England: African Caribbean Diversity

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Brenda King
Brenda King

On 18 December 2014, I met with Brenda King (Chief Executive) and Paul Bokel (Board Member) of the African Caribbean Diversity (ACD) charity in order for them to tell me more about the organisation and the work that it does in the field of education.

SIRIUS: Why was ACD set up?

Originally set up in the 1990s as a networking organisation for people of migrant decent working in The City, our charity soon became focused on education. We recognised the links between the underachievement of second generation children in education and the resulting difficulties they had getting into the labour market. In order to tackle this, since 2003 we have been running a Mentoring and Enrichment Programme that aims to close the attainment gap between children with a migrant background and native children, particularly for those of low-income families. Our overarching objective is to improve the social mobility of state-schooled children of African and Caribbean descent through mentoring by City workers.

SIRIUS: How does the mentoring programme work?

ACD Summer School students 2013
ACD Summer School students 2013

We choose up to 30 students aged 13-14 who have the potential to do well at school, but are currently underperforming. They are then invited to attend a week-long summer school in Cambridge where they become familiar with the programme, understand why they should believe they can aim high within education and the labour market, get training on public speaking, confidence building and other life skills such as sport and nutrition. On the fifth day, parents are invited to attend (with their costs also covered by the programme) and they are given an induction into the programme, getting the opportunity to meet the team and understanding the expectations that they can have from the programme. Very often, parents are happily surprised to see that there is already a big change in their children after just one week. Students who participated in the summer school the previous year are also invited to attend and both parents and students are generally very impressed to see that after just one year in the programme, they are already progressing very well.

They are then matched with mentors working in the City. The companies that they work for often have Corporate Social Responsibility programmes that allow them to use their time for altruistic activities such as this. We send out a communique to the companies informing them that we are looking for new mentors and then we go in and speak to them directly. They can then sign up with us and receive training on becoming a mentor. Considering the cosmopolitan nature of City workers, the mentors come from many different places and walks of life.

Mentor Matching 2014
Mentor Matching 2014

Once we have matched the students and the mentors, they meet each other in the presence of the students’ parents. This allows everyone to get to know each other, as they will generally be in touch with one another over the course of the next four year, until the students finish school, but some stay in touch long after that. The mentors are there to give career guidance to the students, which is often lacking in their schools, and they do this in their offices so that the students become accustomed to accessing large companies, dressing for the occasion and regularly travelling to meet with their mentors. For the most part, this experience is an eye-opener for the mentors into how the other half of London lives.

Over the past 10 years, we have had about 400 students in our programme, and we are now beginning to see the first mentors being trained who started off as mentees themselves, as well as a growing alumni programme that is often in further education.

SIRIUS: How do you engage with schools?

ACD trip to Brussels 2014
ACD trip to Brussels 2014

We obviously go to schools in order to recruit students, and this happens on a yearly basis, so we are generally in touch with the same schools at least every year. However, we also follow up with the schools on the progress that our mentees are making to ensure that everything is still going well. We engage with the teachers by inviting them to our events and trainings, but they don’t always have the time to attend.

The school’s general reaction to our programme is very positive as the students’ behaviour generally changes in the classroom. Seeing as they were bright but underachieving before, they were likely to be the class clown, and their new interest in learning will generally have a very positive influence on their classmates.

SIRIUS: What are ACD’s main challenges?

Our main challenge is probably keeping the students on board for all of four years. When they reach 16-17, it can be more difficult to engage with them, but we make every effort to continually organise meetings, trainings etc. so that they remain interested and focused. Additionally, they may suffer from some negative peer pressure from their peers, but we try to combat this with regular meetings with those peers that are in the mentee programme so that they can be positively motivated to stay on. Sometimes, the parents themselves can be an obstacle. Not because of language or cultural barriers – most parents are overjoyed to have such an opportunity for their children and to get to learn about the educational system in the UK. But some parents may have other issues on their plate and don’t give any follow-up to the work that we’ve been doing when at home.

Communication used to be a challenge but that has become very easy now, and the arrival of free public transport for kids in London in full time education makes costs less of an issue. Nevertheless, funding is always a struggle, especially since local authorities no longer have the responsibilities (and therefore the budget) in education that they previously had. While we are lucky to have some corporate support from the companies we work with, we look to foundations and other such organisations to help us maintain our service. We also develop partnerships with experts, such as the local police force, in order for them to inform the students about the justice system and how to keep out of criminal activities.

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Are you an immigrant-run organisation that works in the area of inclusive education?

We want you!

  • Do you represent migrant teachers, parents or students?

  • Do you help students with a migrant background with after school activities?

  • Do you as a community organisation work with schools to improve the services they offer?

  • Do you do any other activities that aim to achieve a more inclusive and diverse education system?

If you are an migrant-run organisation and answer yes to any of these questions, we would like to interview you!

