Education Ministry, in cooperation with UNHCR, holds a conference on the education of refugee children on the Greek Aegean islands

Refugee children’s access to formal education on the Greek islands in the North and South Aegean, their ongoing needs, challenges, and good practices were the main issues discussed at a conference last month held by the Department for the Coordination and Monitoring of the Refugee Education of the Ministry of […]

A panel discussion during the conference on the education of refugee children on the Greek Aegean islands taking place at the premises of the Ministry of Education. © UNHCR/K. Stavroula

Refugee children’s access to formal education on the Greek islands in the North and South Aegean, their ongoing needs, challenges, and good practices were the main issues discussed at a conference last month held by the Department for the Coordination and Monitoring of the Refugee Education of the Ministry of Education, Research, and Religious Affairs. The initiative was organized in cooperation with UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, with funding from the European Commission.

The conference was attended by the Regional Education Directors of Greek North and South Aegean islands, the Directors of Primary and Secondary Education, Refugee Education Coordinators, representatives of teachers responsible for the Reception Structures for Refugee Children Education (RSRCE/DYEP) of different islands, as well as members of international organizations. Participants exchanged their experience on access of refugee children to the education process. The main objective of the conference was to assess the educational and administrative operation of RSRCE on the islands in order to reinforce the support provided to these structures in a more effective way.

The Department for the Coordination and Monitoring of the Refugee Education referred to the efforts made by the Ministry of Education to ensure the education of refugee children in Greece through an appropriate mechanism; as a first outcome, about 12,000 refugee children attend Greek schools in the school year 2018-2019. Aiming also to ensure access to school for refugee children staying on the islands, the Regional Education Directors highlighted the positive experience they have gained in these specific regions.

UNHCR stressed that refugee children face increased challenges in enrolling at school globally, but their right to education should be safeguarded. The school is a safe space that gives them opportunities for empowerment, while helping integrate into the societies that welcome them. To this end, UNHCR supports the efforts carried out in our country as well, through activities that include training and awareness programs targeting both the local community and the teachers. UNICEF representatives attested, also, to the importance of networking and providing support to teachers at a local level.

© UNHCR/K. Stavroula

On her part, the Deputy Ombudswoman for Children’s Rights pointed out the need for a medium-term, as well as a long-term, strategic planning regarding education and coordination between all involved actors in order to overcome any reactions by the local society.

During the conference working groups, the following good practices were identified: the meetings with the parents of refugee children, the provision of information on the education process and their active involvement, as well as taking advantage of the special skills of certain teachers to engage in peer learning among the educational community. Furthermore, other points that were further stressed included the contribution of non-formal education to the reinforcement of formal education, the importance of awareness activities and coexistence opportunities in the local community and the refugee population, the need for the distribution of pupils based on their age and level of knowledge, and the positive results that a good environment, communication and collaboration between all related actors can bring.

Teachers referred to the challenges they are facing, including the need for a systematic training, the difficulty for substitute teachers in building experience in a classroom or a reception structure due to constant changes, the high mobility of refugee students staying on the islands, and the need to monitor their academic progress when they are transferred to the mainland. Some of the practical problems mentioned included transferring and accompanying children from and to reception centers, where they are residing.

The Department for the Coordination and Monitoring of the Refugee Education highlighted as its next main objective to fully integrate refugee children at Greek schools and to actively engage refugee parents to this end.