Migrant and refugee children do not learn as well at home as most | Photo: picture-alliance/dpa/P. Pleul
Migrant and refugee children do not learn as well at home as most | Photo: picture-alliance/dpa/P. Pleul

The coronavirus pandemic and the closing of schools all over the world have affected all children. But those on the margins of society, including many migrants, have done the worst out of homeschooling.

Mahsa Najafi has just finished work and she has to rush home – her school-aged children are alone. Mahsa, a single mother from Afghanistan, came to Germany in 2015 and now works as a trainee pharmacist in Berlin. Her 11-year-old daughter has been tired and depressed recently. Her teenage son is studying for an important exam, but as the pressure grows, he is struggling to keep up with his classmates.

Mahsa asks her boss if she can stay in the pharmacy for a few minutes for an interview with InfoMigrants. She is clearly anxious: "I have to do homework for my course and internship," she explains. "My problems have multiplied since the coronavirus outbreak began and schools were closed."

One of the biggest challenges of homeschooling has been the problem of language. "When parents don't know German well, they can't help their children," Mahsa explains, adding that there is no support for people in this situation. "Migrant children do not understand the language well and lag far behind in their studies."

Like most parents thrown into homeschooling, Mahsa also feels unable to do the job of a trained teacher. "I can't help my children with their homework," she admits.

Poor and migrants lag behind

Migrant households like Mahsa’s are also disadvantaged by the use of digital technologies in teaching – most don’t have access to up-to-date computers, smartphones and internet connections. "Immigrants have less access to facilities," Mahsa says.

Some charities, such as the church welfare organization Diakonie in Germany, offer tutoring for migrant children, but they have been forced to cut back on services during the pandemic. As a result, children like Mahsa’s are missing out on the extra help they need. "I am afraid that my children's grades will drop and they will fall behind," she says. "This means education is based on socio-economic class. Rich kids can get private tutors and have more educational digital opportunities, but the children of migrants and the poor are lagging behind."

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has also expressed concern, saying that "months of school closure could take back the small steps taken to educate immigrant children."

And at a secondary school in Bonn, Germany, one teacher told InfoMigrants that he is worried that children from migrant families and students with learning disabilities will be worse affected by the current situation. "We are facing a severe shortage of teachers. Unfortunately, the education system in Germany does not have a lobbyist to provide more funding and hire more teachers," he said.

"I raised this issue 20 years ago," added the teacher, who wanted to remain anonymous. "The same problem still exists, and the coronavirus crisis has clearly highlighted it."A young girl in the migrant camp at Moria, Lesbos | Photo: ReutersAs lockdowns ease in some countries, schools are slowly beginning to reopen. Some children from migrant families may not come back – many, according to a UN Migration study on the impact of COVID-19 on migrant children and youth, are at risk of dropping out or lagging behind in terms of language learning. 

A huge investment is needed in education systems, says the Bonn teacher, and a solution has to be found that supports migrant and refugee children.

This is not just true of Germany. In many countries the situation is worse, and migrant children do not even have access to any kind of schooling, remote or otherwise.

According to the United Nations Children's Fund, UNICEF, even before the closure of schools due to coronavirus and the disruption of education for nearly 1.6 billion children, classrooms were closed to millions of refugee children. Less than half of school-aged refugee children were enrolled while only one in four was attending secondary school.


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