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Halleli Pinson, Madeleine Arnot and Mano Candappa on Asylum and the Non-Citizen Child

An insight from the authors of Education, Asylum and the 'Non-Citizen' Child

The world today is on the move, with around 244 million people residing in a country other than that in which they were born. According to Unicef latest’s report, there are 31 million migrant children around the globe today, and one out of three is a refugee. The number of such children, represent one of the greatest challenges in this century. Children face difficulties in accessing education and realising their right to education. Indeed, the reality of global child mobility makes the goal of Education for All ever more difficult.  

Social scientific research has a key role to play in helping schools and educational policy makers address the pedagogical and other needs of newly arrived migrant children. Schools today, especially in large metropolitan areas have to cater for an increasingly diverse population in terms of race, ethnicity, culture and religion. The response to such children who cross all these boundaries is a litmus test of how inclusive a school is and how far they are able to address the needs of young people who carry with them very different educational histories, and who often experience uncertainty about their future.

The task of supporting asylum-seeking and refugee children’s welfare is affected by public and media hostility, far-right anti-immigration movements and growing nationalistic tendencies. This task is much more difficult when teachers are under pressure to raise such children’s school performance often without any clear policy guidance or extra funding.

It is essential to provide refugee and asylum-seeking children with a sense of hope and of belonging. Social scientific research such as ours offers the possibility of learning about what we call ‘the politics of compassion’. Our book sheds light precisely on the impact of global demographic change as it affects the internal culture and values of schools, and the shaping of different childhoods that cross national boundaries. We explore the ways in which ‘citizen’ children in their diversity respond to the ethical questions linked to the giving of asylum, safety concerns and the potential rise in social conflict, and we expose the vulnerability of the ‘non-citizen child’ in finding a way to belong in different multicultural school settings. 

Our book also explored the responses of teachers. The stories we uncovered revealed the most extraordinary work of teachers who, from the perspective of asylum seeking/refugee children, offered the most humanitarian response to their plight. Teachers found ways of working their deep professional concern for children as children (not as migrants), or of mobilizing politically on their behalf together with ‘citizen’ children. In both approaches, we revealed the political action of teachers to counter the hostility of the state or of the community. Their professionalism gave asylum-seeking and refugee children a chance to make a new life. At the time of publication, we were aware of what we called ‘the wasteland’ of research on asylum seeking and refugee children. Today the theme of compassion, however, has been taken up by researchers in diverse countries such as the US, Australia, South Africa and Greece.  Indeed, there is more understanding that teaching is about cultivating compassion.

Social scientists today have still a lot more to do and a lot more to offer society in terms of uncovering the impact of anti-immigration politics on children and how their education is affected by the use of detention, deportation and return to countries that they have never lived in or are in danger in.  The rights of the child have been damaged in the face of increasing global movement and emergency crises brought on by war and drastic climate change. Educationalists cannot pause in their search for information that will help every child in whichever country achieve quality education in which they are valued, and in which they can prosper.

About the Authors

HALLELI PINSON is Senior Lecturer at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel. Her research focuses on migration and education and in particular  on educational policies and practices in relation to the integration of asylum-seeking children. She  has published extensively on citizenship education in conflict-ridden societies and is the co-editor of Citizenship, Education and Social Conflict. She is currently the president of the Israeli Comparative Education Society and a member of the editorial boards of the British Journal of Sociology of Education and Race, Ethnicity and Education.

MADELEINE ARNOT is Emeritus Professor of Sociology of Education at the University of Cambridge, UK. She has published extensively on educational issues relating to citizenship, gender and social class and race equality, poverty and education and social justice. She established the Centre for the Study of Global Human Movement (2018) at Cambridge, and the Cambridge Migration Research Network (2014). She has researched the integration of newly arrived EAL students in the UK, and  currently supports Norwegian and Australian projects on the integration of migrant children. Recent publications included Education, Mobilities and Migration: people, ideas and resources (2016) and artices in Teaching and Teacher Education, and Cambridge Journal of Education on parent-school communication about migrant children’s education.  

MANO CANDAPPA is Associate Professor of Sociology of Education at University College London Institute of Education, UK. She specialises in migration, forced migration and issues around social marginalization, human rights and education with a particular interest in childhoods and the politics of belonging. She has published extensively on issues around children’s agency, children’s rights and the experiences of refugees and asylum–seeking children and families. Recent publications include Education and Schooling for Asylum-Seeking and Refugee Students in Scotland and policy and practice articles in relation to the education of asylum-seeking and refugee students.