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Professor makes case against segregation of migrant children

‘Immediate integration in class, with no English or Maltese language skills, leads to an inability to follow lessons and communicate with fellow students’ – Education Ministry

miriam
Miriam Dalli
7 July 2017, 9:00am
The Ministry for Education has defended the policy in place, saying that the aim is to help children before they effectively join the state educational set-up
The Ministry for Education has defended the policy in place, saying that the aim is to help children before they effectively join the state educational set-up
A University professor is urging the government to reconsider a policy under which children who cannot communicate in Maltese or English are first admitted to an induction course for a scholastic year, before joining a mainstream classroom.

Professor Simone Galea, associate professor of philosophy of education at the University of Malta, has told MaltaToday that segregation, even for a short while, is hardly ever a good educational policy.

A research document prepared by the European Parliament’s directorate-general for internal policies points out that Malta obliges refugee or migrant children to spend a year in a distinct class in order to improve their linguistic skills, before they join the Maltese students.

“This policy might not be ill-intended, but harbours a form of exclusion nevertheless,” the researchers point out, admitting that member states who adopt policies that really challenge segregation are uncommon. 

The Ministry for Education has defended the policy in place, saying that the aim is to help children before they effectively join the state educational set-up. It argued that once such basic skills are attained, students follow the traditional mainstream curriculum without being in a disadvantaged situation and at risk of falling behind. 

“This is a model that is based on the European Commission’s guidelines. Immediate integration in class, with no English or Maltese language skills, leads to an inability to follow lessons and communicate with fellow students, resulting in a lack of effective integration and actual isolation. This is why such an induction course is crucial for the successful progress of the child in school, and in the community at large,” a spokesperson for the Education Ministry told MaltaToday.

However, Galea insisted that the holistic development of children can never be achieved by separating them into groups according to their knowledge, or abilities, irrespectively of how these are determined.

According to Galea, this approach reflects a traditional style of politics that sets groups and fixes them into categories in a hierarchical set up: “Research shows that assessments that reinforce negative perceptions of migrant children’s abilities does not positively encourage their educational success and that they end up in lower ability tracks.”

Immediate integration also helps children already in mainstream schools, providing them with an educational experience in itself that offers the possibilities of instilling values of solidarity. “It offers them an understanding of what it might feel like being a newcomer in a community and the educational experience of assisting others to settle in,” Galea said.

The Education Ministry has described the system as being “the opposite” of segregation.

“Its sole aim is actually to facilitate integration through a tailor-made programme. The aim is to be a stepping stone to further schooling and is not, in any way, a permanent option,” Minister Evarist Bartolo’s spokesperson said. 

The spokesperson argued that children are still registered with a particular school, under its responsibilities, and they often are in close proximity of other types of programmes. 

“The notion of ‘mainstream’ is no longer valid today, as the one-size-fits-all model which it is based on has become obsolete. We are looking at different, accredited and quality programmes for students, who themselves have different abilities and aspirations, within a school community.”

Describing the induction course as “a short-term solution”, Galea said that language acquisition comes from a healthy interaction of children who do not know how to speak a language with those who have a good mastery of it and especially if they are native speakers. 

“It is clearly more effective to have children play together, for example, and communicate on everyday issues. Language learning goes beyond formalised learning within schools and within school hours. 

“Language is an experience and it does not make sense that migrants experience language in a sort of rehearsed set up as if in preparation of the real performance with children who know how to speak Maltese and this includes other migrant children who have learnt the language and can assist newcomers in settling in, drawing on their experience.”

Of course, the inclusion of children, who can’t speak either of the two languages, into mainstream classes must come with the appropriate support. Galea suggested that the provision of adequate resource and staff was important to support the learning of children without the language of instruction.

“This requires support from specialists and with teachers who have the competences and experience to tailor teaching to children in the class without the same level of competency in the language of instruction. This provision would also help all students (and not only newcomers or migrants) improve their spoken and written Maltese and English,” she said.

The inclusion of parents is equally important, with Galea proposing that schools provide language learning for parents in the evening resulting in the better use of the school for community activities that serve to acquaint migrants with their new environment.

Teachers should also receive training that prepares them to work in multilingual classrooms and help them teach children whose competence in the language of instruction is lower than that of native children.

Proposing to establish language simplification in assessment and tests, Galea also suggested that the state provides project-funding assistance for out-of-school activities that give additional education and support to children without the language of instruction.

miriam
Miriam Dalli joined MaltaToday.com.mt in 2010 and was assistant editor fr...