On 12 March 2014, I spoke with Whyn Lam, who founded the Multicultural Initiatives and Resource Network, (MiR), a Norwegian NGO run by immigrant parents, to tell me more about their work in the field of inclusive education and parental involvement.
SIRIUS: Why was MiR set up?
We started this network because we saw that immigrant parents are not very engaged in schools. For example, in Norwegian schools there are four teacher-parents meetings per year. Immigrant parents are often not very involved or they don’t participate at all, especially in those meetings. This means they don’t get all the necessary information and at the same time schools get the impression that they don’t care. We thought that this can’t be true and that there must be something wrong in the way schools approach immigrant parents. We then contacted the Ministry of Education to do a project to increase participation of immigrant parents in schools. We received a grant for a five year project to work with schools all over Norway and create bridges between parents and schools. When the project finished in 2007, the MiR Network became an NGO, as which it operates until today.
SIRIUS: How is the organization network run?
MiR is a democratic organization with the main office based in Oslo. The national board is elected by our six local branches, which offer courses and activities all over Norway. We offer courses and activities for parents that empower them to become more actively engaged with the education of their children. Many parents are very concerned about the education of their children, but they don’t know how to engage with schools, especially when they don’t speak the language. We inform them about their rights and duties, the important role they have in supporting their children and offer possibilities to educate themselves. One course, for example, which is geared towards immigrant women teaches similar subjects as their kids learn in school. We also offer homework support or help to get funding for extra teachers. The most important part, however, is to educated children and parents together. We organize courses of family learning where parents and children are taught and study together. We also advise schools on how to reach out to immigrant parents and use their facilities to offer information and training sessions, for example on child rearing and the importance of early education.
SIRIUS: What are the main goals of MiR?
We want to make schools more conscious about the way they treat parents, but we also want to empower parents to become more aware what they can ask from the school. We think that only if parents are self-confident about the role they can play in their children’s education, will they become more active.
SIRIUS: What are the main challenges you are facing?
Every year, there are new people with different needs, backgrounds and expectations. Also the collaboration with schools and municipalities can differ a lot, depending on their experience with inclusive education. We try very hard to get the message across that immigrant parents are underrepresented, not because they don’t care, but because they don’t have the necessary tools and self-confidence to be more engaged. The fact that they are excluded is often not acknowledged. There is a lot of misunderstanding between schools and parents. Part of the problem is also that teacher training in Norway doesn’t prepare teachers for multicultural classrooms.
SIRIUS: How does MiR reach out to parents?
We usually work through the schools or we collaborate with local immigrant organizations. We also organize activities together, for example as part of the social activities of religious communities.
SIRIUS: How does MiR support inclusive education?
We try to represent those immigrant parents who cannot do so themselves. Schools often approach us with problems of how to engage immigrant parents. But whenever we get into touch with them and talk in their own language it becomes obvious that they are very concerned and would like to become more active. They just don’t know how. In that way, we also advise school how to better include parents, for example by providing an interpreter to make sure that non-native speakers can follow school meetings.
By Eva Degler