Education International
Education International

Educating refugee children becomes an unofficial theme in Berlin

published 3 March 2016 updated 8 March 2016

With Germany as the backdrop, the plight of refugee children and their education opportunities have become a focus at the Sixth International Summit on the Teaching Profession, where teachers’ unions are meeting with education ministers.

The official theme may be “Teachers’ professional learning and growth: creating the conditions to achieve quality teaching for excellent learning outcomes,” but the attention of teacher unions and education ministers at the Sixth International Summit on the Teaching Profession (ISTP) has turned toward the refugee crisis.

“When teachers teach their classes they do not teach a category or label, such as ‘refugees,’ they teach children; children whose lives have been traumatised in ways most of us can’t imagine,” said Education International (EI) General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen in his powerful opening remarks. His speech followed visits to Berlin schools to see and experience refugee welcome classes first-hand. Van Leeuwen, who was deeply moved by the children he met, recalled one “Syrian girl from Aleppo who told us yesterday she wanted to become a teacher, an English language teacher.”

Education International’s German affiliates, the GEW and VBE, organised the visits so that the teacher union delegations could see how refugee children are being integrated into Germany.

Teacher leadership, an ongoing focus of the Summits, has taken on greater significance in Germany after more than 100 thousand refugee children were welcomed into classrooms in 2015.

“One of our teacher union leaders in this country is receiving death threats; death threats for standing up for the education of refugee children. If that’s not a good example of outstanding teacher leadership, the term we like to use in these summits, then I have no idea what is,” said van Leeuwen.

The General Secretary’s recent visit to Australia to address the Australian Education Union (AEU)’s annual conference on the refugee crisis came as EI is launching a project focused on refugee children and refugee teachers. Six union affiliates in six European countries are going to be chosen for the programme, which will involve various aspects ranging from the training of European teachers to better work with refugee children to identifying and training refugee teachers.

The Sixth ISTP in Berlin is taking place 3-4 March.