Recognising and Validating the Non-Formal Learning Skills of Adolescents

The Finnish National Agency for Education guides schools all around Finland on the processes of recognising or evaluating the competences or qualifications of migrants. Since municipalities are autonomous bodies, every municipality needs to be concerned in monitoring how schools operate competence recognition processes or whether school authorities follow the guidelines of the Finnish National Agency for Education. The responsibility for the competence recognition processes lies mostly on the shoulders of the classroom teachers themselves, and because many migrants have no Finnish skills, evaluating their abilities is an ongoing task. However, the first interest of teachers is to assess the students’ writing skills (whether they can write and what letter system they use) and other language or communication skills. Although a qualified interpreter is a part of this phase, there is always the possibility of misunderstanding. Therefore, this whole process usually demands many working hours from classroom teachers, whilst schools are running on a budget deficit. The most important criteria for determining the students’ grade level and educational pathway are based on their age. The teachers also need to develop such knowledge to gain a thorough understanding of the students’ qualifications by assessing their previous achievements from documents such as certificates and diplomas. However, in many situations, immigrant students cannot provide their previous documents. Additionally, teachers must apply extra time and effort to assess their students’ academic and social skills. This initial assessment demands every school or individual teacher do the complete evaluation of previously gained qualifications. Although the Finnish teacher education system gives adequate expertise to understand diversity among students and to work with the special needs that ethnic minorities can have, many everyday activities of school work demand the majority of the efforts and attention of both schools and teachers. The culturally sensitive perspective is always taken into consideration but its realisation depends on an individual teacher’s skills. Therefore, the validation of non-formal education does not receive the necessary resources and attention when compared with mainstream education. All teachers have their own individual style of documenting the assessment and recognising the skills of students. When the implementation of policies rests on the shoulders of individuals, there is a risk of misinterpreting the policies as well. However, recognising previous skills and diplomas takes time and attention, mostly for reforming policies. In 2015, MoEC set up a steering group to coordinate different short-term and long-term measures to produce an interim report arising from the situation of growing numbers of asylum seekers and immigrants. In 2016, MoEC published their first report and the second report accordingly published in 2017 which included new reforms and measures. In 2018, minister for Education appointed a follow- up committee to monitor the progress of the previous reforms mentioned in those reports in 2016 and 2017. This national follow-up group on “immigrant education and integration” has been initiated by the MoEC 2018 for the period of April-December 2018 and the report published in spring, 2019.  This follow up committee sought to assess the capacity and ability of the education system to respond to the rapidly growing number of asylum seekers and refugees and also proposed some action plans.  This working group has been formed by the selected representatives of distinctive organizations from different regions who represent a range of viewpoints on this subject matter. This working group highlights some new issues that have not yet been addressed in previous reports that also published earlier. These reform proposals of the policies include questions related to teacher availability and qualifications to find out the challenges related to Finnish language skills. New measures are proposed to support both the educational and employment pathways of immigrants. These reforms indeed include consolidating policies and emphasizing local action in youth work (MOEC, 2018).  The NRT contributes to these discussions.


Unaccompanied Asylum-Seeking Minors, NGO cooperation, Teaching Materials National Roundtable of Bulgaria 2019

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.


Policy development, School Practice and Local Community Support – National Roundtable for Croatia 2019

The key thematic areas addressed by the National Round Table (NRT) in Croatia were the inclusion of refugees/asylum seekers/migrant background children in the educational system, the organization of preparatory and additional classes and the support to refugees/asylum seekers/migrant children as well as the existing school practices and the role of local organisations in supporting schools, teachers and refugees/asylum seekers and migrant children and their families. Croatia does not have a large number of asylum seekers and refugees. A total of 650 persons with an approved asylum status were registered in October 2018. It is worth noting that, according to the available data, almost 80% of requests for asylum are declined in the country. The newly published study “Challenges for Integration of Refugees/Asylum seekers into Croatian Society: Attitudes of Citizens and Preparedness of Local Communities” (Ajduković et al., 2019) has shown that local communities mostly consider the Ministry of Science and Education being responsible for organizing language courses and have expressed concerns about the duration of the courses considered to be too short and have demanded more clarity about their funding status. The study also points that language courses are not sufficiently equipped with personnel and logistical capacities to run effectively. Course are offered either in a formalized way or through a volunteering. With regard to the inclusiveness of the education system, most stakeholders identify the slow administration procedures and the lack of qualified teachers as key gaps to address asylum seekers or refugee children’s needs. This sums up to the lack of personal documents and the unregulated recognition of certificates and prior learning. The lack of translators and teaching assistants in the coastal and central regions of the country remain a central issue.


Inclusion and Inclusive Practice – National Roundtable for France 2019

The inclusion of newly arrived children in schools and in society is under the competence of the French Ministry of Education and other Ministries such as Sports, Youth, popular education and community life.

