Creating a teaching culture legacy for migrant children in Europe

Integrating migrant children into host country education systems can be better achieved by putting them at the heart of their schooling and reducing classroom hierarchies.

Following pan-European research, a suite of learning tools created by the University of Northampton (UON) to help with this is now available to create a ‘teaching culture legacy’.

Child-UP – led by University of Modena and Reggio Emilia – started in 2019 in nurseries, primary schools, and secondary schools across seven European countries to help understand and support migrant children’s transition into and through education in their new home countries.

Main research

Firstly, the research teams reviewed existing national integration policies and legislation to get an overall ‘snap-shot’ of the current situation.

They then surveyed migrant children and their parents to gauge their experiences of schools and interviewed parents and teachers about how they perceive the education relationship.

Working with 292 classrooms, the researchers also observed classes to look at teaching styles and the activities used to aid the children’s integration.

The main results were recently revealed at a conference in Brussels:

  • Integration in schools and classrooms does not need assimilation but can be pursued by valuing each child’s uniqueness, which may include their culture. This form of integration is called ‘hybrid integration’ by the Child-UP team because the consequence is that each child uniquely contributes to constructing creative, new, hybrid ways of learning.
  • Integration was more successful when it was combined with the celebration of the uniqueness of the child.
  • Contexts where children’s position as ‘author’ of knowledge and as contributors to classroom discussion are promoted. Letting children speak and listening to them as experts in their own lives and identities is key for mutual acceptance and creative integration.
  • Also, successful integration includes interacting with children centred on personal expression, empathy, and non-hierarchical interactions.

The UON team has now created a raft of guidance and training materials to help schools, social services, reception centres, mediation agencies and others in these countries.

Professionals who up-skill using these materials can also go on to train others, providing a long-lasting culture of knowledge, action, and support for migrant children.

The European Commission has already expressed interest in the possible development of more projects based on Child-UP methods and ambition.

The research partnership has also created an online resources and training portal with 13 modules and material to help professionals better work with migrant children and all children to value the many different knowledge and experiences they can bring into education.

There is also a digital archive of all research papers, media materials and associated policy papers related to Child-UP to stimulate further thought, conversations and research.

Covid-specific

The duration of the research meant that the pandemic impacted deadlines. But the researchers used this as a valuable opportunity to conduct adjunct research about children’s perceptions of Covid and thoughts on ‘lockdown learning’.

Researchers found in schools in the UK and Italy:

  • Uninspiringly, learning during lockdown worked for some children but not others. Almost universally recognised was the negative effect of lockdowns and its disruption to networks and friendships.
  • Migrant children aided their peers’ understanding of the impact of Covid, as they related stories about not being able to travel to see family overseas. This was powerful in contexts where teachers chose to promote children as authors of narratives and personal stories in the classroom.
  • Mutual sharing of personal information helped both teachers and their school students.
  • Home schooling was difficult, but it also offered children the first opportunity to take responsibility for themselves and younger siblings and relatives.

The project has received praise from leading EU figures, with recommendations that the UON-designed training is delivered to schools to support the positive inclusion of children who have fled war-torn Ukraine. Child-UP is also a key part of the European Toolkit for Schools and is available in 29 languages.

Dr Federico Farini, Professor of Sociology at the University of Northampton, said: “The whole outlook with Child-UP has been about understanding, developing and promoting integration in classrooms. And integration is a very important word, because if schools take an assimilationist approach – in other words, that migrant children need to “be like us” – the individuality of the children is overlooked and ignores the diversity they can bring to classrooms and their peers.

“It is with much joy that after a wide-ranging and fascinating period of work, the research team and I can share the results of the Child-UP project.”

Dr Jane Murray added: “I would like to thank everyone who took part in the research. Every one of the children, their parents and teachers are also authors of this research. Their stories and experiences have informed it every step of the way – Child-UP is a testament to all of them.

“Having access to good education is a fundamental human right and our research participants have helped pave the way for long-lasting developments to make sure other migrant children aren’t left out.”

Professor Claudio Baraldi, from University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, concludes: “Child-UP is now firmly at the centre of European thinking about this hugely important and topical aspect of education.

“We are now looking at how we can embed this interlinguistic, intercultural and empowering way of teaching and hybrid integration to create a lasting legacy for migrant children and for those who teach and support them.”

Find out more about the Child-UP project here.

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