Meeting in Turkey through Erasmus+

As a primary school teacher, Karen sees and experiences that things often go completely wrong in the communication between parents with a migration background and teacher. This has major consequences for the relationship between parents and teachers and is ultimately harmful to the children. This phenomenon is not an exclusive problem for the relationship between teachers and parents with a migrant background. There are more professional groups where professionals experience that it is not easy to reach the patient, the customer, the person seeking help. Views on upbringing and education, on social development, on what can be expected do not always coincide one-to-one. EduXprss went on a journey to learn about these differences in a context other than the Dutch one. We went to Turkey with a grant from the EU Erasmus+ programme. We had all drawn up learning questions to learn how refugees are dealt with there, for example. We went to investigate a country with a centuries-old multi-ethnic history.

Mental models

In just a few decades, the Netherlands has become a country with a very diverse population. Living and working in this diversity, situations arise where the mutual understanding of each other’s culture is insufficiently developed. Because views and expectations don’t match, it can lead to clashes that no one wants. To be able to help someone properly, a different way of looking and listening could be helpful.

Our perception, our thinking and our actions are guided by what Kees Vreugdenhil (1993) refers to as a ‘subjective concept’. But you can also find it in Peter Senge (2000) – he calls it the ‘mental model’.

The essence of both our work is that our thinking, perceiving and acting are determined by values, norms and internalized rules that we have internalized, consciously or unconsciously, from our early childhood. We all carry a model within ourselves, a simplified representation of the complex reality with which we can interpret that reality and act in that reality. We are attached to our model – but so is the other. In order to communicate effectively and then work together, we need to understand the other person’s model. But we also need to make our own model public, show what drives us.

“It’s only when I step out of my bubble of like-minded people that I become aware of my own identity and my limited appearance,” said one of the participants.

With that intention, we in Turkey have been able to see and experience a lot in this area with the help of our partners Esenyurt Halk egitim merkezi and the Catalca halk egitim merkezi. During our trip, we spoke with mothers at the People’s Universities who are students, but also with others such as teachers, school leaders, parents and researchers. This could sometimes be done in English, but an interpreter was usually required. We have gained a lot of experience from this.

In those conversations, it turned out to be possible to exchange back and forth, which means that people there see and do things slightly differently than we do when it comes to diversity, upbringing and education. Education in Turkey is a centrally controlled system, which means that in principle the same can be expected from every school and educational institution. At the People’s University or the school, the director is in charge, with the caveat that he or she can (usually) decide for himself to what extent teachers or parents have influence on the day-to-day affairs. In the classroom, the teacher is the boss. This is different in the Netherlands with its relatively autonomous institutions, schools, participation councils, professional statutes and empowered parents. In collaboration with municipalities, schools and social institutions, the People’s Universities offer many training courses, courses and even education to students.

In this system, the curriculum is determined centrally, and the methods are purchased centrally. But there is also room for your own interpretations, especially when it comes to the mutual relationships. The people’s universities, for example, help mothers, but also members of refugee families, to develop skills that will enable them to earn an income. This seems strange because the policy is not aimed at integrating refugees. There is a decompartmentalisation system, which means that the Local Education centres (Halk Egitim Merkezleri/ Volksuniversiteiten) have a good cooperation with schools. A positive side effect of this is that, for example, the parents of Systemic children at the school have contact with a People’s University through their child’s school where they can develop both language lessons and skills. The schools with which the People’s University collaborates are all convinced that education is an important means of helping students (and their parents) learn to live in a multicultural society. But it also seems as if there is difficulty with the acceptance of pupils and parents with a migration background as full members of Turkish society. One teacher put it this way: “We know they’re here to stay. But one day they will have to go back.” Integration may not be the intention, but inclusion makes living together possible.

Pedagogy is strongly driven by the view that educational institutions should be a safe place for students, pupils and also for pupils who deviate. The typical image of this is the PE teacher who demonstrates the exercises to the class in the schoolyard. And on his hand the girl with Down syndrome who just joins in.  Contributing to the education of the pupils is a matter of course, even when it comes to hygiene, nutrition or simple household chores. Referral to special education is hardly an issue, partly because the family is sacred and must remain intact for as long as possible. Through the People’s Universities we have been able to see that mothers and women have a very important role to play in society and in the upbringing of children. It is therefore nice to see that the People’s Universities have many activities to empower these women. Even if this means that outreach work has to be done.

Learning about ourselves by meeting the other

The aim of the trip was to gain insight into dominant views on upbringing, growing up and education in a non-Dutch context. This insight developed during the week, especially in the conversations among themselves on the bus and in the debriefing every day at the end of the day, before dinner.

For example: the experience that Turkish culture subtly differs from the Arab background of the refugees. Discussing parenting problems or talking to parents with an Arab background is difficult for Turkish teachers because that is not common in Arab culture. One of the teachers described that it is important not to get straight to the point. First, make it clear what the intention of the conversation is – to create better conditions that promote learning. Only when you know that those intentions are clear can you get to the point and ask what can be done to stimulate and help the student or, in the case of a cooperating school, the student and their parents. This can sometimes take a lot of time, but it is a prerequisite for success. That intention must be clear from day 1 – to students as well as parents. That’s not self-evident when you grew up in a different country with a different culture.

EduXprss will work with these lessons. We want to turn our reflections into a brochure with action perspectives for teachers and professionals working in a multicultural environment.

How can we make sure that students and parents feel welcome? How can we give and receive trust? How do we foster connection? How do we align expectations with each other? How do we make our intentions clear?

The answers to these questions may be a helping hand for Karen and her colleagues.

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