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Electronic Platform for Adult Learning in Europe



Basic Skills for Integration: online discussion

by Zsolt Vincze

Welcome to the online discussion on Basic Skills for Integration organised by the EBSN EPALE team! This event is also a pre-discussion for the EBSN Annual Conference (link is external) to be held in Luxembourg on the 1st and 2nd June. We will build the discussion on three blogs and will discuss for one and a half days along the topics below:

The discussion will start at 14.00 CET on Thursday, 18th May and will be closed at 17.00 CET on Friday, 19th May. We will post a summary of the discussion early in the following week. David Mallows (EPALE Thematic Coordinator, UK) and Graciela Sbertoli (Skills Norway) will be the key experts in moderating the discussion.

Whether you are a decision maker, a researcher or a teacher don’t miss your chance to share your experience in working with adult migrants!

**Make sure you click on "reply" under the specific discussion thread that you want to comment on. Please note that the discussion may be over several pages, so please refresh the page from time to time and scroll to the bottom.**

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  • David Mallows's picture

    The three blogs that we have published to stimulate this discussion draw on experience of migrant language education in Germany, England, the Netherlands, Denmark and Slovenia. If you are from one of these countries we would love to hear your thoughts on the contents of these blogs and if you are not, what is the  situation for migrant language educaton in your country? 

  • Etelberto Costa's picture

    David thanks for your suggestion about authors' and others' views on the question of teacher knowledge: should we include teachers’ digital skills development in initial teacher training?  And their use of digital resources to support learning?

    In my view to include teachers’ digital skills development in initial teacher training is not the answer because, at least in Portugal and other EU countries that are doing that for some years last didn´t reach relevant results from that. Teachers must learn how to improve their students learning BY Doing it at their initial training as well as along their lives as teachers but than rather in collaboration with their peers and students (projects for own learning). 

    If we claim for a (re) volution in our schools/training centers we have to change methodologies, contexts and content. 

  • Graciela Sbertoli's picture

    ... work in Portugal, Etelberto? I find your answer very interesting - thank you!

    I wonder if your teacher trainees

    - have access to training that makes use of digital tools and devices

    - are encouraged to experiment with didactical models based on those tools

    - can cooperate in describing adequate models and sharing those with other teachers.

    From what I have seen here in Norway, we tend to underestimate the time and energy needed to really become a "digitally minded teacher". We do need to reorganize teacher training, but cannot expect miracles either. I'd be grateful for more comments on this issue!


  • David Mallows's picture

    Etelberto, you make a very good point. It's by using digital devices and engaging with the possibilities that these devices offer that we realise their potential and become motivated to use them. What Steve Reder calls 'digital taste'. So, we first need teachers to get a 'taste' for digital before we can expect them to engage their students effectively. It isn't just about equipping them with digital skills.

    What conditions do you think we need to create to support teachers in getting this 'taste'? Presumably infrastructure and equipment is the minimum requirement? But surely it's more than just that? 

  • Christa NIEUWBOER's picture

    Language socialization: interesting blog, in which three points trigger my response: 1) differentiation 2) everyday communication 3) volunteers. I fully ascribe to those points, however, in my view there is one other option which is not considered enough: the role of non-formal education. 

    This type of education is very important for migrants without formal education experience and without work/active participation in the host society.

    The Unesco figures of out of school children worldwide ( show that migrants from certain regions do not have basic education or little experience with non-comparable types of education. For them, classical language courses in L2 (chalk and talk) often lead to stagnation and failure. It is very demanding to learn a language without your own mother tongue as a reference (try learning Chinese without reference to your L1!). However, learning at the workplace is not an option either, because they are unemployed and have low employability.

    So what to do? 

    We take non-formal learning as the best way to support these migrants in their efforts to integrate in the host society. The facilitator is a social worker. The lessons are in the neighbourhood of the participants (many don't know how to use public transport). The content is based on highly relevant daily life issues: health, family communication, social skills, emotional well-being and building self-confidence, parenting. The facilitator is a role model in all aspects. Conversations are in L1 (it takes 7 years for a well-educated person to adequately express feelings and nuances in a foreign language). Excercizes are in L2 (for instance: talks with a teacher).

    So, yes, it is expensive in terms of contact-time with a skilled facilitator: € 2.500 per person (groups of 15, 325 contact hours). But consider the results: less stress, less tensions in the family, more self-confidence, more understanding of the host society, more active participation. And also, through this approach: the participants' language proficiency rises one level from A0 to A1 or A1 to A2 CEFR.

