The topic of this months blog is Social Issues so I thought I would write on immigration and integration in France.
Immigration is a big issue in France and particularly in Grasse, the town where I have been working this year. My job as a language assistant has been especially insightful as one of the schools I have worked in is located in the poorer historic area of Grasse where lots of immigrants and families of migrants live. The school welcomes lots of these children every year and many of them arrive at school without being able to speak French. Currently there are 30 children at the school who have no knowledge of French and there are over 24 different nationalities and languages spoken at the school! These include Portugese, Italian, Algerian, Tunisian, Polish, Greek and Romanian.
Each coloured leaf on the tree represents a different nationality. Most children at the school are bilingual and have parents who have a foreign background.
So how does the school integrate these children into the school and teach them the french language?
The school has drawn up a pedagogical programme for these children and created a special unit (UPE2A) which stands for unité pédagogique pour élèves allophones arrivants. Two teachers work specifically with these children over a period of two years where they learn French in small groups, through games, songs, stories and by working through activity books. According to the teachers I spoke to, some children can make huge progress in only a few weeks whereas others can take up to two years to be able to speak clearly and confidently.
These children also spend lots of time in their normal class to make sure they are immersed in the French language, learn how the French education system functions and integrate well into the life of the school. Generally they settle in very quickly and pick up the language without too many problems but their progress and how well they integrate is dependant on many factors. Here are some of them:
- Age (the younger a child is, the quicker they pick up a language)
- Previous school experience (some children arrive without ever going to school)
- Support of the family. (Some families don’t see education as very important and therefore making sure their child attends school and makes progress isn’t a priority for them)
- If a family member speaks French (this makes it much easier for the child outside of school for help with homework)
- Family life. If the family has moved as a complete unit (parents together, all siblings etc) it is much easier for the child to feel at home in their new country. Some families are only living and working in Grasse temporarily to get money. They then send it back home to their country of origin where the rest of the family is still living which can mean that the child feels never fully settled and committed to an education system.
How is the school helping the local community?
The school offers free French language classes for parents wishing to learn French. This means they form a closer link with the families of the children attending the school, helping them understand the French education system and helping integration within the community. There are two other organisations working alongside the school to help children and families in difficulty. They provide financial aid and provide academic support to children who are struggling to keep up at school. Both the school and these organisations are doing all they can to bridge the gap between the poorer areas of Grasse and the richer ones where tourism is focused. Only through education and by welcoming people from different backgrounds with open arms will the problem of integration be solved.
étranger – foreigner
élève allophone arrivant – child speaking a different language arriving at the school
soutien de la famille – support of the family
apprentissage de la langue – language learning
bilingue – bilingual
How do you think we can aid integration in schools? Is there the same problem in your school?
Thanks for reading!