No Child Left Behind: A Comparative Study of Child Refugee Education Policies in Europe

Last spring, Monica Olveira, a senior majoring in International Political Economy, received a grant through Fordham’s Tobin Travel Fellowship to do research abroad. Having worked with the United Nations and UNICEF, as well as having interests in refugees and children, she decided to focus her research on the education of child refugees in European countries. In May, Monica embarked on a three-week comparative study through England, France, and Germany to discover what educational resources are provided by the government for child refugees in each country.

The European Commission’s Criteria, released by the European Union, provides guidelines that schools with refugee children should strive to observe. These include offering welcome classes and providing language courses. This checklist gave Monica a benchmark to use when evaluating each country’s investment in support programs.

Qualitative data was gathered through interviews with academic experts, teachers, and government representatives. These individuals offered historical, personal, and policy perspectives on the refugee educational system in each country. Monica compiled the information she gathered so that she would be able to look for differences in each nation’s approach to refugee education and determine why there might be trends or gaps. Her hypothesis is that “immigration politics are the force behind these differences”.

Monica is still analyzing the results, but so far her hypothesis has been upheld. Germany, which has an open door immigration policy and the largest number of refugees, boasts the strongest programs across the board. She found that German government programs adhered to the European Commission’s Criteria and the nation has a very structured system.

France, on the other hand, has a smaller influx of refugees and takes a less individualized approach to welcoming refugee children and their families into the education system. The French strategy is to offer everyone the same resources, which Monica says is “not as effective because each child has different needs”.

England’s system is found to be much more regionalist and falls somewhat in between that of France and Germany. Programs are strong in more liberal urban areas such as London, where 160 languages are spoken in a single school. On the other hand, schools in conservative, less metropolitan areas do not facilitate as many cross-cultural connections.

Not only do the results reflect Monica’s original hypothesis that there is a correlation between a nation’s political stance on immigration and the educational resources they provide for refugees, but the results seem to parallel the quantity of refugees entering each nation as well. France’s long-time struggle with identity coupled with a rising populist ideology has led them to accept a smaller number of refugees, and the nation is apparently hesitant to invest in refugee programs. Germany, perhaps wanting to make amends with its history, has accepted a much greater number of refugees, many of whom seek safety from the Arab Spring movement. Lastly, England’s experience with taking in migrants since the 1980s and 1990s has driven them to craft a well-structured resource system.

Though her work is original, Monica remarks that there is much more data out there than what she could gather in three weeks. Ultimately, she suggests that the information gathered through her research could be used to show the pros and cons of different refugee educational resource methods and help political leaders determine how their nation’s efforts are both efficient and inadequate.

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