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Refugee Education, Research, and Union Advocacy: Findings from Lebanon, Germany, and Sweden

Thu, March 29, 8:00 to 9:30am, Hilton Reforma, Floor: 2nd Floor, Don Diego 1 Section A

Group Submission Type: Panel Session


Unions have evolved over the last 50 years to make increasing use of evidence to advocate on behalf of teachers and diverse student populations and to guide governments on needed legislative changes and other reforms. Having access to a range of teacher perspectives puts unions in a particularly strong position to advance evidence-based policies and practices with and for marginalized populations. This panel combines evidence from academic research with the perspectives and advocacy of teachers and teachers’ unions to examine refugee education in three country contexts: Lebanon, Germany, and Sweden. Each with its unique sociopolitical context, educational system, and experience with refugee populations, the three countries offer insights into a variety of challenges around refugee education and the role, advocacy, and implications for teachers and teachers’ unions.

The first paper looks at the growing role of private actors in the education of Syrian refugees in Lebanon and the simultaneous sidelining of teachers and localized teachers’ unions in this process, even as the majority of Syrian refugee children are educated in public schools. As part of a larger study on private participation in the education of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey, the paper highlights the implications of this business involvement for teachers and teachers’ unions. The findings suggest that current practices serve to undercut localized advocacy efforts, while creating a role for unions based in the Global North and elsewhere to serve as allies in the work towards serving all children and their teachers.

The second paper moves us to the more regulated context of Europe. Focusing on Germany, the country accepting the largest number of refugees in Europe, the paper draws on research with teachers to demonstrate the ways in which teacher perspectives can cast light on problems in refugee education. The paper analyzes legislation and defines problems with policy implementation concerning the school education of refugees and unaccompanied minors, with a view to providing a pathway for advocacy and change.

In Sweden, a smaller country with a highly managed educational system and hosting large numbers of refugees, gaps remain between the ideal espoused and the practice of education for refugee children and youth. The third paper explores this gap from the perspective of a union, Lärarförbundet, working with an academic researcher to highlight what efforts are needed in education and to develop an advocacy strategy to support this work.

Taken together, the three papers offer comparative insight into the nexus among refugee education, academic research, and union efforts. In particular, the panel highlights the work of Education International, a global federation of unions, and its affiliates such as Lärarförbundet, who together have been partnering with academic institutions and researchers to deliver rigorous evidence to inform union advocacy and educational policymaking in support of children, regardless of the paperwork they possess. Such partnerships between unions and comparative education scholars is critical for the advancement of education for all children.

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