    More (animation/research/publications/handbook) on:



  • David Mallows's picture

    That sounds a very impressive, very learner-centred system. It also appears to have that elusive 'joined-up' quality, with the non-formal programme supporting progression into and through the formal.

    Non-formal learning certainly has an important role to play in all adult education programmes - not least in migrant language education.In England I'm afraid that resources are too tight for this sort of activity to be properly funded and so NGOs step in and do what they can. Often such work is carried out by volunteers. However, they usually lack the expertise to work with learners with such complex needs - as you point out the facilitator needs to be highly skilled - and so the results are not as impressive in terms of language progression. However, the socio-psychological benefits of such provision are very important, even if language acquisition is slow. Indeed I would suggest that if non-formal provision (as well as informal) tried to be less like formal provision, with a teacher and a curriculum and targets/exams/levels etc. then we would make much better use of the skills of the volunteer and give the volunteer a more pleasant experience.

    Thanks for sharing the link - I'll explore the IDEAL website and look forward to discussing it at the conference.


  • Fergus Dolan's picture

    Hi Celia, David and others, really enjoyed the digital literacy discussion. For some tips on using technology when you have limited equipment and or connectivity, have a look at Julie Goreham's tips. Julie is the Digital Engagement Team Leader with the Campaign for Learning in the UK. We videod her at a NALA conference:



  • Graciela Sbertoli's picture

    Thanks a lot for this, Fergus! That video is a gem.

    I particularly like the third option. I think we really need to start using mobile devices much more - and actually forget computers a bit. I don't know if this is true for all European countries, but we find here in Norway that most migrants do have a smart phone. In several AE centers they are now developing models to use what they call "everyday apps", the type of apps Julie mentions and also apps for bus or train schedules, buying bus tickets online, chevking the weather, etc. Very interesting possibilities for sharing of experiences round this issue!

  • David Mallows's picture

    Hi Fergus, I like her focus on enhancing learning through technology. I see lots of teachers using 'Interactive Whiteboards' and other bits of technology in the classroom without adding anything that couldn't have been done with a normal whiteboard (or even a blackboard and chalk).

    Are there other videos of particpants at the conference?

  • David Mallows's picture

    I enjoyed reading this blog and would be interested in the authors' and others' views on the question of teacher knowledge: should we include teachers’ digital skills development in initial teacher training?  And their use of digital resources to support learning?



  • Graciela Sbertoli's picture

    Thank you for your comment, David! I hope Celia will comment as well, but here is my view:

    Yes, definitely. We need to include A LOT of digital training in both the initial and continuous training of staff. They not only need to develop a good level of digital competence - they also need training in developing didactically sound models. And the best way to do that is by making abundant use of digital tools in the teacher training itself. Which means of course that we also need to re-train the trainers of trainers...

    Does anybody here know of countries/regions where this is already in function?

  • Joyce Black's picture

    Graciela et al

    you may be interested in some work that we are doing as part of our UK National Coordinator role for the EAAL - 

    We are currently trialling and piloting a number of CPD modules that we have written or commissioned to support adult educators increase their effective use of technology wth adults who are currently under-represented in education. 

    L&W Head of Digital Susan Easton is leading this work. We think that the content of the modules will have resonance with a lot of staff who are less confident with their own digital skills to be able to made best use of technology in the learning environment with students in a range of contexts.

  • Graciela Sbertoli's picture

    That sounds really very interesting, Joyce! When can we expect to be able to see the results of that work? I am sure that many countries will be eager to see if they can adapt the tools to their own languages. Will that be possible?

  • Joyce Black's picture

    We will be using the AEPro platform to pilot so individuals could get involved that way - but we will have final modules ready by end of October at the latest. 

  • Celia Sokolowsky's picture

    I do absolutely agree with you, Graciela. Teacher training concerning the use and didactical embedding of digitally assisted learning is a key issue.

    Our experience shows that teacher often think, that it is all about functionality of digital tools; they tend to value didactical questions as minor issue... But this is not true. Sustainable teacher training has to not only include but attach high priority to didactical questions.

  • Graciela Sbertoli's picture

    I so agree with you, Celia! And I think that decision makers often underestimate the time and attention needed to develop sustainable models. I know there is a lot of developmental work going on in Germany, the UK, the Nordic countries... We do need to gather the insights gained, share experiences and models. Looking forward to getting some new insights in this discussion and of course in the Luxembourg conference!

