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Centre for Education and International Development (CEID), IOE


A forum for staff, students, alumni and guests to write about and around CEID's five thematic areas of engagement.


Archive for the 'Migration Education and Development' Category

The perfect immigration policy? ‘Educate’ children of migrants to pull up the drawbridge

By CEID Blogger, on 4 October 2023

By Yousef Abdul Atti

Imagine you are sitting at home one day, inside a plot of land within the borders of the country you call home. The country where all your friends, your family, your memories lie. It is not really a flag, an anthem, it may not be a language, however there is a soul within the place you call home. But the inability to provide for your family’s economic needs is eating you up, the very same land that you call home, that is supposed to be a source of provision for you, is working against you. The lands that you once tended to with your very own hands, where you constructed your house, grew your garden, played with your friends are simply another tool in the arsenal of the unjust to oppress you. Your freedoms and those of your loved ones are slowly vanishing before your eyes. What do you do? You have no choice. You must leave the place that houses all your memories. You must embark on a difficult journey to find a new home.

If you are a migrant, a refugee, an asylum seeker, or a forcibly displaced person, you do not have to imagine. You live this reality. If you are Syrian, Venezuelan, Afghan, South Sudanese, or Burmese, countries from where 70% of the world’s forcibly displaced persons originate, chances are you do not have to imagine. Perhaps not all of your countrymen and women are migrants or displaced. Some may have become naturalized citizens in their host countries, providing for their families, helping their host communities, schooling their children. Others may even have ‘friends in high places’ or have reached those high places themselves. If you required their assistance, wouldn’t you expect your fellow nationals to understand? As migrants, should we not go together if we want to go far? Although it may seem too much to ask for assistance from others, wouldn’t you expect for them to at least not stand in your way, not be the reason why you cannot seek out a better future for you and your family?

The father of Sammy Mahdi was a political refugee from Iraq who was granted asylum in Belgium as he fled prosecution from the tyrannical regime of Saddam Hussein. His son, Mahdi, a ‘born-and-bred Brusselaar’ became, on October 1, 2020, the Secretary of State for Asylum and Migration. Calling himself ‘Barack Obama’, one of his first announced goals in office was to increase the percentage of deportations from Belgium; the 2020 figure of 18%, in Mahdi’s opinion, was too low in comparison to Germany’s 35%. In the wake of the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul in August 2021, six EU countries, including Belgium, cautioned against blocking deportations of Afghan asylum seekers. Out of the six countries, it was Mahdi who shored up the EU initiative against criticism by stating, ‘that regions of a country are not safe does not mean that each national of that country automatically is entitled to protection.’

It is no surprise that at the start of his posting, accusations surfaced that Mahdi was specifically targeting Iraqi refugees, prompting the Iraqi Minister of Immigration and Displacement to invite the Belgian ambassador for talks regarding the matter. What is interesting is that Mahdi invokes his migratory background in political speeches proclaiming that ‘migration always is emotion’ and he asserts that his father’s journey affected everyone, his family, his community, and even Iraq and Belgium.

So how come someone from a disadvantaged background ends up perpetuating the same structures that cause those disadvantages? Mahdi answers by affirming that he only wants to ‘represent…the Belgian community…based on a shared cultural background.’ He makes sure to note that he does not want to be another ‘Token Ali’. It is not entirely clear how Mahdi interprets this so-called shared cultural background.   Mahdi’s own education was directed and constructed in a specific manner. His father refused to teach him Arabic, and, according to Mahdi, raised him up to be anti-communitarian. Yet Mahdi apparently aligns himself with the same humanist values as his alma mater, Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUD), where he regularly shares his insights on migration, diversity and integration through social projects and guest speaking.

