Koenraad is one of GO! onderwijs van de Vlaamse Gemeenschap partner representatives. The organisation is a public body of the Flemish Community (Belgium), and, despite being financed by the government, it functions independently of the Flemish Ministry of Education.
GO! schools and institutions — 1,000 in total, amounting to 300,000 learners — stand for equal and maximum chances of education and personal development for every individual. Every GO! participant is considered to be a unique person with specific interests, ambitions and talents. Teaching youngsters how to become socially involved, respectful, tolerant, creative, inquisitive, independent, responsible and mature is what the 32,000 members of school staff do on a daily basis.
What does integration mean to you?
First of all, we should clarify that “integration” is not only a task to be carried out by newcomers, even if they are the most influenced by this process. Society also needs to change, and the process of adaptation in most cases can only be for the better.
Gathering people from different backgrounds in a diverse environment through a process that works both ways is key. We should get away from assimilation or segregation approaches and focus on a constant influence process. We were working in ways that did not fit the needs of the world, and this is why we need to reset our ideas; however, people tend to be scared of what they do not know by nature, and that is why they need also accompaniment to accomplish true diversity.
What are your main activities in the field of third-country national integration?
We began to specifically focus in integration of newcomers in 2015, due to the need to manage a larger inflow of students with a migrant background in Flemish schools. Many schools contacted us because they needed help to deal with the new situation. The focus was set on unaccompanied minors and young people over sixteen who had never attended school as we know it and showed high rates of illiteracy, mainly coming from Afghanistan at the time. Many teachers were experiencing for the first time how it is to teach in a multilingual class, more specifically a multilingual illiterate class, and we developed a service document that could be used by them. Ever since, we have been working on the link between language learning and hard skills training, especially in regard to vocational education and training (VET), since it is the first option of many children with a migrant background.
We also cooperate with Profo vzw to develop soft skills learning paths, with a focus on “street mind-set” children, who often see themselves pulled out of education or the labour market because of them not knowing the standards of formal environments. This is why we try to boost a faster access to the labour market through a programme based on social skills, which has proven to be very successful in terms of acquisition of behavioural patterns.
In the field of citizenship education, Belgium has not been scoring well in the last European studies, and this is why we are reinforcing this field, including the FIER project. Furthermore, soft skills have proven to be a need beyond the labour market if we want to achieve a successful and diverse society, as mentioned before. Many people get a job because of their skills, but lose it because of their behaviour, and this is why we are providing training in how to work together and tackle cultural differences, deal with authority, non-violent communication, etc. It is important that people who get a job can keep it, and this has also been a challenge for teachers, who need help regarding soft skills teaching, not only to newcomers, but to everyone.
Currently, we are also exploring and testing the possibility of establishing flexible school years so students can distribute their workload according to their needs and not lose any year of schooling. The current system forces you to go over all subjects of the year again if you fail some of them, and this hinders the progress of many newcomers. This new approach will also help us follow up the educative process of students.
Which are your role and expectations within the FIER project?
As a provider of official education, with a constitutional mission for neutrality, GO! focuses on citizenship education, taking into account the different backgrounds and religions of newcomers. Our main task is more abstract that the ones that are being carried out by other partners: identifying, developing and testing the learning paths for soft skills acquisition, with a special regard to citizenship education.
We are in contact with different sectors, analysing the relationships with the labour market, and developing working groups to pursue our aim. The labour market is open, businesses need skilled workers and are willing to take part. At this moment, we are still in the identifying phase (asking questions about tasks, etc.), and the next step will be to test the learning paths with mixed groups so we can make adjustments before we intensify the process.
The cooperation within FIER allows us to explore how we can make the integration process faster (not only through language), and by keeping track of others’ work, we influence each other. Sharing good and, especially, bad practices is very important for reflexion and identification of new ideas. It is always good to count on an outsider with an open view on your project who can provide a critical vision.
What do you feel most fier (‘proud’) of regarding your organisation’s activities?
Working with newcomers is always innovative. Many of them are able to learn a totally new language in two years and get to be fully integrated in around four; this calls into question our very education system: how is it possible that it takes twelve years to learn a language within it? It is amazing how fast newcomers learn, and we should explore the success factors of this process so they can be implemented in the system.
We are very grateful to FIER partners; they took a chance on us to measure soft skills, which is a very complex area. Results in this field are only visible in the long term, notwithstanding that soft skills are the clue to speed up the integration process. We are glad that FIER allows us to develop a learning path, especially taking into account that results are also applicable to other target groups.
Other EU-funded projects in which GO! is taking part
Incl. (Inclusion of Young Newcomers). The need for an intercultural perspective is one of today’s most important educational approaches, and is emphasized in international agreements by bodies such as the UN, UNESCO and the Council of Europe. GO! takes part in this Erasmus+ KA2 project, aimed at increasing the knowledge of the participating countries (England, Belgium and Sweden) in this field. Exchanging and sharing experiences is crucial regarding the mapping of the student’s previous school experiences, learning processes based on previous school experience, work methodologies, and inclusion guidance.
“This project has allowed us to get to know the Swedish model, which features support in mother tongue and a screening process that we will be adapting in Flanders. […] The main outcome for us has been a new focus on multilingualism, and the use of mother tongue at school is not punished anymore (as it used to be), since it has proven to boost the learning process of students. We hope that this results will also have an influence at a political level for linguistic and education policies.”
UASM-coach. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child defines unaccompanied or separated minors (UASM) as those “who have been separated from both parents and other relatives and are not being cared for by an adult who, by law or custom is responsible for doing so.” This ESF project, coordinated by Profo vzw, will tackle the challenge of the lack of guidance for UASM over 16 with a specific focus on their socioeconomic integration. The pedagogical services of GO! are a partner within the project.
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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any official body or the FIER project itself.