  • David Mallows's picture

    In the blog about the German system the author says that the requirements for the approval of teaching staff has been reduced again and again, but also that only certified teachers are permitted to teach the courses. I would love to hear from Karsten or others working in Germany about what the requirements are for teachers in Germany - what is a certified teacher?

    And for those in other countries – what does it mean to be a qualified teacher in migrant language education?

  • Karsten Schneider's picture

    David, first of all you are of course permitted to teach in an integration course if you have a university degree in German as a second/foreign language. The rest ist a bit more complicated. Just to give you a rough idea: If you have a university degree in German philology or another modern philology or you are a school teacher for a different subject than German, you have to participate in aditional training that is defined by the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees and consists of 70 lessons (the shortened aditional training). If you have a university degree in pedagogy, andragogy or social work and you have only small experience as a language teacher you need to take 140 lessons of further training as defined by the Federal Office. On the other hand if you have at least 500 lessons of teaching experience and the same qualification you can participate in the shortened training.

    These criteria are defined in a matrix

    In the last two years the Federal Office reduced the amount of teaching experience necessary to participate in the additional training. And as more and more teachers for integration courses with alphabetization were needed, they decided that you could teach in those courses even if you only had the permission for the regular integration course. Furthermore, today you can teach in integration courses without any experience or qualification in adult education - if you are a school teacher in German or a different modern language.

  • Graciela Sbertoli's picture

    Thank you for that explanation, Karsten! I realize that some times one needs to accept pragmatic measures that need to be implemented because of unforeseen circumstances - as in the case of the huge increase in the number of immigrants. The important question, though, is: are those new measures intended to be only temporary? Will these probably-not-fully-prepared teachers be expected to take further training later on?

  • David Mallows's picture

    Thanks Karsten - a complicated situation!

    You identify a number of different elements of the knowledge that teachers need: language learning / initial literacy / adult pedagogy / working with adult migrants/refugees. Each of these are complex issues which require a lot of study by prospective teachers.

    I wonder whether we can afford to demand such a lot from those who want to work in this area (both in financial terms and also because of the need to recruit so many teachers), or if in fact we have no choice but to demand that they have this knowledge because that what is required to adequately support migrants in acquiring the host language.

  • Graciela Sbertoli's picture

    ... posted under Karsten's blog.

    We have now closed the possibility of commenting under the blogs, so that the discussion continues here. This is what the Dutch colleague has posted:

    "In the Netherlands there are 600 hours up to CEF A2 in an integration programme. A programme concerning the Dutch society and an orientation to the job market included. However CEF  A2 isn't satisfactory to participate in different situations and to obtain a job you are qualified for in your home country. Nevertheless our government is considering A2 as a standard.

    Jonneke Prins MA
    teacher Dutch as a Second Language
    adult learning
    Kellebeek College
    ROC West Brabant"

  • Karsten Schneider's picture

    Dear Jonneke,

    I totally agree with you. CEF A2 is not enough language competence for effective integration. I am very glad that the German government has established the integration system more than 10 years ago aiming for B1. Nevertheless, in cooperation with course providers and language experts we have allways argued that at least B2 is needed for integration in the labour market. The new German programme implemented last year is providing work-related courses at the B2 level. Courses on the C1 and the C2-level are being developed. 

    We will present this approach at the EBSN conference in Luxembourg at 1.-2. June.

  • ellen merethe magnus's picture

    In Norway we starting a compementary study programme for teachers with a refugee background this Fall. Initially, the programme was designed with the general language reguirements for admittance to higher education. However, we quickly realised the need for rethinking about the language requirements. So this Fall we are accepting applicants at B1 level in Norwegian. Students with B1 Norwegian language skills are required to take a Norwegian language course bringing them to B2-level within the first semester. We think that learning the language with a clear purpose, i.e. being able to practice as a teacher in Norway, would  motivate and possibly speed up the learning process. We are anxious to find out if this is a successful approach or not.

  • Graciela Sbertoli's picture

    Thank you for this comment, Ellen Merete! I think this is a wonderful example of an approach I think we should use more: taking interested participants at the level they are in, and helping them achieve the level they will need.

    We will all be following with great interest the results of this project from the Oslo and Akershus University College!

  • David Mallows's picture

    That sounds like a very sensible approach. Is the language learning contextualised in any way? Will they be talking about teaching and perhaps learning about the Norwegian educaiton system at the same time?