We are looking to carry out interviews with migrant-run grassroots organisations around Europe that work in the area of inclusive education and would like to be included in The Immigrant Contribution section of the SIRIUS Website.

We include these profiles on the website both to empower and raise awareness of immigrant grassroots organisations working in the area of inclusive education around Europe.

If you are interested in participating, please send an email to sirius@migpolgroup.com with a brief outline of the organisation, including the following:

  • Name & Website of organisation (if there is a website)
  • Why was the organisation set up (what gap did it seek to fill)?
  • How does the organisation support inclusive education?

Italy: Rete G2 – Seconde Generazioni

kibra sebhatOn 8 July, I spoke with Kibra Sebhat, co-founder of Rete G2 – a grassroots movement of second generation immigrants in Italy that fights for fair and transparent access to citizenship for the children of immigrants.

Why was Rete G2 set up?

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Rete G2 was set up in 2005 in Rome by a few people between the age of 20 and 30 who are all second generation migrants and came from different professional fields, such as journalism, social work and academia. We understood that all second generation migrants, no matter if they were born in Italy or moved here when they were young, and regardless of their job, education or income, all had one problem: (lack of) Italian citizenship.

In Italy, children born to non-nationals can only apply for Italian citizenship between the age of 18 and 19, but there are many hurdles and all too often, people do not know about this narrow time frame. ReteG2 wants to change current Italian citizenship law to make it easier for young second generation migrants to become Italian citizens, as well as those young people those who were born abroad but grew up in Italy. They should not have to wait until their 18th birthday to apply for citizenship – if they were born in Italy or have resided here for a long time, and have gone to school here, we consider them to be Italian if they so wish.

How is ReteG2 run?

All our members are volunteers. We used to be around 30 operative members, who also received training, but at the moment we are around 15 people. It is difficult to combine this with jobs and family and also a lot of people have left Italy because of the economic crisis. We have two offices in Rome and Milan and tried to set up an office in the South of Italy, but that proved to be very difficult. There are many other social problems that – understandably – have priority for people.

How do you push for legislative change?

In the beginning we started working together with parliamentarians, political parties and local administrators, trying to build up a network to influence the parliament and government. We produced brochures, reports and also a CD with music from second generation musicians with the support of the Ministry of Social Affairs.  Our advocacy work showed that there were quite some parliamentarians who were sensitive to the topic, but effectively working with the parliament on this issue was still very difficult.

In 2012, the L’Italia sono anch’io campaign gathered more than 100.000 signatures for a citizens’ initiative and we submitted two legislative proposals to the Italian parliament to reform citizenship law. In the proposal, we ask for a clear and fair procedure to obtain citizenship and propose to make the requirements for naturalization less strict.  We want, for example, that children can apply for citizenship already before their 18th birthday and that the length of required residence should be lowered from 10 to 5 years. Moreover, there are a lot of restrictions that hardly anyone can fulfill, such as having an indefinite work contract. This is ridiculous, especially in times of economic crisis. Another problem is that municipalities have a large area of discretion and are rather bad at communication. Anyone who works for the local municipality on naturalization can reject an application for citizenship. This arbitrariness is also something that needs to change in order to have a clear and fair pathway to citizenship. At the moment, our proposals are being debated in parliament.

Because a lot of people do not know that they have only one year to apply, we initiated the campaign 18 anni in commune (18 years together). Together with Save the Children and Italian municipalities, letters were sent to second generation migrants on their 18th birthday congratulating them, encouraging them to apply for citizenship and telling them what documents they need.

At the moment we continue our advocacy work in the parliament by writing dossiers and providing statistics and general information about the situation of second generation and long term migrants in Italy. We are also working on a new project, funded by the Open Society Foundation, to lead this discussion on Italian citizenship and second generation migrants online via social media. The problem in Italy is that the public only talks about second generation migrants when there are problems in schools or when Balotelli scores a goal. But we really want to make sure that the situation of second generation is not discussed in such a simplified manner and that it is a topic of continuous attention. Therefore, we also visit schools and universities to do trainings and to talk about the situation of second generation migrants and those who have been schooled here.

What are the obstacles young people with a migrant background without Italian citizenship face in school?

The legal status of minors is linked to their parents’ residence permit. So if their parents lose their status, so do their children. This means that families can actually be deported to their country of origin, even if the children were born in Italy and have lived there all their life. Moreover, they have limited freedom of movement in or outside Europe.

Apart from this insecurity, it is also a question of identity. I think that the experiences and issues of second generation migrants and those who have lived here most of their lives are different from those of our parents and there is also a different awareness about belonging and identity. It is very important to find a balance between where you live and where your family is from. To be a happy and peaceful person, you should not feel that one part of your identity is not accepted.

