State recommends schools employ roleplay in teaching children about refugee issues ({{commentsTotal}})


Estonia’s Ministry of Education and Research is recommending that schools teach children about refugee-related issues using roleplay and various example scenarios such as opening the windows and shutting off the lights in the classroom.

First the children are described a dark and cold night at the Serbian-Hungarian border checkpoint. In order to make the exercise more vivid, the lights could be switched off and windows opened. A large group of Syrian refugees who have recently escaped from the war arrives at the border. The refugees are suffering from cold, starvation and exhaustion, they have little money and only passports for identification, reported ERR’s radio news.

The students are then divided into two groups: one group is assigned the role of refugees who are desperate, whose children are starving and who risk death if they return home, while the other group plays the role of immigration officers who must decide whether to allow the refugees across the border or not. According to the instructions, the game’s objective is to maintain solidarity with people who are forced to flee their homeland.

Such is one potential roleplay with whose help the Ministry of Education and Research recommends teaching refugee-related issues in schools. Irene Käosaar, director of the ministry’s General Education Department, hopes that such methods are increasingly used.

"Such use of psychodramatic techniques is actually very effective," Käosaar explained, noting that they attempt to put the student into a situation in which they understand what someone else is going through.

The department director found that the best way to shape students’ values, even when children are taught differently at home, is not through bans and commands but rather by letting them debate for themselves what is good and what is bad. She noted that only through such discussion, in which a person can speak their mind and present their own arguments, can someone eventually reach the conclusion themselves that perhaps they don’t have the most accurate understanding of things at home.

The introduction of tolerance is an issue that does not only affect schools, however. The Ministry of Culture’s development plan titled "Integrating Estonia 2020," among other objectives, seeks to achieve the recognition and support by Estonian society of attitudes and values supporting integration. While tasks designed to help achieve this goal have been assigned to both the Ministry of Education and Research as well as the Ministry of Culture, it is precisely the latter that is to take on the leading role in raising awareness about the issue.

The Ministry of Culture’s Undersecretary for Cultural Diversity Piret Hartman said that their goal cannot be changing the minds of people who already harbor negative attitudes towards immigrants; first and foremost they must reach those who still lack a clear opinion on the matter and those who have a positive attitude toward integration.

"Integration is not something that one or another ministry can solve," Hartman said. "Rather it is the kind of issue which we must take to as many institutions, representations, groups and teams as possible."

Of course a number of people alone isn’t enough for communication; money is needed as well, which is why, for example, 170,000 euros has been earmarked for the Ministry of Culture this year.

"We have two activities planned," Hartman explained. "One has to do with the objective of bringing more diverse jobs to the public sector and introducing these opportunities to various target groups of speakers of other languages. The second project is a cross-media program dedicated to producing video clips introducing the topic of integration."

Editor: Editor: Aili Vahtla

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