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Kristina Brezicha
Kristina Brezicha. Photo: Lars Andersson View original picture , opens in new tab/window

School's key to successful integration

Published: 22 May 2017

School's plays a crucial role in the integration of refugees and immigrants into society and the democratic process. Challenges exist but with the right conditions there are great social benefits to be had.

– Immigrants and refugees are individuals with a rich set of stories and histories. We stand to learn and grow as individuals and communities when we help foster an inclusive communities. These opportunities include an expanded understanding of another culture, history and in some cases religion. Further, we learn about ourselves as we get to know another person with such a different set of experiences. As we interact, we have to explain "common-sense" traditions thus helping us learn more about our own culture and heritage, said Kristina Brezicha, Assistant Professor at Georgia State University, who is currently visiting colleagues at the research subject of education at Luleå University of Technology.

Sees teachers as role models

Kritstina Brezicha's research focus on how education supports individuals’ abilities to equitably participate in the democratic processes at both the local and national levels. Specifically, she has studied how immigrant students’ experiences of in/exclusion in their schools has shaped their knowledge, attitudes, habits and dispositions towards the political process in the U.S. and Canada. During her visit at the university, she lectured and discussed with colleagues about how school's should work to strengthen integration.

– Schools play multiple roles in the integration of immigrant and refugee students in the democratic process. On the one hand, school do provide an important source of knowledge about how a new society works for immigrant and refugee students (and importantly their families). Moreover as one of the first public and political communities that immigrant students interact with in their new country, schools play a vital role in shaping the newcomers' attitudes and beliefs about their new society's roles and expectations for them, says Kristina Brezicha and continues.

– My research has found that immigrant students view the educators they have developed positive relationships with as their civic role models. Thus it is vital that we support educators' abilities to interact with their immigrant students in supportive and inclusive ways thus helping foster in their immigrant students a sense of belonging and understanding of their role in their new community and country.

Create places of acceptance

In recent years, Sweden has taken in a relatively high proportion of people on the run from war and persecution. A fact that has led to a discussion and review of how the school can respond to this challenge.

– Providing excellent educational opportunities for immigrants and refugees begins with creating a climate that is inclusive and caring and which provides many opportunities for these individuals to interact with other non-immigrants. Given my limited experience with Swedish schools, I don't feel comfortable prescribing what Sweden's schools should do. However for transitions to occur smoothly, immigrant and refugee students cannot feel that they have to choose between their own culture and becoming part of their new society. They need to feel that they belong in their new society as they are and who they are. Thus schools need to create places where they can find this acceptance and belonging. This can then help facilitate the transition into the broader society, said Kristina Brezicha.