Refugee Education in Greece: Challenges, Needs, and Priorities in Non-Formal Settings – An Intercultural Approach

Refugee Education in Greece: Challenges, Needs, and Priorities in Non-Formal Settings – An Intercultural Approach

Nektaria Palaiologou (University of Western Macedonia, Greece), Georgia Fountoulaki (Hellenic Open University, Greece) and Maria Liontou (Hellenic Open University, Greece)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7585-6.ch008
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This chapter is an original study in a new sector in education in Greece, refugee education, which probes into the challenges, needs, and priorities of teachers (N=12) who are engaged with refugee students' educational support and social integration into the Greek context. The research is grounded on fieldwork and content analysis of semi-structured interviews among teachers who work in refugee camps and non-formal educational settings. It depicts the challenges and needs in refugee education today, showing that provisions through non-formal education settings could offer significant activities and teaching services to refugee students. It highlights the importance of intercultural education in times of constant population movement, since the intercultural notion respects all students no matter nationality, religion, and socio-economic background. It raises the need for intercultural educational policies as a high priority because they can provide assistance and guidance to educators, enable social interaction amongst all diverse students, and empower social stability as well.
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Postmodern societies are characterized by multiple social, economic, political and cultural changes and by a significant degree of cultural multiplicity. Cultural pluralism brings changes both at the level of subjective constitution and at the level that institutions are organised and structured. In this context, the formation of new terms in the establishment of personal and social identity of the subject acquires particular importance. Accordingly, the need to develop interculturally capable citizens, people with a communicative capacity in order to be able to interact with people who are carriers of different worldviews, different cultural references, a different way of thinking and life, becomes imperative. This plurality to a great extent is the result of the forcible displacement of people all over the world. According to UNHCR (2018), “in 2017, the number of people forcibly displaced from their homes worldwide came at the record rate of 44.400 every day” (p.2).

Refugee Education in Greece

The recent population movements with respect to migrants and asylum seekers, especially as a result of the Syrian war, have not only tested Greece/ Europe’s capacity for support in terms of empathy and acceptance of the “other”, but have highlighted these new sides of the issue; from being a “transit” country, Greece has transformed into a destination for around 50,000 persons, trapped in Greece after the closing of European borders in 2015 (Rozakou, 2012; Apostolidou & Androulakis, 2017). A year later, 51,091 asylum applications were submitted to the Greek Asylum Service of which around 19,000 refer to children (Palaiologou et al, 2017, p. 18). Despite the urgent need for education and integration for these young refugees it seems that the Greek Educational System was unprepared. The Greek government itself has characterized the school year 2016/17 as a “preparatory year”, focusing on the transition of refugee children from camps to school life and culture (Ministry of Education, 2016). Nevertheless, it has been reported that all over Europe refugee children have limited or no access to universal rights such as protection, education and information (UNICEF, January - March 2018). Unaccompanied minors face even greater challenges as they pass into adulthood. Many speak of a “lost generation” as the asylum-seeker children run the risk of being exploited due to their lack of information on their basic rights or their scarce and interrupted education of any kind (UNICEF, January - March 2018).

According to UNICEF (January - March 2018, p. 1), 16,700 refugees came to Europe following the Mediterranean Routes in the first three months of 2018. Although there is a decline in numbers - the arrivals are estimated to be almost half of the respective of the previous year - many are the challenges and the risks faced by asylum seekers. Under the same report, “at the end of December 2017, 55 per cent of children aged 5-17 years old living in urban accommodation were enrolled at Greek public schools” (UNICEF, January - March 2018, p. 3). Observing the reality of the situation in Greece, it is noticeable that Greek society is taking on a multicultural character with a high level of ethnic and cultural differentiation, a fact that is reflected in the composition of the contemporary school population. However, the needs these changes create cannot be covered by the existing Greek educational system.

Having said this, genuine efforts have been made by the Greek government in collaboration with the European Union to take measures for the education of refugee children, with non-formal educational settings being established by both governmental and non-governmental organisations in reception facilities (Palaiologou et al, 2017). Specifically, “the Greek Ministry of Education invited every international organization and non–governmental organization that wished to provide educational activities in refugee reception centres. These activities are part of the non–formal education and are implemented at different hours and days of the program of early childhood education, of reception classes for refugee pupils” (Palaiologou et al, 2017, p. 32).

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