Educating a new population of refugees in Europe

20160102_EUP002_1Originally published by International Ed News.

Our review of education news this week focuses on European countries adapting to a surging refugee population, mostly from Syria.

As The Guardian reported, Germany expects the number of refugees entering the country to surpass the million mark. About 196,000 children will enter the German school system this year, and 8,264 “special classes” have been created to help the new students catch up with their peers. Language is a primary concern, and the government has recruited 8,500 people to teach child refugees the German language. Education authorities describe the population change as a challenge, but one that “will become the norm for a long time to come.” In all, Germany will need up to 20,000 teachers by next summer.

Similarly, The Helsinki Times reported that Finland will have to recruit hundreds of teachers as well. As Heljä Misukka, an education director at the Trade Union of Education (OAJ), explained, “The number of unaccompanied minors who have arrived in Finland this year is 2,000. A child is entitled to basic education immediately.” Teachers are needed to teach, for example, preparatory classes for immigrants, integrated classes for special-needs learners and classes for learners studying Finnish as a second language.

While finding teachers for the new students is a necessity, a recent Economist article also argued that distribution of the immigrant students will also be important to their success. As the article explained, the biggest problem is that refugee children tend to be concentrated together. “In Norway, Denmark and Sweden about 70% go to schools where at least half of the pupils are immigrants. This means they are partially segregated and less likely to learn the local language.”

However, a new United Nations Refugee Agency survey has shown that the Syrian refugee population entering Greece is largely highly-skilled and well-educated. The majority is under the age of 35; 86% say they have secondary school or university education. Since, as the Economist argued, parents’ level of education is “the most important predictor of pupils’ school results,” with proper integration, these students might adapt quickly.

Deirdre Faughey

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