Thus, “inclusion” still remains an aim to be reached. In schools, studies (Auger 2019, Goï XX) show that teachers, especially when they do not teach in specific classes for newly arrived children but in regular classes, are not trained on how to promote inclusiveness and are scarcely aware about the use of plurilingualism and previous cultural experiences as resources within the class. At the community level, many NGOs offer extra-classes, art or sport activities to newly arrived children and to their families in order to help them be part of the community and are more open to plurilingualism. Nonetheless, the cooperation between formal and non-formal education remains weak. These elements have been highlighted as main conclusions of the Round Table 2018 in France. The event also strongly stressed the need to create ways and platforms for education stakeholders (associations, NGOs and the National Education system) to better work together. Three different projects were proposed with the goal of creating a “learning territory”, to work and learn together to promote the inclusiveness of newly arrived children. The first idea was to create a digital tool (a platform) to foster the communication between teachers, schools and NGOs; the second aimed at developing inclusive actions by creating synergies between NGOs’ and schools’ initiatives while the last envisages to offer multi-category training to volunteers, social workers, practitioners, teachers and headmasters. In the timeframe between the Round Table 2018 and the one in 2019, the University of Montpellier (UPVM) have organized various meetings with regional policy makers to reflect on how to create a digital tool to reinforce multistakeholder communication and exchange. As outcome of this reflection, a civil servant has been recruited to create the platform as output of the Round Table 2019. With regard to the inclusive actions, UPVM has been able to showcase to schools various initiatives implemented by NGOs at the local level. A traineeship has also been proposed to a Master degree student on “French as a second language” to inform schools in the region about resources offered by associations and NGOs in this area. In relation to the training component, school teachers have been invited to numerous conferences organized by local/regional associations and institutions. Nonetheless, very few of them were able to participate. That is why the ambition of the Round Table in France is to create a digital communication platform as a less challenging tool to mutualize information and promote knowledge sharing.

The main goal of the Round Table 2019 was therefore to gather together different education stakeholders (schools and NGOS, associations) to pave the way for a long-term project on “inclusion” addressing the three aforementioned objectives, with the ambition to include policymakers in the overall process. The final objective was thus to develop strategies for counselling and planning inclusion in schools by building bridges with NGOs on plurilingualism. At this stage, only the local and regional levels are at stake, although the ambition is to extend and replicate the results at a national level as final outcome. These actions should prevent newly arrived children from being excluded from the school system and failing during their studies.


Antidiscrimination Measures in the Context of Schools in Germany – National Roundtable for Germany 2019

Experiences of discrimination in the context of the school can disturb education careers in the short and long term. They also negatively impact feelings of belonging to the school and to the society at large. This is particularly relevant when the school as an institution or their staff are the sources of discrimination and/or the school fails to protect children and young people and their families from discrimination. Unfortunately, this is a rather common pattern in Germany. At the same time, discrimination and racism in school are hardly ever thematised in Germany, especially not when teachers are accused of being the perpetrators. Schools and educational authorities generally prioritize solidarity with and among teachers over the clarification of discrimination claims and blocking off claims over mediation mechanisms. Even obvious cases of disadvantaged treatment are usually not sanctioned. In the German legal frameworks on protection against discrimination, there are considerable gaps and shortcomings. Hence, a comprehensive protection of students and parents from discrimination is not ensured. No Bundesland in Germany has established functioning structures for reporting claims of discrimination, for mediating in cases of discrimination and, if necessary, for bringing forward procedures for disciplinary sanctions. Initiatives to build up respective structures have been taken over the past few years nearly exclusively by civil society organisations. These organisations have initiated low-threshold, and partially already established, contact points for affected persons. The advantage of these contacts points is that they are independent from institutional pressures within the school system. But this also means that it remains to be seen how, on the long run, these contact points will work together with governmental and municipal institutions and how interventions at school should be targeted in order to eliminate discrimination. Specifically, the following questions need to be clarified: How can meaningful communication between governmental and municipal institutions and civil society organisations be organized and ensured? Which qualifications and evaluation criteria should be applied for school-specific anti-discrimination counselling? The German NRT brought together civil society actors from the field of discrimination in the context of school, including migrant-led organisations, with policy makers and researchers from different Bundesländer. The main goal of the NRT was to discuss and develop strategies for how the issue of anti-discrimination counselling in the school context should and can be carried forward in order to lead to more effective measures by federal, regional and local policy makers. These measures should enable and guarantee appropriate and meaningful responses to cases of perceived and experienced discrimination. They should also lead to the establishment of structures for peer-to-peer exchange of experience and knowledge around school-based anti-discrimination counselling.


