“Betwixt and between” : Hope and the meaning of school for asylum-seeking children in Sweden
Type of text: Academic article
Published by: Nordic Journal of Migration Research
Author: Malin Svensson & Marita Eastmond
Short description of text
The study explores asylum-seeking children’s experiences and ‘sense of possibility’ in relation to school and education in Sweden. It was found that the meaning of school related to children’s need of structure, a sense of belonging and a learning environment, but their experiences were also conditioned by their uncertain and vulnerable position as asylum seekers and the fear of being deported.
Most important results
– ‘With a more drawn-out and negative process, a few of the older pupils withdrew and showed symptoms of distress. They seemed to lose their motivation and their school performance declined. Teachers confirmed that these pupils no longer seemed to be making any progress’ (p. 166).
– ‘On the whole our data indicate that, irrespective of age, increased language skills enhanced children’s self-confidence, and while learning Swedish was important for educational progress, it was as important for making friends and gaining a sense of belonging’ (p. 165).
– ‘All teachers seemed to have limited knowledge of the asylum process, e.g. the procedure for seeking asylum, the low level of the family daily allowance, the overcrowded housing conditions or which pupils were awaiting an asylum decision’ (p. 165).
– ‘Pupils and teachers in this study, both within and outside an IC (introductory class), sometimes depicted the IC as a form of exclusion or alienation from the school community. Some teachers indicated that this may be due to their physical placement at the margin of the mainstream school and their limited curriculum. Our data suggest that one of the strongest reasons for children to leave an IC, even though they might be emotionally attached to peers and teachers there, was to escape the social marginalisation of an “IC pupil”. Looking forward to the possibilities that qualification for an MC (mainstream class) represented, such as having Swedish peers, feelings of competence and expectations of belonging to “normality”, was part of the asylum-seeking children’s imagining’ (p. 166).
– ‘In offering much-needed structure and stability, as well as a breathing space, school was clearly a source of well-being for the children’ (p. 166).
– ‘The sudden disappearance of a classmate acted as a reminder of the reality of failure and deportation and affected the hope and well-being of the others. Periods of vigorous efforts by the authorities to speed up returns of rejected asylum seekers were thus likely to heighten both fear and rivalry between asylum seekers and further underscoring their conditional presence at school. Thus, there were two parallel processes at work for these children in their liminal position, pointing in opposite directions: one nurtured hope and confidence in a steady mastering of a new language and social acceptance as member of a class and another mercilessly undermined it by reminders of the risk of rejection and return’ (p. 166).
The relationship between the innate human ability to feel hope (hopefulness) and society’s role in distributing hope of a better future to its citizens (social hope) as theorized by Ghassan Hage (2003). Destinction hope and desire, (Crapanzano 2003). Social imagination (Appadurai 1996). Liminality, (Turner 1967).
Ethnographic fieldwork in 2007-2009, based on interviews with and reports by 14 accompanied asylum-seeking children, aged between 6 and 16, in Sweden, and their teachers and parents when relevant. A variety of data collection techniques to encourage individual expression, semi-structured interviews, drawings and photography, and participative observations in children’s homes, during leisure activities, at school and during “walk-alongs”. Each respondent was provided with a disposable camera as well as a sketch-block and pens.
‘The solution is not to deny children without permanent residence the possibility of attending school, but to address their particular predicament and attendant uncertainty. In the light of our findings, the real challenge for the receiving state and its educational system is greater recognition of the needs of this category of children. While drawing on the undeniable strengths of the Swedish school system, this could also entail providing them with more substantial education, social support for personal growth and a sense of possibility that may serve them well, irrespective of where they end up building their future’ (p. 167).