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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Germany: Study on parental involvement calls for a more comprehensive policy approach

svr logoDer Sachverständigenrat deutscher Stiftungen für Integration und Migration (Expert council of German foundations for integration and migration, SVR) has released an interim report on parental involvement and cooperation between schools and migrant parents in Germany.

It stresses that parental involvement is key to enhance educational opportunities for children from a migrant or socially disadvantaged background. Whereas the role of parents is crucial in the education of their children, a comprehensive policy approach to inform, include and train migrant parents is still largely lacking in Germany. The report also points out that although projects do exist, they are mainly local initiatives that differ in quality and effectiveness and are often limited in time. In addition, little cooperation between teachers, administrative staff, parents and migrant organizations tends to limit the impact of such projects. The study also points out that the potentials of involving migrant communities and organizations are hardly realized.

This report is part of a larger research project initiated by the SVR in 2012 on early childhood education and parents-school cooperation to increase awareness about the importance of involving migrant parents in the education of their children.

Via SVR

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The SIRIUS network has also been focusing on the topic of parental involvement, gathering best practices of migrant-led organizations in Norway, Ireland and Germany.  To provide more information about best practices in parental involvement, SIRIUS has published a report in January 2014 that provides detailed descriptions of migrant-run projects and initiatives as well as their national contexts and approaches to engage migrant parents in the education of their children.

Norway: The Multicultural Initiatives and Resource Network

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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?

MIR4MiR 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?

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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

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SIRIUS underlines the importance of migrant education for improved cultural Integration in Europe

The cultural integration of migrants and minorities in European societies is task and process in everyday life. Nonetheless, in European political debates it is commonly assigned a low priority compared to the political and economic dimensions of the issue.

Speakers at ifa conference on Migration and Cultural Integration in Europe
Speakers at ifa conference on Migration and Cultural Integration in Europe

On 11 December 2013, ifa (Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations) organised a conference on “Migration and Cultural Integration in Europe”, bringing together the heads and representatives of the network of European Union National Institutes for Culture (EUNIC) with researchers and practitioners from diverse backgrounds at the Representation of the State of Baden-Wurttemberg to the European Union in Brussels to explore the meanings of cultural integration.

SIRIUS Communications Manager Sarah Cooke O’Dowd spoke on the first panel “New perspectives on the Cultural Integration of Migrants”, highlighting the importance of intercultural education. According to the Migrant Integration Policy Index (MIPEX), education is a major area of weakness in the integration policies of all but a few countries.

“Migrant pupils may be struggling in school for different reasons than their peers. Schools retain wide discretion on whether or not to address the specific needs of migrant pupils, their teachers and parents, and monitor the results. Without clear requirements or entitlements, pupils do not get the support they need throughout their school career and across the country, especially in communities with many immigrants or few resources. Migrants are entitled to support to learn the language, but frequently it is not held to the same standard as the rest of the curriculum. Hardly any countries have systems to diversify schools or the teaching staff; most schools are therefore missing out on new opportunities brought by a diverse student body.” (MIPEX III 2010)

SIRIUS speechOne of SIRIUS’ main tasks is to overcome this weakness. In this instance, the SIRIUS focus on citizenship education and multilingualism in particular were highlighted.

Summarising the SIRIUS study on citizenship education and ethnic and social diversity, across Europe there is a wide spectrum of citizenship education models ranging from assimilationist to integration and inclusion, which are based on the priority that each country gives to diversity in its education curriculum. SIRIUS works towards an inclusion model that encourages schools to become a space that welcomes all the differences, and consider diversity as a richness that constitutes a relevant aspect of the curriculum and teaching methods.

Following on from the stakeholder meeting on multilingualism that was held in Brussels in September 2013, the European institutions plea for trilingualism was supported as a good way to develop language learning for students with a migrant background. They should be encouraged and supported in their learning of the official language of the country/region, another major language such as English and a language of personal adoption (their mother tongue).

The upcoming stakeholder meeting on increasing the representation of people with a migrant background in education and the recent SIRIUS reports on building professional capacity and parental involvement show further examples of SIRIUS efforts to tackle the weaknesses in education highlighted by the Migrant Integration Policy Index.

ifa report front coverConference Report

Conference programme

MPG Presentation