On Thursday, 5th June 2014, Migration Policy Group hosted a SIRIUS stakeholder meeting on the topic of teacher training and professional capacity. This meeting followed on from a 1 ½ day meeting of migrant teachers where they discussed both important skill sets and policy recommendations on how to better equip teachers for diverse classrooms.
The stakeholder meeting brought together these teachers with a migration background, other educational practitioners and school leaders as well as researchers, policy makers and civil society organisations to discuss skills that teachers need in culturally and linguistically diverse classrooms. In addition, a focus was put on how teachers are prepared in teacher training institutions and supported during their career.
The meeting was opened by Sarah Cooke O’Dowd from the Migration Policy Group welcoming a group of about 30 participants. Eva Degler, also from the Migration Policy Group, continued by giving a short overview about the contents of capacity training, best practices and the role of the EU in enhancing teacher training (See Presentation).
Sabine Severiens from the Erasmus University Rotterdam then presented recommendations from her research on professional capacities and areas of expertise together with the migrant teachers who shared their successful strategies and gave insights into their professional experiences (See Presentation). The SIRIUS Report on Building Professional Capacity concerning the educational position of migrant children had originally identified five main areas of expertise necessary for the professional capacity of teachers in diverse classrooms (language diversity, didactics, social psychology and identity development, parental involvement and school-community relationships). During the teacher meeting, they had also identified the need for additional space in the curriculum, training/familiarity with the development of migration history, diagnostic tests and the effectively utilising school surroundings as additional desired expertise. It was striking that hardly any of the teachers present had received initial training. Moreover, it was left to their own initiative to attend in-service training and bring up issues of inclusive education in their schools.
Piet van Avermaet from the University of Ghent and the Centre for Diversity and Learning then spoke about how to respond to diversity in education, focussing on the role of multilingualism, teachers’ expectations of immigrant pupils and the challenge of rendering diversity a core issue for policy making in education (See Presentation).
The last hour of the meeting was spent discussing parental and community involvement, different strategies for second language learning and the positive impact of collaborative and open-minded school leadership. Centres of expertise should be developed in schools that include interdisciplinary teams which support each other and thus increase the capacity of the whole school. These centres would include teachers, psychologists, guidance councillors etc. This would supply vital support to teachers who agreed that, at present, they are largely left alone in responding to the needs of diverse learners. Making second language learning and intercultural education an integral part of teacher training curricula was also considered crucial. At present, universities across Europe do not or only sporadically offer such training modules. Ideally, such training should become a transversal issue that is woven through all levels of teacher training. In addition, more in-service training programmes should be offered and school leaders should strongly encourage professional development in this field. Lastly, a number of participants remarked that many projects are still incidental and very rarely evaluated, which renders impact assessment and informed policy-making difficult. Furthermore, their funding often means that they have support for only a limited period of time. Structural support for good practices is necessary to make them sustainable.
Knowledge about learning German as a second language is an increasingly important skill for aspiring teachers. Yet, as a study by the German Mercator Stiftung recently found out, only about half of them encounter these topics during their teacher training at university. Due to the federal structure of Germany, there are no comprehensive policies on how to include language learning in the teaching curriculum. Furthermore, teacher training also depends on which school track students are prepared for. Whereas preparation for primary school teachers is relatively advanced, only one third of the future teachers in lower and vocational secondary education receive training on language acquisition. The study warns that this piecemeal approach is a major obstacle to promote educational equality in German schools. Furthermore, it reports that two thirds of the students surveyed do not feel prepared to adequately support children whose first language is not German.
According to the conclusions of the report of the Polish Ombudsman, pupils from a migrant background are struggling in overcoming the language barrier. The resulting problems in school were confirmed by teachers in Poland. They argue that children with insufficient knowledge of Polish should be given the chance to become fluent in Polish before moving on to other classes with their native peers.