Win-Win: Refugees as Teachers

In the UK, and many, many countries around the world, there are two different crises developing. One is how to integrate refugees into society and create jobs for them to work. The other is that fewer and fewer people want to teach, particularly in Maths, Science, and Computing — as wages are much higher in the respective industries. As ever, hardship breeds innovation, and some refugees have been trained as teachers, to find work and fill the void.

German Course for Refugees

One major reason why people, especially those who were teachers in their home country, like the idea of teaching is that the feel in schools is the same almost everywhere. In a piece in the Guardian, a Russian refugee described the ‘similarities’ such as the ‘atmosphere’ of schools in both countries.

After years of making a living as an interpreter, she got in touch with a charity called Reconnect, which helps refugees get into teaching. She is now a part-time secondary school Russian teacher. This, then, is another reason why teaching can be so helpful so refugees (and, indeed, any migrants) — they already have the ready-made skills to teach, as they usually know another language.

In this BBC report, Chatterbox (an online languages education platform) is in focus, with teachers from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq — and all around the world.

They are all highly-skilled refugees filling the void for language teachers, another subject with shortages due to better employment opportunities. Increasing the number of language teachers can also help to get more people studying, for longer, and more people taking up languages in their later life. This, as I explained in a previous piece, is massively important for a country like the UK.

High-skilled is a term that generally describes most refugees. They have so much to offer our countries; all it takes is a bit of support and extra funding for programs to get them into jobs such as teaching. I’m not calling for new money, necessarily, but rather a reallocation of money from fringe education schemes (such as “free schools” in the UK) into something that will really make a difference.

Schemes like the Reconnect charity or the Chatterbox start-up help also to get refugees into a situation where they are net contributors to the state, not net recipients. Currently, non-citizens overall are net contributors, quite significantly so; refugees less so. In some areas, refugees are net recipients from the state, as they have not been given any help from councils or charities.

Not all refugees will want to stay here forever. Some will develop a sense of loyalty and remain; most, especially those from war-torn countries, will wish to go back when it is safer to help rebuild. Therefore, let’s use the time that we have to ensure a few things:

  • One, that they leave our country with a better impression of it than they had beforehand
  • Two, that they are net contributors to the state, not net recipients
  • Three, that their full potential as highly-skilled workers is recognised, to help to increase productivity and give back to the communities that they live in, often the poorest in our countries

If we can meet all three of these criteria in our treatment of refugees and work with them, then the whole thing will be a success, not an abject failure. We will crush far-right nationalism and racism, and our lives (migrants and citizens alike) will be better for it.

Teaching is just one way in which to achieve this; there are many other ways in which to integrate people and benefit from migration. All it takes is some sensible, progressive policy, with adequate (but not excessive) funding behind it, and there is a better future for everyone involved.

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