More successful integration of immigrants requires competent education of specialists in the field and more active exchange of experience

 

On 12 May 2017, the international conference “Formal and Informal Education in the Integration of Immigrants” organised by the Society “Shelter “Safe House”” took place in Riga at the Hotel “Konventa Sēta”. Immigrants are present at all levels of the Latvian education system, i.e., from the preschool education institutions to the doctoral studies. The objective of the conference was to assess whether the Latvian education system is truly ready for it, whether the needs of immigrants have been identified to a sufficient degree and whether specialists are prepared in Latvia for working with this group of clients to a sufficient extent and quality.

The agenda of the conference included two extensive plenary meeting papers and two parallel sections of discussions. The educational event was opened by Solvita Vevere (Solvita Vēvere), the Director of the Social Integration Department of the Ministry of Culture, and in her speech she emphasized the importance of learning the Latvian language and eduction for successful social and economic inclusion of immigrants of all ages into the Latvian society.

The audience was acquainted with the first plenary meeting paper “Integration and Education of Migrants: international requirements, OSCE, obligations and challenges” by Juris Gromovs, the Migration and Freedom of Movement Adviser, Democratization Department, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights*. He informed about the immigration situation of Latvia in the general picture of OSCE member states and described in details several regulatory enactments binding on Latvia that guarantee education for immigrants and the special policy of member states for resolving the education-related problems of migrants.

The other plenary meeting paper was read by Olga Cara, the Leading Researcher of the Education Research Institute of University College London**. In her paper “Learning Together: Education Programmes for Immigrant Families”, O. Cara at first described the education system of the Great Britain and immigration to the Great Britain, as well as the historical perspectives (assimilation, multi-culturalism, etc.). In her opinion, poor language skills, cultural and material deprivation, prejudice and discrimination are the main problems faced by the immigrants and prohibiting from full-value inclusion into the society of the new country of residence. In the Great Britain, several successful education models and methods have been developed, and they are based on the principle that parents learn together with their children, i.e., the “family education model”. In this strategy, education and integration each represent one side of a common process.

Both Juris Gromovs and Olga Cara referred to the shortage of qualified specialists for the work with immigrants, and it must be recognized as one of the main obstacles for successful integration of immigrants also in Latvia.

Employees of the Society “Shelter “Safe House”” have observed that the most soaring shortage of specialists can be detected in the areas, where working with immigrants requires special skills. The problematic areas are (1) training of teachers for working in multi-cultural environment and (2) training of social workers and social mentors, in a broader sense - preparing social safety and welfare area professionals for working with immigrants, especially, with refugees and asylum seekers. And therefore, on the afternoon the work of the conference was arranged in two sections.

In the section “Training of Education Employees for Working in Multi-cultural Environment - Opportunities and Challenges”, the doctors of pedagogy Liesma Ose and Erika Picukane (Ērika Pičukāne) shared their practical experience and recommendations. Their papers were followed by a discussion with active participation of the audience. The participants recognized that improvement of the situation requires both institutional solutions and more active self-organisation of the specialists already involved in education of immigrants, as well as the more skilful use of the existing resources and exchange of experience.

The section “Education of Social Workers for Working with Immigrants, Refugees and Asylum Seekers Using New Informal Work Methods” included also two presentations by Andra Mite, the Head of the Study Direction “Social Welfare” of the Baltic International Academy, and Inga Liepa-Meiere, a lawyer and master of social work, which were followed by a discussion. Sandra Zalcmane, the leader of the section’s discussion, pointed out to the importance of acquiring good principal education in the social work, which can be used as basis for adding already specific knowledge and skills in working with different target groups. Participants of the discussions recognized the significance of the role of the head of social institutions,who might not always be educated in the social work, as the situation in Latvia shows. This is diminishing the understanding about the essence of the social work, which is the need to be ready to solve different social situations for different target groups, refugees included. It is clear that the head of institution will be the one taking decisions whether to educate the employees. The participants concluded that certain positions should be subject to having specific level of education and qualifications.

By summarizing the ideas in the section, S. Zalcmane stressed that the social workers are the ones who most often have to be the first who meet the persons, who are facing difficult situations outside their countries of residence and who need support, and therefore it is of particular importance to follow the use of different methods, both formal and informal, in own practices. The social system should not be static, but it should incorporate opportunities to adjust it to specific situations.

The participants were acquainted with the manual “Intercultural Communication and Integration of Immigrants Through New Work Methods”, which summarized different informal methods potentially applicable also in the practice of the social work.

The conference was organised within the projects “Information Centre for Immigrants” („Informācijas centrs imigrantiem”) (No. PMIF/12/2016/1/1) and “Intercultural Communication and Integration of Immigrants Through New Work Methods” (No. NPAD-2015/10274). “Information Centre for Immigrants” is implemented within the framework of the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund and is co-funded by the European Union.

* J. Gromovs is one of the most experienced representatives of Latvia in the European Migration Committee of the European Council, he is a Co-chair of the European Council Committee of Experts on the Legal Status of Student Migrants and the European Council Committee for Implementation of Migration Strategy, as well as the author of several scientific publications.

** O. Cara is born on Latvia and acquired education in sociology and anthropology. She defended her doctoral thesis in University College London by studying the identity of the Russian-speaking children in the context of the bilingual education in Latvia. The research interests of O. Cara relate to ethnicity, migration and the association with education processes, as well as development of basic skills, inter-generation skill transfer and family education programmes in the context of integration. She is an expert in using complicated administrative databases in education-related matters and using mixed methods in social studies.

Information was prepared by:
Agita Misāne, an adviser of the Society “Shelter “Safe House””,
and Rasa Saliņa, Communications and Social Media Expert, mob. phone: (+371) 29145314, e-mail: rasa.salina@gmail.com