More than 50% of the 5.3 million asylum seekers who arrived in OECD countries between 2014 and 2017 were 18-34 years old. The OECD’s new report Unlocking the potential of Migrants uses practical examples to highlight the advantages of vocational education and training (VET) for the inclusion of young migrants in European society.

The analysis, published on 26 September 2019, draws on international policies and practices. It offers detailed examples from Germany, Italy, Sweden and Switzerland, but also explores data from other countries. The report provides guidelines for governments and other stakeholders on how to help young humanitarian migrants by placing them in vocational education and training.

The report sets out the benefits of VET: apprenticeships and work-based learning seem to be one of the most effective ways to integrate young migrants and refugees into society and the labour market. The report also investigates the challenges that migrants face in accessing upper-secondary level VET and what support they need.

The data show that the share of young migrants entering upper-secondary VET programmes has been rising in recent years. There were increases of 6% in Germany (2009-17), 5% in Sweden (2011-17), and 3% in Switzerland (2012-17). However, in Finland, Germany, Norway and Sweden a lower percentage of young migrants attend upper-secondary VET than native students and they are less successful in completing their VET. In Finland and Germany young migrants are 8% less likely to finish their VET than their native school mates, while in Norway and Sweden the gap is 16-18% . The reasons are various. For example, they might begin the course with weaker skills, might lack relevant social networks, and might face discrimination. There is sometimes a shortage of apprenticeship placements that they can take.

The OECD report suggests that countries could help young migrants and refugees by offering flexible VET provision, such as modular, shorter or longer programmes. Governments also need to give schools and companies clear information about the legal status of humanitarian migrant students and apprentices. Some countries are promoting intermediary bodies to build contacts between young migrants and employers. Such efforts can challenge discriminatory assumptions from employers, while giving migrants a chance to build social capital and a better understanding of employer expectations.

You can read the full OECD report “Unlocking the potential of migrants” here.


by Yasemin Can-Nizamoğlu

In Germany, the debate about the whys and wherefores of (school based) heritage language instruction (HLI or in German »Herkunftssprachlicher Unterricht«) is not over. In some German states heritage languages are taught via teachers directly employed by or sent by the consulates of the foreign countries (the so called consulate method) or alternatively via a public provision – or a mix of both. Either way, HLI remains marginal within the German education system. This piece will address why it is so marginal and what the arguments are for its support.

Heritage language instruction finds itself within a dilemma - supporters on the one side use the 'Interdependence' hypothesis of Jim Cummins (see Cummins, 2000)[1] as the basis for an institutional embedding of HLI for students with a mother tongue which is different to the country's / state's official language. The 'Interdependence' hypothesis argues that instruction in one language will, if certain conditions are fulfilled, effect learning in the other language. Critics of this approach who support a monolingual school argue that the time that needs to be invested in learning the heritage language should be invested in learning the official host country language. There are few empirical studies to support the 'Interdependence' hypothesis (see Wenk et al, 2016)[2].

Linguistic competencies connect in different ways. But the question of how they connect is unclear. It is however clear, that attending HLI doesn't have negative effects on learning German and that “it leads with certainty to a further development of the family language, which is additional language qualification” (Reich 2014, pg. 7)[3] There are strong arguments that the positive effects (on learning German) only occur when particular conditions are fulfilled – amongst these being: agreeing on teaching methods and cooperation between staff, quality standards, and the recognition of the HLI as a subject.

Regardless of the desirability of more research, heritage languages should be recognised as a valuable resource. Students with mother tongues other than German, bring “specific language and cultural resources with them, which should be recognised as a treasure not just for themselves, but for the whole community.”(Bremer / Mehlhorn 2018, pg. 11)[4].

Challenges and Problems in Practice – an example:

The challenges and problems shown up in a study conducted in Munich in 2013, are exemplary. The interview with a HLI teacher indicated that the conditions for the HLI were very unhelpful.

The instruction was on Friday afternoon which led to poor attendance. As the attendance was voluntary, the students preferred to enjoy their free time – particularly in the summer. The HLI offer was a double lesson (i.e. 90 minutes) in the school once a week. There was a wide range of ages in the group according to the teacher interviewed. One group consisted of students from grades 4 to 7, who also had a range of language competencies. Some of them had started the HLI that year – others had participated for a number of years.

The heterogeneity of the teaching group in terms of age as well as linguistic competency was a significant challenge for the teacher. The teacher worked completely independently in terms of the curriculum planning and selection of teaching materials. This was based in the difficulties of the textbooks used in the HLI. The planned content of the curriculum could not, nowadays, be fully covered within a school year. This is partially because the students do not attend regularly but also because the teacher ensures a variety of activities within the lessons. Without this variety, the students wouldn't attend the lessons at all.

