Interpretation4Education: Getting children back to school with the help of translators

Giving schools and families a voice through a new school interpreters programme in Greece.

By Olga Siokou – Siova
Mother and daughter painting together during a UNICEF supported activity in Thessaloniki, Greece.
UNICEF/Greece/Mintsidou

19 July 2018

Mohammad, Eiman and their children, Nour (11), Rawan (eight), Judy (seven) and Masa (three), arrived in Athens almost a year ago, from Syria, after a long journey through Izmir, Turkey and the Greek island of Kos. They received their refugee status in late February 2018 and they have been trying to adjust to the new realities of living in Greece. 

Mohammad and Eiman value their children’s education, but due to the language barrier they were unable to communicate and interact with the children’s teachers and principal of the public school in their neighborhood. After a week of classes, Mohammad and Eiman decided it was better to remove their three daughters from school. 

“It was very difficult not to be able to communicate with the people I was going to leave my children with all day. We don’t speak English. I wanted to know how my children were doing in school. Were they sad, happy? Were they participating? I was not able to even understand what the schedule of the classes was,” said Mohammad.

Sisters Nour 11, Rawan 8, Judy 7, show off their drawings in their new apartment  in Athens, Greece.
UNICEF/Olga Siokou – Siova
Sisters Nour 11, Rawan 8, Judy 7, show off their drawings in their new apartment in Athens, Greece.

In January of 2018, Greece’s Ministry of Education Research and Religious Affairs (MOE), UNICEF and partner NGO, METAdrasi, launched a project providing interpretation services in public schools, with financial support from the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid (DG-ECHO), in order to enroll and keep refugee and migrant children in public schools.

Through "Interpretation4Education", the Ministry of Education has issued special permits to certified Arabic, Farsi, Punjabi, Urdu, Kurmanji, Sorani and Turkish interpreters, managed by METAdrasi, to access public schools that have requested the service. School principals were able to submit a request for an interpreter directly to the Ministry or via the Refugee Education Coordinators, in collaboration with METAdrasi. Interpreters contribute with communication related to enrollment and attendance between teachers and children, schools and parents. Principals, teachers and interpreters work together to facilitate clear communication between all those involved to make the education process as straight forward as possible for refugee families who don’t speak Greek. 

The Principal of the public school in Mohammad’s neighborhood personally reached out to the family once they received their Arabic interpreter through Interpretation4Education.

Refugee and migrant children and an educator at a UNICEF-supported education centre in Ioannina, Greece.
UNICEF/Greece/Jacome
Refugee and migrant children and an educator at a UNICEF-supported education centre in Ioannina, Greece.

“He (the principal) called me with the interpreter and I brought my daughters back to school the next day. They are very happy now. They are still adjusting to the new language but they are making friends and I am able to follow their progress by communicating with their teachers, thanks to the interpreters. Me and my wife are learning English now and she is also teaching the girls Arabic at home after school” said Mohammad. 

“My favorite class is Math and painting. I want to be an artist when I grow up. I don’t need the interpreter’s help to speak to my teacher anymore!” said 11-year-old Nour, proudly.

“We hope that many more families will be able to benefit from this programme. We are happy to give a good example and to encourage more families to send their children to school” said Eiman.

Between January and June 2018, Interpretation4Education reached 150 schools per month (70 in Athens and 130 in Thessaloniki), benefiting approximately 3,000 refugee and migrant children thus far.
 

Shahed, 8, from Syrian, and Hadia, 9, from Afghanistan, at a UNICEF-supported education centre in Ioannina, Greece.
UNICEF/UN075719/Jacome
Shahed, 8, from Syrian, and Hadia, 9, from Afghanistan, at a UNICEF-supported education centre in Ioannina, Greece.

“Interpretation in schools is essential. With Interpretation4Education we have been able to understand the feelings and the needs of the children and their families. We hope that more languages   will be included in the future,” said a public-school principal during a meeting of all schools participating in the programme in Athens.

UNICEF will continue to work closely with the Ministry of Education to identify, respond and monitor challenges and progress related to the education of refugee and migrant children in Greece.