Posted by on March 26, 2018

Marcie Boucouvalas comments on the article “Building Diversity in Staff:  Migrants as professionals in Austrian Adult Education”

Ph.D., ICE Vice President for North America, Professor Emerita, Department of Human Development (Adult Learning & HRD), Virginia Tech/National Capital Region  USA

Professor Dr. Annette Sprung issues a plea for including the employment of “migrants” (or those with a migrant biography) in the adult education profession.  The research of which she was part, and on which she reports, illuminates (at least for Austria) the roadblocks such individuals have faced along with hopeful insights for the future.  Such results are potentially relevant to many countries, albeit further region-based research may be warranted.

Not only are migrant related matters at the top of the global human rights agenda, including a UN Summit during September 2016, but focusing on migration issues has also been a central concern of ICAE for many years: A key conference, 15-16 November 2007 in Bonn:  The Right to Education in the Context of Migration and Integration, complemented by DVV’s special issue on the topic of Migration and Integration in 2008  Volume 70 of Adult Education and Development, followed by migration as a topic of an ICAE Virtual Seminar that catalyzed the urgency of bringing the issue  to CONFINTEA VI (2009).  Sprung rightly suggests, however, that many previous efforts were primarily (although not exclusively) addressed to assisting the “migrant” to adjust and integrate.

She moves her discussion from a primary emphasis on the diversity of learners to a central concern with diversity of workforce, specifically within the profession of adult education. It makes sense for a profession that educates others–including the public—to also serve as a role model in effecting equal employment opportunity (EEO) vis-à-vis migration matters, even spearheading potential policies toward that end.

Such efforts complement the work on inclusion in employment matters accomplished by the civil rights and women’s movements, and other efforts focused on organizational diversity training in employee relations for “learning to live together.”  Transgender issues are also receiving attention. For those countries that have anti-discrimination policies (equal employment opportunity stipulations that include race, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual preference, country of origin, etc.)  is it timely or prudent to add migrant biography?  Or, is that already covered with the phrase “country of origin”? For some migrants what might “country of origin” mean, especially if they have been relocating continually?

Beyond anti-discrimination, Sprung’s article contributes yet another dimension in suggesting the benefits to the workforce accruing from the presence of employees representing the migrant population–an opportunity to learn from them.  Indeed, in addition, to language, culture, ways of being, quite an opportunity exists to better understand more about the human condition from such individuals.  Given the hardships and uprooting experiences many may have faced, opportunities abound to understand the resilience of the human spirit and how one learns to navigate and live with uncertainty, a treasure of a lesson in today’s uncertain world.

The article has also stimulated additional questions for me, including conceptual matters to consider.

What constitutes a migrant biography?  Does use of the term migration include movement of groups within countries? Migration refers to the movement of a large group of people (or animals, for that matter) from one place to another, differentiating the term from immigration, which pertains to the movement of individuals to a country that is not their place origin or of which they are not citizens with the intent of settling there, although historically many such individuals harbor thoughts of return to the homeland and some ultimately do so.  Some, especially ethnic groups, have formed diaspora communities in the new country, sending earnings back to the homeland and some form associations that support their compatriots abroad and offer support structures to those settling in the new country.   Then there is the term refugee, referring to those who have been forced to leave their country or have fled, often for refuge or safety, to escape violence, war, persecution, political upheaval (including political asylum), economic matters, or natural disaster.  It is unclear if the discourse includes migrant workers as Sprung seems to be referring to professionals who intend to stay.

The author rightly asserts that migration changes the whole fabric of a society.  Do the dynamics of employment differ if the movement is forced or unforced, voluntary or perceived to be involuntary?  Does it make a difference what has driven the movement?

I look forward to reading the Guidelines for Adult Education in a Migration Society mentioned in the article when it is translated into English and/or learn more from a German speaking colleague.

Thank you,MB

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These are the links to the AED 84/2017 publication in three languages:
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