In Bremen we can observe the same problems 5 years after the Munich study. In the context of the seminar “Der schulische Herkunftssprachenunterricht” (Heritage Language Instruction at School) (SoSe 18, Universität Bremen) which I offered, students observed HLI in schools to get an idea of how it was delivered and spoke with teachers on the courses. There were similarly unhelpful conditions – the example discussed above was not an exception, but rather a systematic reflection of general problems for HLI. These conditions make participation for the school students not particularly attractive. The initial question in this piece – why has HLI got such a marginalised position – is based in the fact that we are only on the way towards acceptance of multilingualism. This is shown by current media coverage for example the Bild (a German national tabloid) had an article with the headline: “only one of (these) 103 children speak German at home.” The supposition that only German is the language that everyone speaks at home is not really thought through. More than a third of families in Germany are multilingual. From that, growing up with an additional language to German is hardly an exception but rather normality - and this will grow in significance. The first important step would be the recognition and acceptance of heritage languages and multilingualism.

Recommendations ...

Heritage language instruction needs to be reformed - that's certain. Support in terms of educational policy and research is necessary to achieve this. Participation for students should be made part of an attractive offer. For example, student motivation could be enhanced by taking away the 'informal group' nature of the lessons, instead valuing their participation by awarding grades like in other subjects. This would also require a curriculum with set standards. In addition, in-service training for teaching staff with regards to linguistic diversity within the teaching groups is important. The HLI should be carried out in close cooperation with the teaching of German. Simultaneously the institutional connections between support in the student's first and second languages should be strengthened. (Woerfel 2013)[5]. The interaction between families, schools and research is equally important in achieving this as the recognising and using a natural multilingualism (ebd.).

... and Perspectives:

The struggle against the marginalisation of HLI has passed an important milestone with the establishment of a network for "Herkunftssprachlicher Unterricht"[6]. This network is a German wide organisation which plans to broaden research particularly in terms of the role and function of HLI. There are also positive moves afoot in some states. In the Saarland, for example, the consulate model will be taken into the state government sector and extended from the current Italian and Turkish, to include Arabic and Russian. Nord-Rhein-Westfalen has added two new languages to make a total of 22 - including Aramaic and Zazaki. We can hope that these positive developments continue and that heritage languages will be supported.

At the time of writing, Yasemin Can-Nizamoğlu was an academic staff member of the German as a Second and Foreign Language Unit, Area 10, Department of Language and Literature - Universität Bremen. Ms. Can-Nizamoğlu is now employed at Cologne University (Unversität zu Köln).


[1] Cummins, J. (2000): Language, power and pedagogy. Bilingual children in the crossfire. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

[2] Wenk, A./Marx, N./Steinhoff, T./Rüßmann, L. (2016): Interlinguale Förderung von Schreibfähigkeiten bilingualer Schülerinnen und Schüler. Zeitschrift für Fremdsprachenforschung 27 (2), 151-179.

[3] Reich, H. (2014): Über die Zukunft des herkunftssprachlichen Unterrichts. Überarbeitete Fassung eines Vortrags bei der GEW Rheinland-Pfalz in Mainz am 31.01.2012. content/prodaz/reich_hsu_prodaz.pdf [15.11.2018].

[4] Brehmer, B./Mehlhorn, G. (2018): Herkunftssprachen. Tübingen: Narr Francke Attempto.

[5] Woerfel, T. (2013): Interaktionen im multilingualen Spracherwerb- Nachteil Bayern? Vortrag, 3. Diskussionsforum Linguistik in Bayern »Interaktionen«, 25./26.02.2013 Universität Bamberg.


Citizens UK, a national community organising group, recently released a report investigating how the hostile environment policy is impacting upon the everyday lives of schools, families and children without citizenship living in the UK.

The hostile environment immigration policy was first introduced by Home Secretary Theresa May in 2012, aiming to make lives of people without the “right documentation” unbearable until they decided to leave the UK. This was done by fining landlords renting out their properties out to undocumented migrants, asking medical personnel to report migrants without documents to the Home Office and threatening employers who hired migrants without documents with fines. The hostile environment policy, however, does not just impact undocumented migrants living in the UK, but all migrants, as well as many individuals and families, particularly those from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, who have lived in the UK for their entire lives.

Since January 2019, undergraduate students from the UCL Institute of Education have been working with Citizens UK, along with staff and student in six primary and secondary schools and sixth form colleges across London to conduct an action research project on the impact of the hostile environment on these schools, their students, parents and staff. Action research combines education (developing workshops to learn together about the hostile environment policy), research (listening to the experiences and opinions of children, teachers and parents), and action (collectively developing ideas to address the harmful impact of the hostile environment policy).

