As the first plane of Syrian refugee’s touches down in The United Kingdom today, I feel it is important to reflect on how positive it is that our country has opened its arms to these people in their time of need. Britain has agreed to take in around 20,000 refugees over the next five years, which I feel is fantastic. It is amazing when countries step in to help at times like this, and even more amazing that this time it is us.
As most of the refugees coming over are families and are due to resettle in various local authorities across Scotland, I feel it is appropriate to reflect on what this means for us as teachers. These refugees will be in need of specialist medical care and specialist support to help them through any issues derived from the violence and torture they have experienced. There are already places within schools set aside for them.
A lot of these children would have been forced to quit school if they were even lucky enough to be there in the first place. We will have to be aware as teachers, that these pupils are likely to be learning English as their second language. This will face us with certain challenges. We will have the additional factor that their understanding on the English language may not be as developed as the rest of their classmates, as well as the fact that they will be at a disadvantage socially due to the language barriers.
These children will also have experienced loss all around of them, and lost connection with a lot of their friends and family. This will have had a very negative effect on their self-esteem and confidence. As teachers, we have the responsibility to recognise this and put into effect support strategies to support these children in this difficult time.
A way in which we can do this is “buddy” systems. This will help them get to know their peers, and ensure they are not lonely at times such as breaks and lunch. Children may feel secluded as their parents may not want to bring them along to after school activities when it is dark – so it is essential they are given a good opportunity to socialise during these breaks within the school day.
In countries such as Syria, schools are often targeted by terrorist activity. We need to make sure these children coming into our UK schools know that they are now in a safe environment.
It’s heart-breaking to think about what they’ve been through, but there is the chance that their past experiences may have an effect on their behaviour. Children may be distant, and refuse or even become frightened around strangers, so a close eye will have to be on them in the early days to ensure they are settling in and coming well. Struggles may also be apparent when they are placed within large groups, they may need one-to-one support before they can build up the confidence to take part in whole class activities.
We should never ask children to re-live these traumatic experiences, ever. No matter whether it is a written exercise, homework exercise, or ANYTHING. We should also make sure they are never questioned by any other staff or child as to why they are here. They deserve to be in school getting educated as much as everyone else.
Most importantly of all, we need to provide a school experience for these children that is positive and welcoming. These children have a lot to offer and have been through so, so much to get here.