Poland Improving Refugee Education

Wednesday 22, July 2009 The Polish Parliament has adopted amendments to the Law on the Educational System this March to remedy the problems of refugee education. The legislation, entering into force on 1 January 2010, will successfully tackle the remaining educational difficulties that are not at all unique in the […]

Wednesday 22, July 2009

The Polish Parliament has adopted amendments to the Law on the Educational System this March to remedy the problems of refugee education. The legislation, entering into force on 1 January 2010, will successfully tackle the remaining educational difficulties that are not at all unique in the Central European (CE) region.

“UNHCR is very happy that the new education law has now been adopted. This is a great illustration of cooperation between UNHCR and the Government. The Polish initiative should be followed in the whole of Central Europe,” commented Ernest Zienkiewicz, Head of Office for UNHCR in Poland.

According to a survey, annually repeated since 2005, by UNHCR and Polish non-governmental organizations (NGO), those non-Polish citizens who did not speak the language were facing serious difficulties in entering the education system in Poland. In 2005 almost 53% percent of school-aged refugee children could not attend school, and their access to education materials and language lessons were limited too. The survey has also revealed that refugee pupils are experiencing difficulties in following the curriculum not because of their abilities but because of language problems. When these issues had been exposed the Polish Government took immediate initiative to solve for them. By 2008 most of the problems have been tackled. Refugee children’s admission rate to school has skyrocketed to 98%, specialized training courses were held to teachers on how to teach multicultural classes, etc. Thus the amendments to the educational law represent the final steps of a long journey.

Obstacles in whole Central Europe

But is not only Poland that was experiencing difficulties: refugee education in Central Europe in general has many obstacles. These problems include insufficient language education, scarce financial resources and discrimination too. Many schools are reluctant to take up refugee children because they are thinking that having Afghan, Georgian, and Iraqi, or Kosovo Roma pupils would have a bad influence on their reputation. For refugees or asylum seekers the languages of the Central European region are generally alien and differ greatly from their mother tongue. Knowing the host countries language is vital in integration that is why the duration and intensity of language training is of key importance. To tackle this problem the Polish government will provide additional, free of charge Polish lessons to people subjected to compulsory education for one year.

When a family is forced to flee children have their education interrupted for many years, also they might lack evidence of past educational achievements. Therefore they possibly are unable to integrate into classes suitable for their age or developmental potential. The more a child spends outside of school the more difficult is to reintegrate him, not mentioning the stressful alien circumstances of a new country and an unknown language. However the new Polish legislation will entitle refugees for tutorial assistance on their mother tongue and for additional classes to improve their knowledge in regard to the learning subjects. They will be organized by the school management for one year.

The Polish measures should definitely be taken up by other CE countries where it is necessary to encourage refugee integration.

By Judit Lengyel

UNHCR Regional Representation

Budapest