As highlighted in this preliminary report, the research finds that the hostile environment is having a significant and negative impact in schools, not just for children and families without citizenship, but for teachers and school leadership teams as well. This policy undermines the right of all children to an equal, high quality education in schools across the UK.

Download the action research preliminary report “Forgotten People. How the hostile environment impacts schools and children’s wellbeing”.

Many factors feed into the design of a truly inclusive education system. Some factors shape the way education systems are set up, such as laws and policies or governance and finance mechanisms. Others operate inside the school walls, in the shape of curricula and learning materials, but also teachers, school leaders and education support personnel. The right community spirit and parental engagement are vital for enabling an inclusive education system to function correctly.

The 2020 GEM Report on inclusion and education will cover each of these factors in turn, identifying factors contributing to full inclusion, or exclusion, of learners, and helping balance the books for all. But the central role of teachers for accommodating students of all abilities and backgrounds is clear – and had also emerged in the context of our 2019 report, Building Bridges, not Walls, which focused on migration and displacement.

We learnt in our research last year that socio-economic, ethnic, cultural diversity is on the rise along with the diversity of needs of potential learners.  The 2018 OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) has recently  showed us that the percentage of teachers teaching in classes with more than 10% of students whose first language is different from the language of instruction ranged from 2% in Japan and Hungary to 50% in the United Arab Emirates, 58% in Singapore and 62% in South Africa. 

But not many teachers are trained to deal with such diversity. In OECD countries, on average, a little more than one-third of teachers (35%) reported that their formal teacher education or training covered teaching in multicultural and multilingual settings.  This varies from over 70% of more teachers receiving such training in the United States, Singapore and New Zealand for example to less than 25% receiving such training in France, Slovenia, Hungary and the Czech Republic. Even when they are trained, only just over one-fourth felt well or very well prepared to teach in such settings.

A review of initial and continuing teacher education for diversity content across 49 countries found that just over 30% of the programmes were government-supervised, offered or funded. The other programmes were provided by universities, teachers’ unions, and non-government and private organizations. About 63% of the government programmes, but hardly any of the others, were mandatory. Moreover, programmes emphasized general knowledge over practical pedagogy. Only one out of five programmes prepared teachers to anticipate and resolve intercultural conflicts or be familiar with psychological treatment and referral options for students in need, which our recent paper showed was so urgently needed by many.  

If teachers do not have training, they will not have the skills needed to re-orientate their pedagogy from teacher-centred to student-centred approaches. This requires programmes to be flexible; the intensity, content and timetables should suit individual needs and contexts. For example, among the skills identified as necessary for teachers of migrants is the ability to use materials that capture the daily challenges migrants encounter and the ability to teach oral language skills to low-literate adults. Teachers also need to be aware of how first-language competence affects literacy development in a second language. 

Alongside the skills that teachers may or may not have, the tone of teaching is almost as important. This is why school leaders’ and teachers’ motivation for and commitment to inclusive education are essential and should not be taken for granted, even in systems where teacher training for inclusion exists. There is no way that inclusionin education can be realized without teachers with inclusive attitudes, values and practices; without teachers committed to be the fuel for change and the advocates for a paradigm shift.

Ensuring the most vulnerable attend and complete school is only the first step towards inclusion. The main challenge in fully including them is to offer an education of high quality that ensures the prevention of prejudices, stereotypes and discrimination. However, a shift to an inclusive education system has considerable implications. It requires a strategy that covers a large range of interventions from curricula and pedagogic approaches to textbooks and, especially, teacher preparation and support. We look forward to exploring this in more depth over the course of the coming year in the development of the 2020 GEM Report, and count on teachers and their representative organisations’ support to relay its messages at its launch in March next year.


Anna Cristina D'Addio is a Senior Policy Analyst in the GEM Report team at UNESCO since March 2017. Prior to this position, Anna worked at the OECD on a comprehensive list of issues ranging from financial education and literacy, inequality, poverty, the intergenerational transmission of education, ageing, social protection, the life course approach to social policy. Before joining the OECD Anna was a research professor in micro-econometrics applied to labour market/education issues.

On 26 May 2019, at the same time as the European parliamentary election, regional elections were held in the German State of Bremen. To date, it is unclear which coalition will be able to take power - whether a coalition of the Greens with the Christian Democrats and Liberals on the Green Center - Right, or an alliance of the Social Democrats, Greens and the Left Party  - which would be a first for western Germany. Prior to these elections, some 40 people attended a pre-election panel hosted by the GEW Bremen Working Group “Teachers Organising For Quality Education for Refugees.” Nick Strauss, the treasurer of the GEW Bremen State branch reflects back on the outcomes of this panel and declarations made by the then candidates from the main political parties on refugee education in the State.

