.
Enhancing the motivation of parents of refugee children
Many studies show the importance of parent involvement in the educational process of their children. A comprehensive coordination mechanism between various stakeholders would secure a better flow of information and parental engagement. Since this is a very difficult area in Bulgaria, especially in the context of its ‘transit country’ profile, experience from other European countries was shared through a presentation of the ALFIRK report: Good practices for migrant parent involvement in education. The State Agency for Refugees also presented the best practices their social workers use in order to motivate parents.