“Learning is also a matter of heart and soul,” said the President of Slovenian Philanthropy Anica Mikuš Kos in the introduction of the online Forum on Learning and Education for an Inclusive Multicultural Society, organised on 20 January 2021 by the SIAE, SLOGA, a Platform of Non-governmental Organisations for Development, Global Education and Humanitarian Aid and Slovenian Philanthropy.
It is important to offer immigrants a positive experience, a lesson in something good. They have already experienced a lesson in something bad.
The panel on migration and multiculturalism in the education system, which took place as a part of the European project #MigratED, was led by Adriana Aralica from the SLOGA Platform. Last year, the project #MigratED received the Lifelong Learning Award for the best practice in the category Learning that empowers — The future of learning. Short videos, prepared as a part of the project #MigratED, one by the pupils of the Livada Elementary School, Ljubljana showing stories of pupils and a teacher of their multicultural school and the second by the students of II. gimnazija Maribor high school on forced migrations were the starting point for the discussion.
Barbara Urbanija, MSc. from the UNESCO Office explained that ‘learning to live together’ is one of the Delors four pillars of education and one of the basic principles of every UNESCO school, which are considered laboratories of ideas. Hanna Tefera, a student at the Gimnazija Bežigrad high school and an advocate of sustainable development goals at the Institute for African studies, emphasised that the issues of migration are not sufficiently included in the school curriculum; addressing these topics more appropriately would ensure the better well-being of immigrants in our society and better integration into society.
Zdenka Keuc, principal of the Kungota Elementary School and previously a long-time teacher at the II. gimnazija Maribor high school pointed out that the inclusion of immigrant children in elementary education is extremely difficult during the corona crisis and expressed her fear that “for these individuals, this is a year they have lost.” Goran Popović, principal of the Livada Elementary School, Ljubljana, which is special in Slovenia due to its diversity with a 90% share of non-Slovenian children, presented their practice of including immigrant children in education, overcoming the language barriers and promoting multiculturalism and tolerance at school. He concluded that “a well-received immigrant becomes a good fellow citizen who raises the quality of life in the country.” The discussion was concluded by the head of the project #MigratED at the SLOGA Platform Adriana Aralica, with a thought that for the realities of the globalised and co-dependent world, global education, which opens people’s eyes and minds as well as hearts, is an important tool for strengthening the global competencies of young people and educating tolerant global citizens.
As a part of the programme strand on mentoring as a support strategy for the inclusion of immigrant children, organised by Slovenian Philanthropy within the European project MINT — Mentoring for the integration of children affected by migration, Marina Uzelac presented the results of the project. She emphasised that establishing peer mentoring support for volunteers could be a good tool for helping immigrant children integrate into society. In a conversation that followed, based on their own experience of participating in the above-mentioned project, adolescent Fares Mikawi and volunteer Kaja Kadunec highlighted the importance of support in learning the Slovene language, the opportunity to meet new people and gain new experiences. Kaja pointed out that mentoring is actually mutual learning and that she also learned a lot from Fares. Next, the participants watched the video Good Morning, Maribor (in Slovenian) with messages from immigrant children who spoke about what they like in Maribor and Slovenia, what it was like when they came to the new country and what they learned from their volunteer mentors. Among other things, they pointed out that the most difficult thing for them when they came to Slovenia was not understanding the language and not being able to talk to their classmates.
Successful integration of refugee children into education and society can only be achieved by the participation of all those involved, emphasised Sonja Gole Ašanin, integration counsellor at the Government Office for the Support and Integration of Migrants. She believes it is important to provide adequate support to teachers and volunteers. She also stressed the importance of the need for tailored integration programmes, especially for refugee children who did not have the opportunity or have not been included in the education system for a longer period of time, the implementation of cultural mediators and assistants who could provide support in schools and the need to provide more hours for learning the Slovene language. Anica Mikuš Kos, President of Slovenian Philanthropy, empathetically and warmly pointed out that for refugee children, the school is the most important place of integration, and it is therefore important what happens at school and what experiences the child gains in the process of learning and in peer relationships. She also stressed that in addition to the institutional support provided by the state, and there should be even more of it, it is very important to activate civil society, as it is a quality addition to what the institutions offer. According to her, such action of civil society means spreading the idea and the practice of solidarity, which helps all children and adults in need.
A safe and supportive environment is crucial for the successful integration of immigrants, summed up the moderator of the strand Zvonka Pangerc Pahernik, MSc, from SIAE. It is provided by the system (the state), and it has been evident that the approach at this level is or should be interdepartmental and stable. At the local level, support is provided by institutions — especially AECs, which provide guidance services, various types of formal and non-formal education and learning, evaluation of previously acquired knowledge and much more. Adult educators — professionals are first and foremost people, only then teachers. They approach immigrants openly, with empathy, and at the same time, they learn a lot from them; therefore, the third element is actually us people. Mutual learning, respect, growth — all this gives rise to a new culture of coexistence that is inclusive, multicultural and multigenerational. The presented stories proved the relevance of the principle ‘nothing for immigrants without them, but only together with them’ — for their own and the wider good.
Mutual learning, respect, growth — all this gives rise to a new culture of coexistence that is inclusive, multicultural and multigenerational. The presented stories proved the relevance of the principle ‘nothing for immigrants without them, but only together with them’ — for their own and the wider good.
The forum was attended by sociologist Simona Zavratnik, PhD from the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Ljubljana, who commented on the key elements and messages for an inclusive multicultural society. While migration is a global phenomenon, local responses to challenges are needed. The presence of prejudices, stereotypes and intolerance in society cannot be overlooked, but we are all co-creators of public opinion because migration is our history and present. “The model of the future we want and demand consists of social solidarity and cooperation,” she concluded.
The recording (in Slovenian) is available on the EAAL website, where all materials will also be published.
Adriana Aralica (firstname.lastname@example.org), SLOGA Platform, Marina Uzelac (email@example.com), Slovenian Philantrophy, Zvonka Pangerc Pahernik, MSc (firstname.lastname@example.org), SIAE