How Schools Around the World Manage Education for Refugees


SEATTLE — Being displaced from one’s home changes everything. The landscape is different, friends get separated, and in many cases, family members get left behind. Children who were once thriving students are now uncertain of their future, making education for refugees a critical area of study and policy action.

For many child refugees, education is no longer an option. Instead, they work to help support their family. If there was a chance for upward mobility by way of education, the hope of that is either diminished or lost altogether.

However, there are countries and cities where education for refugees is a priority and systems are getting established so that refugee children can still receive an education. With any new system there is a trial and error period, setbacks and criticism, but perhaps these lead to better opportunities for refugees.

Refugee Education in Sweden

Schools in Sweden began running into the problem of some schools taking in more refugee children than others. This disparity in enrollment causes problems for those schools’ resources. This situation happened because one urban area called Botkyrka, south of Stockholm, houses many refugees when they enter the country. Currently, the school there is closest to the most non-Swedish students.

One solution was to offer free bus services so students could be spread across more schools. This solution would relieve some of the pressure within these school systems. One school participating in this is named Falkbergsskolan. Falkbergsskolan has also set up a preparatory class specifically for refugees and taught in multiple languages. After three terms, a student is ready to enter regular classes.

A drawback to bussing students is the potential chaos of children going to school far from home.  Also, many people think it is only a temporary solution to the issue at hand. Teacher shortages also add to the schools’ diminishing resources. Although the system is not perfect, Sweden is working to ensure that education for refugees is available and that they get integrated into society.

Education For Refugees in Bowling Green, KY

Last year Bowling Green, KY, opened a high school just for immigrant and refugee students. GEO International High School now has about 185 students and is related to the Internationals Network for Public Schools in New York City. This organization has managed to educate and encourage new immigrants and refugee students.

The school teaches English along with subjects like math and history through group-oriented projects.  This teaching style is used to allow students to develop skills such as vocabulary and creative thinking. Group work also allows for the social support aspect of the school where students can make friends and help each other.

Skip Cleavinger, the director of Warren County’s English language learner programs, said in an article in Washington Monthly that segregation was not a factor in the creation of the school, but that it was about “instructional support.”

Education for Refugees in Germany

Berlin has implemented two tools to help refugee and immigrant children integrate into the school system.  These two tools are “welcome classes” and summer school. Welcome classes are meant to prepare new primary and secondary students for regular classes through language and cultural lessons. Summer school is mainly for additional German lessons.

Going to the summer classes prevents students from falling behind or forgetting their lessons over the break. According to students and teachers in the system, students who are going through the welcome class and summer school progress into life in Germany successfully.

Education For Refugees in Lebanon

In 2014, nearly half the Syrians in Lebanon were under the age of 18. That same year, the Lebanese government implemented an afternoon “second-shift” in schools so that even without proof of legal residency or paying school enrollment fees, formal education for refugees was still available. Many refugee children attend a school in the mornings as well, which gets taught by Syrian teachers aided by Lebanese curriculum. This fact means long days for the children, but the educational outcomes are significantly improved.

One noted downfall of this system has been that the teachers are exhausted by the end of the day. Another stumbling block is that because of the economic pressure on children to work many just stop going to school completely. Even before this system, the public schools were having a hard time keeping students enrolled because of the lack of resources.

The critics of these systems claim that they can foster segregation, but supporters say they allow refugee and immigrant children the chance to have hands-on, specialized learning in unfamiliar places.

Comprehensive education systems for refugees currently do not exist, but it is up to humanity to undertake the responsibility of developing systems that support all children having the opportunity to go to school. Continued support for the programs discussed above will allow the education of the mass of migrants coming leaving dangerous regions for a hope of a better life.

Emily Arnold

Photo: Flickr


About Author

Emily Arnold

Emily lives in Roswell, GA. Emily has a B.S. in Communication Studies and a minor in sociology. One of Emily's life goals is to hold a baby panda bear.

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