Building autonomous pathway for unaccompanied foreign minors and young adults National Roundtable of Italy 2019

The context is provided on the basis of the conclusions of the Access to Educational Report for refugee and migrant children in Europe, carried out jointly by Unhcr, Unicef ​​and Iom. A greater effort is needed to ensure that all minors who are migrants, refugees and asylum seekers have access to quality education and guarantees for the continuation of their academic career. Lack of school space, inadequately trained teachers, language obstacles and limited access to psychosocial support and limited recovery classes are the main barriers that children with migrant background encounter in accessing education in Europe. To help states respond to these challenges and the lack of crucial data, the publication provides examples of good and promising practices for education in Europe and a number of recommendations. These include the request to strengthen the link between schools and other important public services, such as health and child protection, to ensure that barriers for school enrollment and factors that contribute to early school leaving are overcome. Agencies also ask states to extend efforts and further invest in both national and regional levels to collect standardized and harmonized quality data on refugee children, asylum seekers and educational migrants, to guide development and distribution policies. In Italy, National education statistics distinguish only between Italian and non-Italian citizens. In the 2016-2017 school year, there were 634,070 non-Italian children registered in Italian schools (9.5% of the total number of students enrolled). 46% of non-Italian children were enrolled in primary school, 26% in lower secondary school and 29% in upper secondary school. There are no data on pre-primary education. Among all non-Italian children in the school system, 77% (487,748) were non-European citizens. Among the refugee and migrant adolescents, who responded to the survey on education conducted at the end of 2017 on the UNICEF U-Report on the Move platform, 49% attended only Italian language classes, while only 30% attended regular classes, with a big difference between the zones. According to a more recent survey, 86% of respondents stated that they wanted to access training courses. However, very few of them have had access to these opportunities.


Skills, Knowledge and Strategies that Teachers Need to Have to Support the Multilingual Talents of their Pupils National Roundtable of the Netherlands 2019

In 2018, the Dutch Education Inspectorate published its report that in contrast to almost all other countries in Europe, the performance of Dutch pupils has been falling for decades (State of Education 2018). Even more worrying were the figures that showed increasing inequality based on migration and socio-economic status: children with higher educated parents increasingly performed better than those whose parents were lower educated. The same was found for children with parents with a migrant background. The Inspection report paid little attention to the role of language. If language was mentioned at all, it was to point out that migrant children may have a language deficiency or language delay because they do not speak Dutch. Dutch as a second language classes are generally provided only for Newly Arrived Migrants (NAMS) and only during their first year in the Netherlands. After this, all children, including those who were born here but have a different home language than Dutch, are expected to speak Dutch at the same level as native Dutch speakers and to leave their mother tongues behind. Currently, more than half of school children in the capital city of Amsterdam speak a different language besides Dutch. Schools therefore need to prepare their teachers to close the gap between ‘native’ Dutch speaking and multilingual children. However, the dominant attitude towards multilingualism in Dutch education can be summarized as a policy which at best ignores, at worst prohibits and sometimes even punishes children for using other languages than Dutch in schools (Le Pichon & Kambel 2017). It is a result of the (mistaken) belief that it is the best way for children to learn Dutch. Yet, research has shown for a long time that the opposite is true: making use of children’s home languages will not only make them feel more at home at school and therefore helps in their integration into society, but also has significant benefits to their learning process (Collier & Thomas 2017, NESET II 2017). In 2017, the Ministry of Education in the Netherlands distributed a booklet to all primary schools encouraging mother tongue use for teaching NAMS.  This is certainly a positive step, but simply sending booklets to schools will not change ingrained practices. Teachers and policy makers need practical examples. At the last NRT (July 2018), participants stated that good multilingual teaching practices were hard to find. This is why it was decided to focus on good examples of multilingual teaching practices for the NRT 2019.


“Development of Intercultural Competences in Different Educational Contexts – National Roundtable for Portugal 2019”

