Offering children an early kickstart for inclusion

One of the challenges faced by parents when relocating to another country is how their children will be adapting to a new educational system and whether they will be included. Malta’s Migrant Learners’ Unit (MLU) offers induction programmes to newly arrived migrants from EU and non-EU countries in order to help them integrate.

Speaking to TheJournal.mt Sandra Ebejer, from the Directorate for Learning and Assessment Programmes within the Ministry for Education said that the best achievement is seeing children able to communicate easily in Malta, where language is no longer an obstacle for their inclusion.

What exactly is the MLU’s function?

The Migrant Learners’ Unit has been set up since 2014 and has supported newcomer children and their families settle into their new life thanks to a holistic approach to education.  The MLU has helped families to integrate within a new society. The Unit works to ensure that migrant learners access education and achieves it in the best way possible by extending its support beyond the classroom walls.

How is the MLU helping with the integration of students in the local education system?

The MLU provides induction programme to migrants who do not yet communicate in basic Maltese and English and without which language knowledge such learners would not be able to access mainstream curriculum and benefit from it. The aim of the Induction Programme is for the learner to receive the academic and social support necessary in order to access mainstream education. Primarily, such support aims at building the learner’s proficiency of the languages of schooling, i.e. Maltese and English: basic language proficiency in the four skills (reading, writing, listening and speaking). It looks at sustaining the learner’s efficacy to access and benefit from educational settings in Malta. This programme spans over one scholastic year and learners are admitted to the programme at any time of the year. The programme is held at both primary, middle and secondary level.

Once the family has completed the registration for schooling process and the learner has been assigned a school, a member from the school administration team usually meets the family and the child for an introductory meeting. The school may note that the learner cannot as yet communicate in both English and Maltese and therefore informs the parent of the possibility for the child to follow an induction programme in order to gain competence in basic Maltese and English which are the two languages used in Maltese schools. In the case of primary school aged learners, the school informs the MLU that a learner will follow the induction programme. In most cases, induction is held in the school where the learner is registered. In some cases, the programme is held in a nearby school. In the case of Middle and Secondary school children the induction programme is held at a school in Naxxar.

Minister Justyne Caruana and Parliamentary Secretary Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi visiting the Migrant Learners’ Unit’s new premises. Photo: DOI

Are your services directed only to children?

 

At the MLU we strive to offer the best outreach not only to the children but also to the families and the wider communities. As a matter of fact we have a social worker and a team of nine Community Liasion Workers (CLWs) who extend their assistance over and above school hours to support the families in their resettlement process. This team is a paramount tassle in the unit since they are themselves migrants. Therefore, in speaking the languages of the parents they seek to engage with and work with the families.

The CLWs help the parents/families to access information and opportunities in the education sector. They help the unit and the schools in their outreach initiatives and in understanding the families and the community. This whole process revolves around a relationship built on trust.  The schools and families are confident that the CLWs will offer a better access to educational opportunities which in turn translates into better empowerment for the best of the child. The CLWs help the families to understand the norms and notions of roles and responsibilities within the Maltese education system. In engaging with families especially through their home language, they are directly linking to the parent as an adult. Thus, they avoid upsetting family dynamics and roles as in cases when either the child or another member of the family intervenes to translate or mediate.

In order to further assist the children and their families, the MLU runs various initiatives, including after school initiatives addressed to migrant learners such as the ‘Language to Go’ Summer Intensive language Course for migrant learners in compulsory schooling who are still struggling with Maltese and English.  The aim of this course is to support the children in continuing their learning of languages during the summer break. This year we have experienced a record when it comes to registration of this course.

Another initiative embarked upon by the MLU is the ‘Making Friends Bringing Friends Club’ which aims at supporting migrant children and the hosting society in schools to building communities based on friendships. The club runs after school hours and is held throughout the year in the state primary schools in a number of localities. This programme always registers a high number of migrant newcomers and has proven to be of fundamental importance as it offers an opportunity where children learn through play while making new friends.

The Community Liaison Team, the Language to Go sessions and the Making Friends Bringing Friends Clubs are all initiative which form part of the LLAPSI + project run by the Migrant Learners’ Unit. This project is co-financed by the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund and includes other actions aimed to support the work of the MLU with migrant learners in schools.

What do you consider as your success stories?

Our main objective is to see the children and their families included in school and in the broader society. Operating within the migration scenario is challenging. Being so dynamic, migration issues evolve and change every year and therefore every year we focus our actions accordingly. 

When visiting the schools and talking to our teachers during the first weeks of the induction programme it may look like that the cons are outnumbering the pros. However, from experience, and especially by the end of the scholastic year the faces and attitudes of our children, as well as their families, show that they are well on their way to becoming functioning members within the community. The fact that they can communicate, that language is no longer a major obstacle for their inclusion is for us the best achievement. 

We take pride at offering the best assistance and we are always on the lookout for new opportunities to make this happen. The best success stories, as cliché as it may sound, are when families and children resort to our assistance even once the induction programme is over, as they keep on trusting us as a point of contact in the new society they are living in.

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