  • ellen merethe magnus's picture

    Yes, learning the language is very much contextualised. In parallell with the language course the students will learn about the Norwegian education system, relevant laws, regulations, etc. The students will also be out in schools to observe for 20 days during the semester, with supervision and reflection included. Ordinary practical training in schools requires B2 language skills. We will also offer a Norwegian course to bring the students to C1-level.

  • Graciela Sbertoli's picture

    Thank you so much for this, Ellen Merete! I am sure many Epale readers will be eager to know more. Maybe we can promise a blog about this in the not too distant future? :-)

  • ellen merethe magnus's picture

    We can write a blog on this topic and share our ideas and the processes prior to development of the study programmes

  • Christa NIEUWBOER's picture

    It would be great to update this survey from 2013, if conditions for language requirements have changed:


  • Graciela Sbertoli's picture

    Yes, there is need for more documentation about what is happening in this field. Let's see if the EBSN can cooperate with the Council of Europe to make that happen!

  • Christa NIEUWBOER's picture

    General website of the Council of Europe with lots of tools and guidelines:

    Recently published book (open access): LIAM Conference / De Gruyter

    The Linguistic Integration of Adult Migrants / L’intégration linguistique des migrants adultes

    Some lessons from research / Les enseignements de la recherche

  • Graciela Sbertoli's picture

    This is indeed very valuable documentation that all participants in this discussion should be aware of!

  • Celia Sokolowsky's picture

    As Karsten has stated, any person who does not have an university degress in German as a Foreign/Second Language has to take 70 or 140 hours of additional training.

    Subjects in this trainings are: basic knowledge about second language acquisition and the target group, teaching methods / forms of work, teaching materials. Digitally assisted learning is ignored in the curriculum for teacher training just as digitalization is ignored in the framework curriculum for integration courses (the official reference for all textbook publishers who want their materaial to be approved for the use in integration courses).

    In the curriculum for teacher training in integration courses with literacy training (this is a different additional teacher training measure) only 4 hours are scheduled for extra information on "digital media" in the classroom, while the use of digital tools is ignored in the sections on methods & materials.

    Of course, a good and well-informed trainer can introduce these issues to the seminar but it is not at all requested by the Federal Office that is setting the standards.

  • Graciela Sbertoli's picture

    David, you make an interesting point about the insufficiency of formal learning as training arena for language acquisition.

    Here in Norway we have started to develop (only a start!) an interesting model, where students are trained to use their mobile devices as a tool for self-learning. The current policy focus in Norway is to place immigrants in a work situation (as a sort of trainees) as soon as possible. They spend time in the classroom but also at a work place. And they are taught to videotape situations they found linguistically challenging, so that they can study the different alternative solutions and train liguistic patterns of response. I like the approach because it is "learning to learn".

  • David Mallows's picture

    This is a good example Graciela. This sort of self-learning is of great value, but many learners will need support 1. with the concept of self-learning 2. to find solutions to the difficult linguistic situations that they encounter and record. Connecting this sort of initiative to the resources of formal learning (principally qualified teachers, but also learning resources) would seem to be a god way of maximising the benefit it brings. Yet, in teh VIME study we have seen very little of this sort of 'joined-up' working woth collaboration between informal/non-formal and formal sectors.

  • Karsten Schneider's picture

    There is a programme of the German Ministry for Education called "Einstieg Deutsch" - "Starting with German". It is administrated by the DVV (German Association for Adult Education). The courses comprise formal language learning using the e-learning portal  (60-200 lessons) with self-learning (30-100 lessons) supported by volunteer teaching assistances. The third part are excursions to practice the language.

  • Christa NIEUWBOER's picture

    Hi Karsten, 


    Thank you, interesting combination. For migrants without formal learning experience we recommend to strengthen the nonformal component with a psychosocial programme of 325 contact hours, including excursions. See also my other comment:

  • Carlos Ribeiro's picture

    Working with basic skills aiming at the integration of migrants implies creating a coherent and specific ecosystem because the use of the resources of the formal system of support to the development of competencies fails in what is essential: the adaptation to the subject / individual and the relation with practical aspects of the Process of integration.
    The process should incorporate:
    - the definition of the subject / individual priorities (monitoring system oriented to the People's Power to Act);
    - an operational relationship with the world of organizations, with possibilities of testing to interact;
    - an open and flexible approach to learning, in a model similar to the Second Chance Schools, with a pedagogical approach based on the acquired knowledge and the logic of the project and the work to be done.

