/epale/en/file/migrant-education-epale-0Migrant education EPALE
Professor Katarina Popović shared her reflections on what adult learning does and what more it can do to help migrants coming to Europe.
In the last few years migration rocketed to the top of the priority list in adult education. In an extremely short time, a highly political issue, which had been met with humanitarian interest at best, became a hot topic in adult education. The adult education community should be proud of itself – fast reaction, being on the ‘right side of history’, helping people in one of the most difficult situations that could occur in one’s life.
What was done?
Adult education organisations embraced the new target group and opened the doors for participants with numerous courses and adapted curricula and organisational forms. Adult learning professionals were advised and supported via teaching forms adapted to specific migrant groups, their learning styles, educational background and professional experience.
The offered courses consisted mainly of:
- language courses, including ‘some culture’ that will help the integration of immigrants and their entry into the job market;
- new or additional skills required for their new careers and employment;
- initiatives and programmes for the recognition of prior learning and previously obtained competencies.
What are the disadvantages of this approach?
Basically, nothing is wrong with these measures – they are necessary – but…
… they are not enough
Employment-oriented measures are the first step, but they should be accompanied by:
a) other educational measures – truly empowering and emancipatory education, and
b) broader social, economic and cultural actions.
It is too much to expect that education alone can solve all the problems related to migrants. As powerful as adult education might be, it can be successful as part of a set of measures.
… this approach tends to be outdated
The approach tends to develop an old, paternalist vision of integration, which is very close to assimilation, where the dominating culture shapes migrants like the backing pan shapes the cake. Less is done to support the development of migrants’ new cultural identity in a dynamic exchange with the hosting culture.
… this kind of integration is a one-way street
Migrants are expected to adapt to the host society, trying to achieve the predefined goals in the most efficient way, while the majority remains quite passive. There is a need for educational measures for the host population as well, as it can often be characterised by prejudices, xenophobia and hostility which drive migrants to isolation.
Prevention vs. treatment
Even if all this is done successfully, adult education could fail in its main mission. Helping people in need – yes; embracing and supporting minorities – yes; working for the dignity of human beings and supporting inclusion – yes; so what is missing?
As much as education can do to help people and societies to solve their problems, its main task should be to prevent these problems –make people aware of the causes of the problem, understand the connections and backgrounds, reflect on the actions and anticipate the consequences.
It is no surprise that adult education in Europe is busy with the migrants. But it is hardly doing anything to prevent the problem. And by that I do not mean stopping migrants from coming to Europe, but preventing the situations that make them leave their homes.
Can adult education do more?
Can adult education be analytic, reflective, deep, help European citizens to ‘read the global world’ and be more active as citizens? Of course it can, although it’s not an easy task. But that does not make it less important. There are several areas where adult education can play a critical role that aims at long-term solutions and not just palliative measures:
Enlighten citizens on situations across the globe
Citizens should be informed about the situations in immigrants’ home countries, the causes for the wars, conflicts and poverty, and the interconnectedness of European and global politics. It is political education in its most valuable form: one that helps to create global citizens. This means that adult education should not only provide information and share knowledge, but it should also help us to avoid falling into what Pope Francis called ‘globalisation of indifference’.
Enlighten citizens on the role their own countries and political leaders have in the world
Adult education should make European citizens aware of the role their own countries and political leaders have in the world of politics. These citizens should actively control their governments and monitor the politics done in their name. Whenever a country buys or sells weapons, they will be used somewhere. Adult education should encourage people to ask questions – where, why, and what will the consequences be. Otherwise, the existing programmes for immigrants will not help much – except the few lucky enough to fall into the ‘immigration quotas’. As the journalist Wolfgang Bauer once said: ‘We need to stop the wars in the Middle East from robbing Europe of its concept of humanity.’
Stimulate critical thinking
Humanism is not enough; adult education should use all means of formal and non-formal education and learning to increase critical reception of media news, widespread xenophobia, hostile interpretations and populist misuse of the migrant crisis. This could be done by analysing migration throughout history and its role in creating modern civilisation, by showing the positive economic impact of migration and cultural richness that it brings. Most importantly, it should offer knowledge and support critical thinking about the real causes of the problems faced by European citizens, in order not to accuse immigrants for ‘taking jobs’, ‘emptying the budgets’ and ‘ruining our culture’...
Towards a modern enlightenment
Who should be held accountable for the failures, what are the roots of the problems, and what we can do about it – these are tasks for the new, modern enlightenment. The ‘migrant crisis’ reminds us that we have neglected them...
We would like to invite you to join EPALE’s live discussion on the role and challenges of adult learning in helping migrants to integrate in their host country, and how it can foster tolerance and cultural understanding. The discussion will be in English and will take place on this page on 31 May 2018. It will be moderated by EPALE Thematic Coordinator Gina Ebner.
We hope to see you there!
Katarina Popović is Professor and Scholar at the University of Belgrade, Secretary General of the International Council for Adult Education, President of the Serbian Adult Education Society, member of the International Adult and Continuing Education Hall of Fame and Editor-in-Chief of the journal ‘Andragogic Studies’.