Another problem for second generation migrants is the job market. In fact, without Italian citizenship your options are limited. You cannot become a teacher, judge, architect, notary, firefighter, policeman, member of the army, janitor, rail driver, bus driver, professional sports person, a member of a national team or university researcher. Many other jobs are in reality not open for second generation migrants either. Because of the strict residence requirements you cannot go abroad, so for example an academic career as a researcher or any other job where you have to travel a lot is hardly possible. I often talk about this issue at public events, because it really shows how unfair the current situation is.

What do you think will happen with the legislative proposal?

Renzi, the Italian Prime Minister, has repeatedly said that he would like to resolve this issue by the end of 2014. So we are all very anxious to hear about the outcome, but it is difficult to predict what the parliament will decide. Generally, you would assume that the left should be in favour and the right against easier access to citizenship, but in fact it is not that easy.

The Netherlands: Platform Migrant Parents and Education

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Lisette

On 3 April 2014, I spoke with Lisette Massink, who works for FORUM in the Netherlands to tell me more about the project and their work in the field of inclusive education.

SIRIUS: Why was FORUM set up?

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FORUM was set up after the fusion of a number of national level migrant organisations that had been founded to protect the interests of specific migrant groups, namely of the Turkish, the Moroccan, Surinam, Antillean, and Moluk communities respectively.  While FORUM initially continued to focus on protecting the interests and improving the position of migrant groups in the Netherlands, the focus has since shifted to playing the role of a “knowledge institute” that aims to gather and develop knowledge on all issues pertaining to the integration and position of migrants in the Netherlands, and translate this knowledge to practical / workable solutions.

How does FORUM support inclusive education?

FORUM conducts research on different themes regarding education opportunities and policies and gives policy advice at the national and municipal levels through written reports, meetings with policy makers and public meetings. In addition, FORUM implements projects for migrant parents and children at schools.

cito-15127168-rotaHow was PAOO run?

In 2006, FORUM set up PAOO (Platform Allochtone Ouders en Onderwijs, Platform of Migrant Parents in Education), a seven year project for and by migrant parents to strengthen their representation in schools and to change attitudes among education practitioners towards migrant pupils. In its first phase, the focus was to localise migrant parents in bigger cities in the Netherlands and establish platforms to raise the awareness of other migrant parents, get in touch with municipalities and schools and present the perspective of migrant parents. After four years, an evaluation showed that it was very difficult to maintain such a structure without professional support at the local level. It became apparent that it is a very big effort to get migrant parents together, approach schools, maintain this dialogue and actually bring about change. Raising awareness among parents was not that difficult, parents know very well what they want for their children. But the initial set-up expected too much time and commitment from parents who are really busy with their work, family and children. Such a structure would have needed professional backup or additional support through a paid position. At the same time, the Ministry of Education, that funded the project, preferred for the second phase an approach that was more focussed on the role of schools.

As a result, in the next three years of the second phase FORUM was more involved and worked less on a city level, but more directly with schools all across the country, mostly primary schools and a few secondary schools with large groups of migrant students. We advised schools on how to improve cooperation with migrant parents through concrete actions in schools. It is very important to create a connection between the learning environment of the child in school and at home. Then, schools can also have a better insight into how parents themselves think about school and childhood development. We also developed a course for parents where they could discuss how to work together with schools, support their child’s development and how to successfully raise a child bilingually. We want to show how important parents’ impact can be, especially in the Netherlands, where parents are expected to be proactive and approach teachers when there is a problem.  After completion of the second phase, FORUM has continued stimulating and advising schools and further developing and making available instruments for strengthening the participation of migrant parents in education.

How do you reach out to migrant parents?

The first step is to reach out to migrant communities through members that have a broad network, and are already well integrated and from their own experience aware of the challenges migrant parent face supporting their children’s education. We also connect directly with less integrated and conscious migrant groups in the cities, going to places where migrant parents meet. There is a lot of potential, especially among immigrants who have been in the country for a while, to volunteer and offer their support to others. But then again, this is also a question of time. In some of the cities, even when the funding stopped, they still continued with those platforms, which is very impressive.

vve-rotaWhat main challenges do you face in your work on parents and teachers?

One problem we face is to get schools and teachers to see migrant children as equally capable. While in some schools that is the case, in others, teachers are prejudiced and anticipate that migrant children will not perform well. Even if they do, some teachers think that they shouldn’t recommend them for higher secondary education because they assume that there is not enough support at home. In many cases, this discrimination is also subconscious, but if there is no contact with the parents, the teacher will invest even less in the child. The relationship between parents and the teacher is very important for the teacher’s perception of the child. Many teachers do not see migrant parents as valuable partners and this attitude is a major obstacle when working towards including migrant parents. We saw that school leadership is really important in that regard. In the second phase, we worked with the school team and leadership to analyse their attitudes towards migrant children and then worked towards changing them. It is the responsibility of the school to involve parents; therefore schools must train their teachers and make an effort to reach out to parents. As a consequence, parents are more likely to become active in that school. As long as schools don’t see that necessity and it’s only the parents who are very motivated, then inclusion of migrant parents will not work.

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