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Electronic Platform for Adult Learning in Europe



EPALE – Summary of the discussion on 27 April 2016 “What are the obstacles for migrants to access and complete adult education programmes?”

by EPALE Moderator
Language: EN

Moderator: Marcelle Bugre

This is a summary of Day 2 of EPALE's discussion on migrant education. Don't miss the summary of Day 1 and Day 3.

Besides the moderator and EPALE representatives there were participants from 16 countries: Belgium, Croatia, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, the Netherlands, Romania, Spain, Turkey, and the UK.

The discussion indicated that migrants face a significant number of barriers in trying to access and complete adult education programmes. These include the following:

  • the ability to speak the host country language

  • digital skills to access online learning

  • community/sense of belonging/social networks

  • time to participate in learning

  • legal status/right to residence, e.g. as refugees, asylum seekers

  • health - physical and psychological

  • safe and fun opportunities/spaces/environments to try out new skills

  • lack of access to the planning of learning

  • no recognition of existing qualifications

  • lack of information/awareness of relevant adult learning programmes

  • lack of confidence to undertake training in the country migrants have moved to

  • administrative barriers - e.g. navigating complex bureaucratic systems, completion of detailed registration forms

  • lack of financial resources

  • negative/discriminatory experiences deterring migrants from undertaking training

  • lack of knowledge of what state support is available – particularly in those Member States where there is a separation of responsibility for supporting migrants (e.g. Justice and Home Affairs, Education, Employment).

Below I have highlighted some of the key points raised:

1. Barriers related to language and learning in formal classroom-based environments

Language is a strong barrier that prevents access to education, employment and a whole host of other key services (such as housing, etc.). Requirements of proficiency in more than one language (e.g. in Malta or Luxembourg) can lead to increased obstacles for migrants, as well as additional costs for learning, as many migrants work in low-wage jobs.




Participants in the discussions felt that language teaching in the national language excludes many migrants from joining these courses due to administrative/bureaucratic issues.



Others commented that migrants may see their host country as a transit country and may not wish to learn the language.



Digital exclusion can also hamper language learning, especially if this requires online access.




In some countries the influx of refugees has led to a growing demand for language learning, but a lower quality of teaching as quality assurance processes are not as strict.




Attitudes of migrants towards learning may also be a barrier when they regard learning as cumbersome and not leading to better employment.




Dr Linda Morrice, from the University of Sussex, referred to language as “one of the most significant barriers” and pointed out the dangers of a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach in developing language learning programmes for migrants. Participants added their experiences to support this statement.




Inexpensive programmes using mobile applications and online courses, although not ideal, can be highly useful especially for newly arrived migrants and refugees, and can save time.




Age-appropriate quality resources are sometimes absent and this hinders adult educators to support students to achieve important goals.




EPALE Ireland had some valuable input from the NALA-ESOL conference (Migration Trends), which took place on the same day as this discussion on barriers. Participants at the conference reported the following key barriers:



2. Social inclusion and cultural barriers

Establishing welcoming networks, where people experience social and cultural dialogue, is important for providing a safe space where migrants not only learn language, but make meaningful connections. Examples include:

·Small world project – Belfast Friendship Club

·Kitchen on the Run project – Integration at the Kitchen table

However, this type of networking is not always possible for new refugees, who may be living in temporary accommodation and may take much longer until they settle in the community. While in transition, they may be staying in centres where they experience intra-group and inter-group conflicts, and where they fail to connect with fellow refugees due to fear and insecurity.




The context of inclusion differs – some countries are just starting to experience an influx of migrants, while others have already developed and tested programmes several times (having undergone several waves of migration over the past decades). A number of participants pointed out that migrants themselves should be involved in the planning, implementation and evaluation of these programmes. Adult education programmes can also easily involve migrant educators and communities in order to be more participatory.

Cultural barriers can be strong when there is fear of migrants that is accentuated by the media, a negative image of “the other”, and a sense of superiority about one’s own culture.




3. Accessing employment and training

Employment is also crucial for the integration of refugees and migrants, and therefore early skill matching can be beneficial in meeting labour market needs and automatically providing early integration opportunities for migrants.



An article by the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI) reports that certain employment practices can be a barrier to integration, especially in situations of labour exploitation, low wage trap, rigid labour migration policies, the insufficient recognition of skills and qualifications, and in policies that have a negative impact on family life (such as restrictive reunification policies and labour market inactivity of spouses). Many of these barriers were confirmed by participants in the discussions.

4. Mental health and well-being

Trauma suffered in the country of origin or in transition due to conflict, war and other reasons, can be a strong barrier for integration and learning.






5. Institutional barriers – access, assessment and accreditation

First, some policies may restrict adult education to specific groups, and leave other groups unable to access expensive courses or courses of high quality, due to a lack of funds. As contexts change EU states can change the way they provide programmes and services. New migrant influxes may cause governments to spend more on equipping professionals to provide particular services for migrants.

Often the qualifications of migrants may be downgraded, and recognition of formal qualifications may depend on bilateral agreements between states. There is an attempt to establish a ‘European professional card’, but barriers in skill recognition and validation can lead to frustration, demotivation, and migrants starting courses from scratch and wasting precious time.

Finding collaborative solutions may be hampered by the lack of coordination between different institutions and bodies, and may result in single interventions and school-based levels, which is inadequate.

Dr Natalija Vrecer from the Slovenian institute for Adult Education says:

“Many...remain in the receiving country without all the necessary documents about their qualifications and education”

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