Immigration to Portugal started to increase significantly in the late 90s and early 2000s, increasing from 1.3% in 1991 to 8.3% in 2015 (Eurostat, 2016). In 2017, the percentage was 13,9%, with a total number of 480.300 residents with legal status (SEF/GEPF, 2018). The countries of origin with the highest percentages are Brazil (21,9%), followed by Cape Verde (7,2%), Romania (6,4%), Ukraine (6,1), UK (5,5%), China (5,5%), France (4,1%), Italy (4,1%), Angola (3,9%), Guinea (3,4%) and a percentage of 3,4 % for other nationalities (SEF/GEPF, 2018). The Governing of Education is under the Ministry of Education (MoE), which has the mission to conceptualize, conduct, execute and evaluate national policy concerning the education system, from preschool education, to basic and secondary education, as well as extra-school education . Other organizations under government action or outside this scope play an important role in promoting formal and non-formal education. There are laws that try to support the integration of migrants, but are not specific to immigrant children’s education: Decree-law nº 6/2001 of 18th January, which ensures basic education for all, no matter their nationality, and the integration of the curriculum of education for citizenship; implementing order nº7/2006 which defends the recognition and respect for the individual needs of all students and ensures the support to learn the Portuguese language; in July 2005, the Guidance Document for Portuguese as Non-Mother Tongue was published. Concerning the migrant population, the High Commissioner for Migration (HCM) is articulated with the MoE in the field of education. The HCM is a governmental institute, dependent of the Council of Ministers, which promotes public policies that favour social inclusion, equal opportunities and diversity appreciation. Worthy of note, at this level, is the Strategic Plan for Migrations, aimed at fostering answers to address complex problems, towards the development of a modern and fair migration policy. As mentioned on the website of the HCM: “The High Commission for Migration, Public Institution, directly dependent of the Presidency of the Ministers Council, has the mission of collaborating on determining, executing and assessing the public, transversal and sectorial policies concerning migrations, which are relevant for the integration of migrants in the national, international and Portuguese-speaking contexts, for the integration of the immigrants and ethnic groups – in particular, the Roma Communities – and for managing and valuing the diversity between cultures, ethnicities and religions” . Under the aforementioned strategic plan, there are specific measures to promote intercultural education and to address school abandonment. Under the promotion of social inclusion of children and young people from vulnerable socio-economic contexts, there was the creation of the Programa Escolhas [Choices Program], a national governmental program with the central mission of promoting social inclusion of children and young people from vulnerable socio-economic contexts, including migrant children and young people. Educational policies for immigrant children Under the promotion of social inclusion of children and young people from vulnerable socio-economic contexts, there was the creation of the Programa Escolhas [Choices Program], a national governmental program with the central mission of promoting social inclusion of children and young people from vulnerable socio-economic contexts. This is done by involving children and young people in after school programs to enhance their engagement in informal educational activities, aiming to also promote school engagement among at-risk children and young people, as well as promote several activities, such as computer learning, language learning, sports, etc. The Choices Program is applied in vulnerable socio-economic contexts, not exactly schools, but in connection with schools that serve those contexts. Students in many schools from those contexts attend this program. An ‘Intercultural School Stamp’ policy initiative has been developed since 2012, involving the General-Directorate of Education (MoE), the HCM and the Aga Khan Foundation, and it evaluates schools and assigns them to different levels, depending on how school practices 1) promote the recognition and value of diversity as an opportunity and source of learning for all; and 2) implement specific strategies/actions to promote interculturality, equal opportunity and educational success for all. This framework also aims to provide means for schools to critically examine and improve their practices toward interculturality, and to motivate schools to share knowledge and experience (Szelei et al, 2019: 179). Another joint initiative to promote Intercultural Education in Schools is the Intercultural Schools Network. The Intercultural Schools Network is a program also promoted by the HCM,I.P., the General-Directorate of Education and the Aga Khan Foundation, to support the capacity building of schools and the sharing of good practices in intercultural education. The Network is composed of schools committed to promoting the reception, integration and educational success of all children and young people, regardless of their cultural or national origins, and to promoting a culture and practice of opening up to difference and establishing positive interactions between students and other members of the educational community from different cultures. Participation in the network means to integrate intercultural education practices in the School Education Project and the Annual Plan of Activities in the following areas: culture of the School; Curriculum (content, resources and didactic activities) and Community engagement; to provide intercultural training sessions to different actors of the educational community; to participate in mentoring, supervision and monitoring activities and to share practices and resources using a collaborative platform. In 2017-2019 the network involved around 120 schools.


Multi-lingualism and the gap between native and non-native speakers – National Roundtable for Slovenia 2019

At the first NRT in 2018 main challenges of implementing the national strategy of migrant children inclusion into education system in Slovenia were identified. At the second NRT in 2019 the focus on the central theme was maintained: the premises of multilingualism in an inclusive learning environment, and three main topics were addressed. They underlie the problem of inclusion of migrant children to school and represent the main issues in the Slovenian context regarding national reform priorities and changes:
  • Multilingualism in the pedagogical process: How to successfully implement the translanguaging and plurilingual approaches into education practice, which emphasize the right to individual’s use of all his/her linguistic resources in the process of learning.
  • The gap between the mastering of language of schooling/language of the majority and academic achievements of migrant children and young people: How to enable inclusive and equitable education environments regardless of their cultural and language background, socio-economic status and the ‘temporary staying’ status.
The challenges of involvement of migrants in school and developing the strategies for encouraging their active involvement in the democratic processes of the school: How to include migrants (migrant parents and other adults in local communities) in various school activities as translators, teaching assistants, leaders of extra-curricular activities or volunteers, in order to connect school with the local community and encourage better integration of migrant children and young people.