Belgium: education trade unions and employers mobilising for the integration of migrants and refugees

published 29 January 2019 updated 29 January 2019

At the end of 2018, the third case study visit of the ETUCE/EFEE project “European Sectoral Social Partners in Education promoting effective integration of migrants and refugees in education” took place in Belgium, organised with the support of EI/ETUCE member organisation in Belgium, ACOD-Onderwijs, partner to this project. The visit aimed at identifying challenges, concrete solutions and joint social partners’ initiatives for effectively integrating migrants and refugees in education. ETUCE and EFEE representatives, the research expert accompanying the project and a project advisory group representative from Cyprus had the opportunity to familiarize with good practices and challenges in the Flemish education system regarding policies of inclusion and integration.

Participants engaged in fruitful dialogue with representatives from the Flemish Ministry of Education, education employers’ organisations and community organisations, as well as with teachers, school leaders, migrant and refugee students, to better understand the Flemish educational context of migrants’ integration and the role of social partners within.

Despite the shared goal of delivering equal educational opportunities for all, the many efforts and good practice examples on how to provide newcomers with a quick access to mainstream education and to language learning, challenges remain as regards, for example, teaching and learning in a second language. According to interviewed teachers and school leaders, the use of the mother-tongue is central to allow migrant and refugee students to nurture their learning process. “In our daily work, there is an on-going tension between an holistic approach to deliver equal educational opportunities and flexible and individual learning paths”, said a school leader in Antwerp.

Education personnel engaged in schools enrolling big numbers of students of migrant origin recognise the need for specific competences to cater for the needs of migrant and refugee students, especially through initial training and continuous professional development programmes that fit the needs of those dealing with the everyday needs of migrants and refugee students. In this context, intercultural skills, social workers’ aptitudes and competences, coaching and psychosocial support are deemed of utmost importance to deal, for example, with traumatised students. Recognising that migrant and refugee children carry with themselves specific needs but also their own resources and strengths, a secondary school teacher in Antwerp said: “When I first started, four years ago, I felt I expected very little out of the learning process of the migrant and refugee students I was teaching to. Now, I realise I need to set myself higher expectations because the life of these children moves on, and it has to move on”.