  • Graciela Sbertoli's picture

    Thank you for your input, Carlos! I like the concept of ecosystem in this context! In Norway we talk about an integrated approach, and I think we mean the same thing. One of the interesting recent developments at policy level in this country has been the opening up of the national program for basic skills at the work place (Skills Plus), so that now it also involves volunteering associations. Many of these have now got project grants and are using them to train migrants in all basic skills, including of course also the second language. I don't think, however, that we should completely turn away from the formal system. What we need is to make it so flexible that it can take in the need for contextualisation and provide individual paths, so that each adult can be empowered to fully participate in society and working life while at the same time acquiring formal qualifications which will make integration all the more efficient.

  • David Mallows's picture

    I agree that our formal systems often fail to meet the needs of migrants, but I do think that any ecosystem to support adult migrants in learning the host language and integrating into their new society would be strionger if it also incorporates the formal system. One of the problems we have in England (and other countries) is that formal / non-formal / informal parts of the system do not work in a coherent way together.

    I like your focus on 'adaptation to the subject' (learner-centred) and the fact that you recognise how importnaqt 'practical aspects of the Process of integration' are to migrants.

    Could you say a bit more about each of your bullet points? Or point us to any resources that discuss these?

    • What is the People's Power to Act?
    • Does an 'operational relationship with the world of organizations' refer to empowering learners to engage with government services, employers, retailers etc?
    • I'm quite sceptical about Second Chance Schools - what is it about the pedagogy used there that you feel is appropriate? I think your first point (acquired knowledge) is 'building on what adults know', but I am not sure what 'the logic of the project and the work to be done.'




  • Ingrid Wilhelmsen's picture

    In the region of Sandefjord, a coastal town in the south of Norway, we are trying out a model in cooperation with many relevant stakeholders, including the employment and integration stakeholders and the social partners, to make sure migrants can be integrated in working life as soon as possible, at the same time as they are following training both in the Norwegian language and in the formal education they need to achieve qualifications.

    The model will be presented in more detail at the EBSN conference in Luxembourg, and we will also be presenting some documentation on Epale very soon.

  • Graciela Sbertoli's picture

    This is indeed a very interesting model and we will be looking forward to hearing much more about it in Sandefjord! 

    For those of you who will be unable to join us there: continue to follow this discussion in the weeks to come. We will post here links to documentation from the conference. As Ingrid says, the Sandefjord model will also be presented here on Epale very shortly.

  • Christa NIEUWBOER's picture

    This poster presentation during the ECDP conference 2017 may be of interest to you. 



    Educational courses for migrants are aimed to support their efforts to participate in a host society. In this presentation the differences of design will be identified between common classroom curricula, mostly focussed on language acquisition, and participatory semi-structured curricula, concentrating on the lifespan. Research suggests that migrants without formal learning experience benefit more from the participatory lifespan approach, including attention for the family context.


    In seven pilot projects, carried out in three European countries (N = 100),  a redesign of civic education programme was tested and evaluated, taking the most relevant issues for the learners as a starting point for course development. Classic civic education mostly instructs dominant and stereotype cultural habits and beliefs by taking goals or tests as the starting point of design, serving mixed groups regarding age, gender and cultural background. Participatory methods foster the development of new ways of awareness and coping with the differences between cultures by taking a different approach, providing a safe and conducive learning environment, taking the most relevant issues for the learners and their life experiences as a starting point and moving towards the goals one step at the time.


    The evaluations of the participatory pilot projects show that the learners improved in self-efficacy, participated in the host society more, improved their second language proficiency and showed more insight and skill in their parenting roles.


    Several key principles for the design of participatory adult learning have been identified during the pilot projects, especially suited for migrants without formal education experience, informing future development for civic education and social integration of migrant families in western societies.



  • Graciela Sbertoli's picture

    Thank you so much for your input, Christa. I find this extremely interesting and will forward your information to Norwegian colleagues who I know are very interested! You may be hearing from us soon! :-)

  • David Mallows's picture

    Thank you all for such a stimulating and varied set of contributions. Lots of excellent food for thought. I will produce a summary early next week that will be posted here and shared with delgates at the EBSN conference in Luxembourg.

    In the meantime we will leave the comments open here , so please carry on sharing and reflecting on the role of basic skills in integration.




  • Hayat Faqeer's picture

    History museums and Art galleries may help learn essential information for more expansion in a non-formal setting.

    If migrants immigrated from a ware zone, what significant factors should we have in mind in the new host country teaching process? 

    Cross-cultural content might be important for both studnets and tutors to reinforce socio-political, cultural and religious understanding.