ASAL'S FIRST DAY AT SCHOOL - FOR EVERY CHILD: EDUCATION
Sixty boys and girls from the temporary reception centre for refugees and migrants enrol in formal education in Sarajevo.
A beautiful October day at the Ušivak Temporary Reception Center, near Sarajevo, which currently houses about 120 families with children, began with a sense of a hurry. Although the centre is full of children's cheers, laughter and numerous activities in which children and families participate every day, this morning felt somewhat different. It is the first day of school for around sixty children, temporarily housed at the centre. Many of them continue their education after having a three year break, equal to the approximate duration of their long travel.
In the Sarajevo Canton, thanks to the commitment of the Ministry of Education and Government of Canton Sarajevo and the great efforts and support of UNICEF, World Vision, IOM, and in cooperation with the local authorities and two primary schools, they finally get the opportunity to continue or start with the formal education process.
The older group of children, accompanied by the cultural mediators, who will assist with translation and overcoming cultural differences, and chaperones who will be helping them in the process of learning and inclusion, headed to their new school, being fully equipped with UNICEF’s school bags, accessories, and having a solid knowledge of English, which they learn through the "Akelius Digital Language Course”, thanks to the support of the Akelius Foundation and UNICEF Sweden. It was about time to start preparations with the younger group.
While the educators from the Child-Friendly Corner explained to us that all the children had a medical examination within the health interventions assisted by UNICEF and Danish Refugee Council, as well as the assessment of knowledge and skills, to get a customized and inclusive program in preparatory classes, a panting and crying girl runs up to us, thinking she's late for school. After we convinced her that she has yet to leave, with a group of younger children, we gave her a school backpack with equipment and finally saw her cheerful smile.
Asal * is six years old. She left Afghanistan with her parents when she was only a toddler. They travelled through Turkey, Greece, Albania, and Montenegro. She also has a four-year-old sister with whom she likes to play the most, but today, Asal makes it clear to her baby sister that she can't go to school with her. Her father is an engineer who worked in Kabul before they left Afghanistan due to safety threats to his family. The mother is a young, college-educated woman who speaks five languages and strives to teach her daughters as well. It is a great relief for her that Asal will timely start her formal education. When asked where they see themselves in the future, they said they would like to continue their journey to EU countries, but given that winter is approaching and that their daughters are still young, and their well-being is most important to them, both parents are likely to postpone those plans. The health and safety of their children come first.
"I am happy to go to school today. I like drawing the most. My mother taught me English, and now I will learn Bosnian. When I grow up, I want to be a doctor and a model, ”says Asal, whose entire attention is now focused on the contents of her new school bag.
"I am excited that Asal is going to school, and the only thing I am afraid of is that she might experience some form of discrimination, which we all faced during the trip. We have reassured her that she would be happy at school and that she would be treated like any other child. After getting involved in non-formal education here at the centre and meeting the educators, she has freed herself from fear and is now looking forward to going to school. Her greatest wish is for teachers to be kind to her, to learn Bosnian and English, but also to show her artistic side through creative works. ”, says Asal's mother Karimah *.
Soon we are joined by about twenty girls and boys, ready for their first day of school. They check each other's clothes, hair, and face masks. Everything must be perfect, as it is this very day. Everyone looks excited, and yet happily and fearlessly picks up their backpacks and snacks, while no one forgets to thank the "teachers", as they address all educators and adults, who spend time with them in the centre. After all, they calmly board the buses and waving merrily, to slightly worried parents, sisters and brothers.
The plan is for the children to attend preparatory classes during the first two months, master the basics of the Bosnian language and improve their knowledge in areas where some gaps were assessed.
"After those two months, we hope that the children will be ready for the full inclusion, provided that they will still be in Bosnia and Herzegovina, because based on our previous experience, the length of their stay is the only unknown factor in this process," said Adnan Fejzic, the school principal, who welcomed Asal and her friends.
This is the second attempt to include migrant and refugee children in the education system in Sarajevo Canton. All the children from the first phase, already moved on with their parents, towards Europe.
Authorities in Sarajevo Canton and Una-Sana Canton, as well as at the state level, have shown great commitment to the importance of education for refugee and migrant children. Thanks to the support of the National Committees of Sweden, Belgium and Germany, UNICEF has so far supported the inclusion of more than 1,600 refugee and migrant children in local primary schools.
"We are talking about a population whose number varies because they are on the move. So we must have a stable base, and the opportunities to provide all the children with the education, which is their basic right. Of course, the number will vary, but we also hope that some of them will finish their primary education here ", says Naida Hota-Muminović, Minister of Primary and Secondary Education of Sarajevo Canton.
During several months of preparations for the first day of school, loaded with smiles, hopes and expectations, to which every child is entitled, UNICEF BiH supported the development of school plans, content, and structure of preparatory classes, monitoring progress in education and assessing the current educational status of every child. It was important to identify the areas for additional support the child might need at school. Within this process, UNICEF has also supported the training of teachers to be able to develop and apply customized teaching methodologies.
UNICEF and its partners provide children with daily non-formal educational activities in temporary reception centres, enabling them to learn a language, arithmetic, history, geography, music, computer science, as well as recreational and sports activities.
Throughout the previous years, 1600 children were enrolled in formal education system, and more than 1,700 children and adolescents participated in non-formal educational activities in temporary reception centers in the last year.
* Names have been changed to protect the identity of featuring acters