Greece announced that it planned on implementing an educational program for refugee children. Minister of Education Nikos Filis announced two trajectories: (1) children living in apartments will integrate into Greek classrooms and (2) those living in camps will take Greek language lessons until age 7, after which they will receive a more comprehensive education in normal classrooms after the Greek school day is over. Interestingly enough, those in camps will take mathematics, the Greek and English languages, and computer skills. The choice of these four subjects demonstrates an intent to integrate refugees into Greek society, the globalized world, and the current century. Camp life is dehumanizing. Giving students the chance to enter into a socializing, communal space such as the educational system and granting them the competencies to integrate into the technologies and languages of modern society on one hand may well be Greece granting refugees tools for empowerment.
Intentions and consequences are often multi-faceted, though. The inclusion for English, though practical, holds connotations of Western hierarchy and power as well. Those countries in which the education systems have been co-opted by the West are forced to learn the language of the colonists and/or themselves yearn to learn the colonizer’s language because it is a way for citizens to dig themselves out of their disadvantages (which, it may be added, were disadvantaged by a Western colonial system.) In fact, the school system and the course subjects are still set by Greece. Arriving refugees have no choice but the play the rules of the game. The new refugee school policy is an integration mechanism. But is integration a good thing? Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, a work espousing a path of agency and liberation to oppressed groups, would say that an educational system in which the oppressed are not at the helm continues to oppress. In areas of refugee resettlement, there is obviously a hierarchy with refugees at the bottom and citizens above. Should we be wary that refugee children are being funneled into an education system that neither represents nor reflects their histories and languages?
There is much commendation regardless for the fact that Greece is doing something. The recent United Nations migration summit, at which Obama announced a U.S. commitment of funds and efforts to resettlement, has been criticized by the Integrated Regional Informational Network (IRIN) for being mostly fluff. Lots of talk, little real commitment. The IRIN bias may be showing, though. IRIN was a non-profit that left the UN in 2015 and markets itself as the news source for the under-represented, those overlooked by the UN, and as a critic of the UN’s internal ethical failures. IRIN’s criticisms of inaction bring us back to the age-old question: is it better to be implementing some education rather than nothing even when it has connotations of hierarchy?
- Siegfried, K. (21 September 2016). Plenty of hype, no new news at UN migration summit. Irin News. Retrieved from: http://www.irinnews.org/
- Stiévenard, C. (9 September 2016) En Grèce, la rentrée des élèves réfugiés s’organise. RFI France. Retrieved from http://www.rfi.fr/
- Korte, G. (20 September 2016). Obama calls on world leaders to do more to help refugees. USA Today. Retrieved from http://www.usatoday.com/
- Freire, P. (2000) Pedagogy of the oppressed (30th Ann. Edition). Continuum. Ch.1 & Ch. 2