Migrant education service

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For migrant families arriving in New Zealand, their first and most lasting interaction with the community often comes through their children attending school. But where does a recent arrival turn for help if they think their child’s school isn’t meeting their needs?

Migrant family looking at New Zealand schools

Co-ordinators can help parents and schools work together

The answer is one of the Ministry of Education's Refugee and Migrant Education Co-ordinators. There are five co‑ordinators working out of four locations – Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington and Christchurch.

New Zealand is becoming more culturally diverse, with over one quarter of the people living here born outside New Zealand – many from countries where English is not the first language. This can create some challenges for schools. Refugee and Migrant co‑ordinators are available to handle enquiries from migrants needing help with the school system, and also from schools needing advice on providing education for migrant pupils.

How can a co-ordinator help?

There is a lot about the every-day school system that migrant parents need support in understanding, like enrolment schemes (school zones) or English as a second language (ESOL) issues. If children have learning issues or are talented and gifted, parents need to understand how the school will provide for them. On the flip-side, schools need support making the most of what are usually very straight-forward interactions with parents. Schools might ask a co‑ordinator about how to conduct parent/teacher interviews or deal with a complaint or query when the parents have limited or no English.

Migrant co‑ordinators also work to spread information about the Kiwi school system as wide as possible within migrant communities. They put frequently asked questions in locally based ethnic newspapers and on the web, to reach as many people as they can in these communities. There are also workshops, seminars and a forum for parents and schools to deal with common issues.

As well as the obvious barrier of language, cultural issues frequently arise.

Schools are increasingly involving their parent community in all aspects of delivering education, which can be challenging for schools that have taken on pupils from an unfamiliar culture.

The Ministry of Education’s Abdirazak Abdi, Lead Adviser Refugee and Migrant Education, says one of most common problems schools have is understanding how to deal with a whole new culture. “When a school is assessing a student’s needs, they may get a raft of different suggestions from pupils or parent from different cultures. Understanding the whole culture is critical to creating a safe and welcoming environment for students, as well as being able to engage them in the school system.”

The Ministry provides cultural awareness training for schools which identify themselves as needing support, and Abdirazak says it’s rewarding for the co‑ordinators knowing they are contributing to systemic change in the way education is delivered to many young New Zealanders.

To contact a Refugee and Migrant Education Coordinator call the Ministry of Education national office (04) 463 8000.

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