Popular education important for asylum seekers’ social inclusion

Committed teachers in the popular adult education sector are quietly making a huge contribution with helping asylum seekers into Swedish society. And it’s not just educational, it's also social and humanitarian. All according to two fresh LiU studies.

Adult woman in pattern dress with red felt pen writing in a notebook. Photo credit SinicakoverThe studies are the first in a research programme about migration, learning and social inclusion. The programme will run for eight years, where new arrivals will be followed over time.

“We want to find out how different contexts relating to new arrivals’ training in the Swedish language and introduction to Swedish society can benefit their social inclusion. Things like feeling that they belong to a group, getting some extra work or becoming part of society in some other way”, says Andreas Fejes, professor of adult education research, and one of the seven researchers behind the study.

A majority took part in an introduction

During the years 2015 to 2017, a majority of all adult asylum seekers, more than 120,000 people, took part in an introduction to the Swedish language immediately after their arrival in the country.

The introduction was offered by popular adult education providers, folk high schools, SFI (Swedish for Immigrants) providers, and senior secondary schools.
The researchers interviewed a number of new arrivals to hear their experiences of their studies during their first period in the country. The same individuals will be followed up with further interviews during the eight-year course of the research programme.

“This allows us to follow their individual life pathways, to look at similarities and differences in how well those who are allowed to stay are able to get into Swedish society”, says Andreas Fejes.

A meaningful and important activity

Two substudies are finished. One has followed the popular adult education provider ABF’s work with asylum seekers who have studied Swedish at ABF immediately after arrival in Sweden. 46 participants were interviewed in three municipalities, regarding their view of what the study circles meant to them.

“The responses show that it is a very meaningful and important activity for the participants. Many of them talk about ABF and the study circles as their home – a place where they don’t just get to learn the language, they also get support and assistance in a difficult situation, a place both for dealing with concerns and for learning rules about Sweden. The circle becomes a breathing space.”

The second substudy investigated the language introduction programme at two senior secondary schools and two folk high schools. 65 newly arrived pupils were interviewed using the same design as the ABF study.

Folk high schools seem better at integrating the pupils

Andreas Fejes does not want to make any sweeping conclusions from the study results, but he points out that there are differences in how the new arrivals experienced the instruction and the social cohesiveness at the senior secondary schools and the folk high schools.

“What we see is that the folk high schools seem better at integrating the pupils. They become a part of the others at the school, and take part in activities with them.”

At the two senior secondary schools, on the other hand, the new pupils did not feel the same sense of participation with the teachers and the other pupils. The activity was separate from the other instruction at the schools, and the new arrivals used separate rooms.

The place is important

“The place is super important to these young people. They like staying after school, if it’s possible for them. We also see that the teachers at the folk high schools seem to have more flexibility in deciding the level of the pupil’s language, compared to in the senior secondary schools.”

Thus, one conclusion the researchers make is that an introduction to the language that is combined with a committed, supportive environment in the school or study circle is of great importance both for the individual’s life in general, and for their ability to learn more about the new country.

Two more studies are under way: one about the participants’ experience of SFI, the other about the adult education provider Sensus’ work with the establishment of new arrivals.

Link to the ABF study (in Swedish) 

The other authors of the two published studies are Magnus Dahlstedt, Robert Aman, Sabine Gruber, Ronny Högberg, Nedzad Mesic and Sofia Nordström, all from Linköping University.

Translation: Martin Mirko

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