The “Pandemic Gap” in Education

The European project MiCREATE aims to promote the integration of students with migration experience and migrant family backgrounds. The research team at the University of Vienna led by Birgit Sauer has developed recommendations for the Covid 19 crisis on how pupils can be supported.

How are children and young people with migration experience and migrant family backgrounds doing in the education system? This is the question posed by the European MiCREATE project, which is funded by the European Commission as part of the “Horizon 2020” program and on which a research group at the University of Vienna around Birgit Sauer from the Institute for Political Science is also working.

The project runs for a total of three years, in the first step the integration practices and initiatives that currently exist in the respective countries were analyzed. “The special thing about our project is the child-centered approach, that is, we want to understand how the students are currently doing from their perspective and how their experiences in the Austrian education system could be improved,” explains project team member Alev Cakir.

Pandemic increases disadvantages

The field research at six Viennese schools, which is the core of the project, was interrupted by the first corona lockdown in spring 2020. It was continued with the start of school in 2020/21, but the pandemic topic also expanded the research focus: For example, recommendations were drawn up specifically for the corona crisis on how to support children and young people with migration experience and migrant family backgrounds, especially during this time.

“Every crisis intensifies existing disadvantages,” explains project employee Stella Wolter. “This is also evident in the corona pandemic in relation to education.” After a so-called “summer gap” can already be determined in the regular school years, which is based on the fact that not all students are supported and looked after in the same way during the holidays, there is now a “pandemic gap”, i.e. an educational gap caused by the Covid- 19 crisis.

Corona virus: how it changes our lives
From new family processes to the effects on logistics chains: Experts from the University of Vienna talk about the consequences of the corona virus in a wide variety of areas.
(© iXismus/Pixabay)

Recommendations for online learning

This educational gap is due on the one hand to a lack of learning infrastructure (do the students have a computer with internet at home? Is there a quiet place to work?) And, on the other hand, a question of resources: Do the parents have the time, financial resources, the relevant knowledge and language skills to help students learn online?

Accordingly, the recommendation of the Vienna researchers is in theirs Policy Briefthat special consideration should be given to the online learning situations of students and that families should be supported with learning rooms, technical equipment and other offers (peer mentoring, regular meetings, language courses, etc.) if necessary. “This is of course also about larger, societal issues,” said Alev Cakir.

Still “the others”

In addition to the “Corona recommendation”, the researchers have also developed a number of general scientific recommendations for national decision-makers. “Unfortunately, education is still largely inherited in Austria, which is why it is important to build up school structures in the long term so that socio-economically disadvantaged children and young people are not also ‘punished’ in education”, says Alev Cakir. “We are only at the beginning of the field research, but in the first conversations students with migration experience and migrant family backgrounds told us that in their own perception they are still the ‘others’. That is terrifying and also surprised us.”

In principle, a different understanding of integration is also necessary, says Stella Wolter: “So far, there has been no holistic understanding of integration.” This also includes the recognition that long-term measures and more resources in the form of personnel are needed to provide children and young people with migration experience and migrant family backgrounds with equal educational opportunities. “This is also about needs-based distribution – some schools need more supportive offers than others,” says Wolter.

In the remaining third of the MiCREATE project, the Vienna research team will evaluate the field research at the Vienna schools, prepare comparative analyzes with other EU countries and develop further scientific recommendations for the decision-makers. In addition, tools for teachers are being developed to support them in communicating with students.

Das Projekt Migrant Children and Communities in a Transforming Europe (MiCREATE) is based at the Institute for Political Science at the University of Vienna (Head: Birgit Sauer) and is funded as part of the EU research program “Horizon 2020” and implemented by 15 research institutions from twelve European countries. It runs from January 2019 to December 2021. Alev Cakir and Stella Wolter are research project staff at the Institute for Political Science at the University of Vienna.

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