Mats Ehn, Secretary of FOLAC (Folkbildning–Learning for Active Citizenship) in Sweden identifies key ways adult education can support migrants and refugees.
Sweden has been an immigration country for many years. Folkbildning, the publicly financed civil society structure in adult education, has been engaged in working with refugees and migrants for a long time. The 154 folk high schools and the 10 national study organisations form a national infrastructure of folkbildning covering the whole country. Some 30% of participants in second chance courses organised by the folk highs schools were born outside Sweden and 3,000 refugees that recently received their permanent residence permit are participating in courses introducing them to Swedish society and the labour market.
The number of refugees in Europe increased heavily in 2015 and Sweden received one of the biggest influxes. Thanks to the existing infrastructure of folkbildning, folk high schools and study associations could rapidly engage in working with the refugees. Folk high schools have offered housing for unaccompanied children and courses called ”Swedish from day one” have been offered to asylum seekers.
Many asylum seekers have been placed in small communities in the countryside where they form a large part of the total population. Within the framework of the ImplOED project (see box) we have gathered voices from the folk highs schools on what they do in these contexts in order to foster inclusion and fellowship instead of xenophobia and fear.
The ImplOED project
The project Implementing Outreach, Empowerment and Diversity (ImplOED) gathers 11 European organisations for a more inclusive Europe through adult education. Together we have developed methodological guidelines that enable adult education providers to contribute to the participation of marginalised groups as active citizens in society. These guidelines emphasise:
We have also developed policy recommendations for decision makers on how to realise the potential of adult education for inclusion. This is about:
Key conclusions and recommendations are:
- Take the lead when the refugees are coming and don’t wait for the authorities to do so
- Turn the folk high school into a meeting place for local civil society and encourage and give room for the refugees to take part in local activities like football, music and handicrafts
- Organise parties and events so that people have the chance to get to know each other
- Engage all the courses at the folk high school in common activities with the refugees
- Make it possible for the asylum seekers to arrange activities in the premises of the folk high school
- Organise language cafés to offer informal spaces for language learning with local people
- Consider the newcomers as a resource for local development and argue for better public services
- Establish good relations with the municipality and the labour market agency
- Think long term!
For many of the communities in the countryside that have a declining and aging population the newcomers are representing a great opportunity for development and innovation.