Manya Kagan - email@example.com
Co-authors: Dr. Halleli Pinson and Prof. Lynn Schler
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel.
As global migration, including forced migration of children is increasing, states search for sustainable solutions for the integration of asylum-seeking and refugee children (henceforth ASRC) within their state educational systems. The 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), attempts to address the needs of vulnerable child population such as ASRC (McBrien, 2005) but there are still significant gaps between the principles outlined in the convention and local and national policies extending rights to ASRC (Orchard, 2010). Institutional practices often fail to meet the standards of the UNCRC regarding the protection of ASRC, and states’ capacities and commitments to secure these rights remain insufficient (Fuchs, 2007). Therefore, questions such as how ASRC should be integrated into the educational system and society, and how they are integrated in practice, are today of critical importance (Birch, 2014).
ASRC, especially in high-income countries, are caught between the commitment of Western democracies to children’s rights and public hostility towards migrants including asylum-seekers that often accompanied by states’ attempts to tighten their borders and introduce stricter immigration policies (Pinson, Arnot and Candappa, 2010). ASRC occupy ‘an uneasy status between the asylum and child protection frameworks’ (Topey 2000). They are protected by law as children, but at the same time are often the subject to exclusionary practices as asylum seekers (Rutter, 2006). Against this backdrop, schools and teachers have to cater for these children and need to decide if these children are deserving, what they deserve, if and how to integrate them. Despite the key role teachers have in the successful integration of asylum seekers, there is still sparse research on the ways in which they experience and facilitate the schooling of asylum seekers (Svensson & Eastmond, 2013).
This research focuses on perspectives of Israeli teachers on the integration of asylum-seeking children from Eritrea and Sudan. The educational system in Israel functions in an ethno-nationally divided and conflict-ridden society (Hanna, 2017). In recent years the political discourse in Israel has shifted to the right (Ben-Porat, 2013), and an emboldened nationalistic orientation has been evident in both society at large, and in the education system specifically (Hanna, 2017). Within this context, there has been a growing de-legitimization of political engagement of teachers in classrooms, driving schools to increasingly refrain from politically controversial issues, particularly with regard to what are seen as ‘leftist’ issues and discourses of human and civil rights (Author2, 2016). Over the last decade, some state schools have confronted a new political controversy surrounding the inclusion of asylum-seeking children. Teachers’ interactions with ASRC are deeply influenced by current social and political debates regarding refugees’ access to rights. The growing public hostility regarding the presence of asylum-seekers presents challenges to teachers in their efforts to care for these students that are discussed in this paper.
The research is based on a qualitative study, drawing on semi-structured in-depth interviews with 22 teachers in different Israeli Jewish secular schools with a small minority of asylum seeking pupils, using maximum variation sampling in order to capture a broad perspective on the phenomenon (Patton, 1990). All interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed. The interview data were categorized for repeating themes and were compared and triangulated throughout the collection and analysis processes.
Our research reveals that the Israeli teachers find themselves struggling to accommodate these children against the background of a polarized environment, navigating the tension between their obligation to provide an inclusive education for all children and protect children’s rights, and their commitment to the goals of Israeli state education. Teachers’ are very reluctant to express their stand on the issue of the presence of asylum seekers in Israel and employ various techniques to present themselves as neutral on the issue so as to avoid being labeled ‘political’ within the polarized and tense Israeli political climate. Attempting to sidestep the “political minefield” (Levy, 2014) teachers depoliticize their engagement with ASRC, and avoid the full implications of their pupils' legal status and the political repercussions of their presence in their classroom. Teachers mobilize discourses of avoidance and neutrality, brush away controversies, self-silence any political discussions within their schools and commonly use a depoliticized child-centered approach.
However, the teachers’ attitudes towards ASRC must be regarded not only within the context of heightened tensions surrounding the issue of asylum seekers in Israel but must also be examined against the backdrop of the broader Israel-Palestine conflict and its presence in Israeli classrooms (Paz, 2016). We argue that teachers’ perceptions, beliefs and practices are deeply informed by the broader political context. This is an extension of a long-standing dynamic, rather than a unique response to the current refugee crisis. Building on recent work on political education in Israel, we observed that when it comes to controversies surrounding asylum seekers, in the in the absence of any official educational policy for the integration of ASRC, Israeli teachers adapt the same strategies that they have developed dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which help them to decontextualize and depoliticize their educational engagements.
The Israeli case study reminds us that teachers’ do not develop impromptu strategies specifically in response to the current crisis involving ASRC in classrooms, but are rather remobilizing strategies crafted in the pre-existing contexts of political conflict. It exemplifies how the deeply rooted de-legitimization of critical discourse in Israeli classrooms as a result of the shift to the right in the socio-political discourse, has kept teachers silent in the face of institutional exclusionary practices experiences by their African asylum seeking pupils. This paper contributes to a growing body of work on the ways in which teachers in high-income states negotiate government-issued ideals and their personal, professional and political opinions in relation to asylum seeking children (Szilassy & Arendas, 2007). We identify a need for more understanding of how current approaches are fundamentally shaped by earlier experiences of confronting political controversies in the educational system and local discourse surrounding migration therefore crucial for the understanding of teachers’ attitudes, practices and responses towards asylum-seekers.
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