Course date

15 July - 19 July, 2019
14 February, 2019
Course Director(s): 

Alison Hillman

Human Rights Initiative, Open Society Foundations, Washington D.C., United States of America

Tina Hyder

Early Childhood Program, Open Society Foundations, London, United Kingdom

Kate Lapham

Education Support Program, Open Society Foundations, Istanbul, Turkey
Course Manager: 

Almaz Ismayilova

Early Childhood Program, Open Society Foundations, London, United Kingdom

Judit Levenda

Educational Support Program, Open Society Foundations, Vienna, Austria

Around the world, refugee and migrant children are often excluded from early childhood settings and schools alongside others who are also excluded on the grounds of disability, race, language, religion, gender, and poverty. But every child has the right to be supported by their parents and community to grow, learn, and develop in the early years, and, upon reaching school age, to go to school and be welcomed and included by carers, teachers and peers alike. When all children, regardless of their differences, can play and learn together, everyone benefits—this is the cornerstone of inclusive societies.

According to the UNHCR, approximately 67 million people are currently displaced around the world as a result of the unprecedented levels of armed conflict. Similarly, millions of people are migrating in search of better economic opportunities with about 258 million people now living in a country which is not the country of their birth.  Whatever the cause, children experience disruption in their informal and formal learning when on the move, leading to long-term, cyclical, and intra and intergenerational consequences. Often with their families under severe stress, and without clear safety nets or social support, many children who are on the move lack the stable, nurturing and predictable play and learning experiences that form the foundation for school readiness, contributing towards healthy, successful futures and inclusive societies.

Inclusive systems provide a better quality education for all children and are instrumental in changing discriminatory attitudes. Early childhood settings and schools provide the context for a child’s first relationship with the world outside their families, enabling the development of social relationships and interactions. Respect and understanding grow when students of diverse abilities and backgrounds play, socialize, and learn together. Education that excludes and segregates perpetuates discrimination against traditionally marginalized groups. When education is more inclusive, so are concepts of civic participation, employment, and community life.

However, inclusive education is conceptualized differently by different stakeholders, and is too often misunderstood as an approach to working exclusively with children with disabilities. This ignores the benefits of diversity for all children and denies the possibility of layers of identity. At the same time, civil society groups and human rights advocates often pursue education reform in terms of discrimination experienced by a single race, ethnic group, or constituency. This has led to the development of very strong constituency-based organizations capable of documenting and litigating discrimination in education. This approach has been successful in mobilizing international bodies to hold governments accountable for their legal obligations nationally and internationally. Constituency-based organizing, however, can be challenging for refugees and people of migrant background who are themselves diverse and often do not have immediate access to the social capital networks in new places. Constituency-focused approaches can also be polarizing within education systems, playing to populist fears of reform as a zero-sum game where one group’s gains come at another’s expense. This is especially characteristic of current narratives around migrants and asylum seekers.

This course is designed to bring together people from diverse constituencies and professional groups that include education and early years policy makers, researchers, and education and human rights advocates for constituencies likely to face discrimination in early childhood and school systems.  Our goal is to provide opportunities for discussion of inclusion and discrimination with senior experts in different corners of the early childhood, education and human rights fields with a specific through the lens of learners of refugee and migrant background. The course will approach inclusive education through the specific lens of migration and asylum seekers.

The course consists of pre-course reading and active participation in a week (5 days) of intensive, interactive work with the course’s core faculty. Participants must apply on a competitive basis. This course is not intended to satisfy particular degree requirements. Selected applicants will receive support for travel based on ability to pay.