Doing integration in public schools in Poznań
Elżbieta M. Goździak on attempts to integrate migrant children in public schools
Increase of foreign-born students in Polish public schools
Polish schools welcomed a great number of freign-born students. According to the Center for Civic Education, at least 350,000 school-age children came to Poland in the 2021/22 school year. Almost 40 percent of them enrolled in Polish schools.
The Wielkopolska region has also seen an increase of foreign‐born pupils in primary and secondary schools. During the 2015/2016 school year, there were 585 foreign‐born pupils in public schools in the region. Since then, the number increased fivefold and at the beginning of the 2018/2019 school year it reached 3,200 pupils, representing 0.6 percent of the total of 476,800 pupils in Wielkopolska. According to the Poznań City Hall, 4,417 children, including 818 preschoolers, 3,210 primary, and 389 secondary school students, who arrived from Ukraine after February 24, 2022, were attending schools in Poznań at the beginning of the 2022/23 school year.
Intercultural Youth Clubs: Integration in Practice
Many of these students came from a relatively homogenous societies and entered a country with a very recent history of immigration. It seemed obvious that there was a need to promote activities intended to acquaint the students with each other and learn about the countries and educational systems they came from.
In cooperation with three primary and one high school, Migrant Info Point (MIP) organized Intercultural Youth Clubs. We were priviledged to particiapte in the final activities of two of these clubs where small groups of students prepared presentations about Poland, Ukraine, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazahstan. There was also an adult volunteered who presented about the Neatherlands and Indonesia. And another adult volunteer who devised a quiz about different countries, their cultural symbols, cuisine, etc. Groups of younger students "travelled" from one country to another to learn about its history, culture, and food.
We witnessed a great deal of enthusiasm, especially on the part of the presenters who worked hard on their presentations. A group of class clowns prepared a hilarious presentation mixing historical periods and historical characters that had us all in stiches. The boys from Afghanistan wrote their classmates' names in Farsi; the Polish kids proudly displayed those name tags.
Many of the "travellers" asked lots of questions but equally many were quietly listening to their older schoolmates. Not interested or to shy to ask questions?
Room for improvement
I applaud the idea of bringing together students from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds to learn about each other, but the anthropologist in me was cringing listening to very essentialized views of different cultures.
In my opinion, this project had a great potential to divorce the children from the nationalistic curriculum they are forced to follow in school. It could have also gone beyond national generalizations and focus on the local context. Some of the Ukrainian students did talk about the cities or districts they came from. However, without exception, the Polish students stuck with the image of the Polish nation as constructed in Polish textbooks. Being in Poznań, the students could have talked about the Poznań dialect (gwara poznańska)--after all their foreign-born classmates are learning a new language... I am sure it would have been fun for them to learn a few words used only in Poznań.
At least one group talked about folk costumes that have dissapeared in Wielkopolska a century ago or longer. They could have talked about a tradition that is still very much alive in Poznań, namely the Bamberg costume (strój bamberski) originally introduced by immigrants from Bamberg in the middle of the 19th centurys, but worn today by young girls and women during the Corpus Cristi procession.
I have a feeling that if the Intercultural Youth Clubs were created as an after school activity, perhaps outside the school system, there would be much more scope for promotion of diversity, ethnic and cultural diversity as well as diversity of viewpoints.