We continue this week in central Greece. Edlumino qualified teachers are working in a camp with a Yazidi community. The Yazidi people have suffered very considerably as they are not Muslim and so have been targeted particularly harshly by Daesh (ISIS).
There are about 100 school age children in the camp and they are our immediate focus for education. It is extremely difficult to run educational programmes in a refugee camp unless there is a simultaneous and co-extensive provision for non school age children. This was a problem in France and is already apparent as a problem here in Greece. In order to get a sharp distinction between 6 and 7 year olds for school, we need an alternative provision for the 3, 4 and 5 year olds. Otherwise what ends up happening is that the pre-school children undermine education. When that happens, despite the best intentions of a teacher, an educational class can rapidly degenerate into child minding activities. Similarly we are often unable to recruit teenage girls consistently into classes unless there is an alternative provision for the babies and toddlers which they are otherwise looking after.
Edlumino does not try to run pre-school activities. We are qualified teachers providing teaching and so we always try to work with other organisations which can provide the essential childrens’ activities which enable us to then focus on providing education.
What we have found in our first week is a very mixed picture of the non educational childrens provision in the camp. An absolutely essential aspect of it is that it has to run at the same time as the educational provision. But that is not yet happening. There is a pre-school provision in the mornings but it starts after education begins. There is no pre-school provision in the afternoon at all, so educational provision in that slot is already apparent as a problem. Pre-school provision then picks up again at the end of the day, when educational provision is supposed to have stopped. All in all the lack of coordination between non educational pre-school and education is a potentially big problem which needs an urgent solution.
The children themselves show a very varied background. Some have clearly benefited from an education previously. Others are still struggling to know how to hold a pencil. The oldest children in particular seem very badly affected by years of displacement. Where possible we ran some diagnostic questions with children and we found teenagers unable to add, subtract or multiple and divide two digit numbers. The children are literally years behind where we would normally expect children of that age to be. Even those able to write characters from the Latin alphabet were often forming their letters wrongly and so unable to go on to learn how to join up their characters in joined up writing. This means that there is a significant degree of unlearning required for some children.
Other issues confronting us include the fact that there is not yet any location or facilities for educational programmes. This week we have therefore worked outside with portable whiteboards. One day we were able to use a tent, but the rest of the time we have just had to sit on the ground. We varied our morning and afternoon patches of terrain, in order to avoid the worst of the sun. It was actually too cold at times in direct shade, but uncomfortable in direct sunlight. One of the children was initially struggling to concentrate because of worries about snakes. We haven’t seen any troublesome wildlife however considerable numbers of mosquitoes are proving to be an irritant. On many levels it is a far from ideal educational situation, but in the face of serious educational need it is better to just get on and make the best of what we have. If we delay awaiting for better circumstances, they might never arise.
All in all the educational challenges are very considerable and we know that what we are seeing in this one camp is mirrored across Greece. At this time there are some 60,000 refugees in Greece, of which around 20,000 are school age children. There are hopes that Greek Educational Ministry will be able to begin programmes for the refugee children in the not too distant future, but at the moment there still remains considerable uncertainty.