“Mostly teachers directly affected by the challenge of teaching the more than 10% of students in Bremen, who have arrived in the past 5 years, but also community organisers from the Bremen Refugee’s Council were there, along with interested students and even the chief officer for vocational education from the education department.

On the panel were 5 politicians who had spent a morning in a preparatory course in a Primary, Junior Secondary or Vocational School in Bremen. These visits were conducted away from the gaze of the media – they were meant to be a time for the politicians to learn as well.

All opposition parties were represented from the pro market liberal ‘Free Democrats’ (FDP), the party of the German Chancellor Merkel the Christian Democrats (CDU) to the left wing party ‘die Linke’. As well the ruling coalition in Bremen of the Social Democratic (SPD) and their junior partners, the Greens, were there.

In line with GEW policy, and that of the broader German trade union movement, far right parties such as the so called ‘Alternative for Germany’ (AfD) and the local populist party ‘Angry Citizens’ (BiW) were not given a platform.

As Ina von Boetticher, one of the State Spokespersons of the GEW in Bremen, said in her opening words:

“It’s not just about learning German and getting to know a new school and school system – and that’s hard enough for many (!) – at the same time many of the children and young people have brought with them severe trauma – including the loss of family and a secure, known home. … becoming a part of a new society as opposed to just coping, is an enormous challenge which needs time!” 

So what did the politicians say?

Julie Kohlrausch, a former head teacher standing for the FDP said that her party supported integration as opposed to segregation and that without additional resources no improvements would be possible. For example she supported the campaign for additional basic literacy support in primary schools. She also supported a mother tongue offer in every neighbourhood and encouraged the participants to stay active on the issues affecting refugee and migrant children. Ms Kohlrausch emphasised the importance of early years education as one of her goals for the first 100 days should the FDP be in government after the élections.

Sandra Ahrens from the CDU was the one speaker who hadn’t been able to spend time in a preparatory course - she did make a date for a visit at the end of the meeting though. Ms Ahrens could see the point of a more ‘dynamic approach’ to the length of attendance at school – which met many of the concerns about refugee and migrant children being put through the system too fast. The CDU supported mother tongue tuition but with an increase of state provision as opposed to relying on the home countries governments for teachers and curriculum.

Sophie Leonidakis from the Left Party had come straight from a visit that morning as the party leader who had done a visit before Easter was unable to attend. She criticized long waiting times of up to one year for some students to access courses, and the ongoing outsourcing of initial provision in Bremerhaven. Ms Leonidakis pointed out that she preferred to talk about inclusion rather than integration and said the “role of education was to meet the challenge of heterogeneity” with a wide range of offers including more public provision of mother tongue tuition.

Mustafa Güngür from the SPD, who’s his party spokesperson on education said that his visit to a preparatory course at a high school in Gröplingen, a working class suburb of Bremen, had made a deep impression on him … and also proudly showed the monster he had drawn during his visit. He supported child based solutions but agreed that the communication between the education department and practitioners need to be improved. Mr Güngür stated that the state had the best range of mother tongue tuition in the country but that this could be better supported with legislative guidelines.

Christopher Rupp from the Greens was the one representative who was not an existing member of the Bremen state parliament. He was the one visitor to a vocational college – the sector which has educated the significant number of unaccompanied minors over the last years. He argued for a far better advice service for, and placement of, the students in their vocational courses. “Successful integration is when the students like going to school”. He said that his party would strive to improve flexibility of provision in the first 100 days after the election if they were returned to government.

Many of the politicians spent much of the discussion learning about new aspects the field and taking notes. Many in the audience found this listening to practitioners a pleasant change from our usual experiences … but it is election time.

What were some of the points colleagues made?

  • Some union members pointed out the bizarre situation (during a massive staffing shortage) where staff wanting to work more hours were not allowed – the reason being: ‘unqualified’ staff are good enough to teach the preparatory courses but not to work in the rest of the school system.
  • Many colleagues called for improvements in vocational education – more time than the two years and better and more flexible placements.
  • The difficulties of teaching cross aged groups in the preparatory courses – either from 6 to11 year olds in primary or 1o to 16 year olds in secondary was noted.
  • Special needs provision for migrant and refugee children as part of an inclusive education system – at the moment there is simply no provision made.
  • Better communication – many problems had been raised before – again and again and yet it felt like nothing was being achieved.

“Leading up the election, almost all the parties in Bremen have said that education is a vital theme. As a union that’s pleasing news and it means that it’s particularly interesting to see what actually happens after the election … because that’s when it is that it really counts.” 

Ina von Boetticher, State Spokesperson for the GEW in Bremen.

Sometimes elections feel like the Olympics – the politicians compete every four years and win or lose. 

But for the children and young people in the education system in the state of Bremen and the education workers, teachers and social workers who work with them … education is more like a marathon. We just have to keep on keeping on.”