VUD is also the alma mater of the current prime minister of Belgium. Other alumni include Zuhal Demir, the daughter of Turkish migrants and former chair of integration in the Flemish government, and now the current  European Vice-President of climate; and Nadia Sminate, a Moroccan-Belgian and current member of the Belgian chamber of representatives, the Secretary of the Flemish Parliament, and the Mayor of Londerzeel. Sminate, who celebrated the dismantlement of Unia, a Belgian public institution ‘that fights discrimination and promotes equal opportunities’. She is a keen advocate for ‘Dutch integration’, saying ‘I see far too often people here who are given rights, but too little see the need to set obligations in return’ because they do not speak Dutch. However, what is most telling with regard to how just one educational institution, VUD, constructs the ‘desirable migrant’ is how Demir & Sminate, despite their ‘culturally alien’ origins, have now become authorities on the mentorship of migrants in their constituencies, creating more obstacles and removing opportunities for them. In fact, Sminate was the chair for the Resolution of the Radicalization Committee in 2021, which produced a proposal that was approved by Demir, who was Minister of Justice and Enforcement in the Flemish Government at the time.

Mahdi’s understanding of education appears to exert great influence on his policies. He notes that the difference in performance between students with and without an immigrant background in Belgium is one of the largest in the world, yet he comes to the conclusion that the solution is to educate all the citizens.

On 14 June 2022, The Brussels Labour Court found Mahdi guilty of violating the asylum seekers’ right to reception.

Mahdi’s response to the court order

On 27 June 2022 he was forced to step down as Secretary of State for Asylum and Migration in the Belgian Cabinet. Not because of his indictment by the Belgian Court, but because he was elected as president of the CD&V party, the same party that graduated the majority of prime ministers of Belgium and to which the first full president of the European Council belonged.

As these cases show, when done effectively, the education system can construct the desirable migrant subject, who in turn acts as a gatekeeper to other aspiring ‘desirables’.

Learning the history, identity, and education of Tibetans-in-exile through Tibetan Terms

By CEID Blogger, on 4 October 2023

By Esme Anderson

‘Free Tibet’ has been a prevalent refrain internationally for decades. But what does it mean? What has been done to help preserve Tibet since that first image of a burning monk? Given that the movement is centred among exiles in Dharamshala in northern India, it gives rise to questions about who ‘true’ Tibetans are, how education constructs the ideal Tibetan, and how education can exclude those who don’t fit that description.

As I myself am a language educator, this blog attempts to answer these questions through the teaching of key Tibetan words.

“Rangzen” རང་བཙན

 Meaning: Roughly translates to “self-power” or independence


Images of burning monks have long become associated with the international image of Tibet. But is the battlecry of “Rangzen” as well known?  “Rangzen” translates as ‘self-power’ or ‘independence’ – a call for self-determination that has emerged under China’s rule.

Prior to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) taking power in 1949, Tibet was an independent state. It was feudal and traditionally Buddhist, with the Dalai Lama as the state leader. But tensions with the CCP were evident as early as 1935, when Mao Zedong, the CCP leader, and his followers set off on their ‘Long March’ to rally support in rural regions. They ate the sacred and intricate butter buddhas that sat in Tibetan temples, angering and upsetting Tibetans. When the CCP took control of Tibet in 1949, the Dalai Lama was under threat given Mao’s beliefs that religion “poisons” countries and slows development. A recreation of this conversation, informed by the Dalai Lama, can be found here.

Following a crackdown on religious freedoms, protests erupted in 1959 and CCP troops were sent in. The Dalai Lama managed to flee to Dharamshala, which translates as “sacred dwelling place”. From here, the exile government has sought to preserve and keep sacred cultural heritage alive as less and less of the traditional Tibet remains.

A pivotal way in which this is done is through education. Unlike in other places that house asylum seekers or refugees, the Dalai Lama and Indian Governor of Dharamshala came to an agreement for a specialized educational policy for Tibetans. Children learn modern subjects alongside Buddhist teachings such as Yungdrung and Buddhadharma and principles such as freedom, altruism, and upholding heritage. Uniquely and importantly, they learn Standardized Tibetan (spoken in Lhasa, the Capital) in addition to Hindi and English. By stark contrast, back in Tibet itself, the final school teaching Tibetan changed its medium of instruction to Chinese in 2020.

Although the likelihood of achieving “rangzen” back in Tibet is becoming smaller and smaller, its cries are still echoed in Dharamshala as Tibetans-in-exile fight for their culture to preserve and survive.

“Nangpa” ནང་པ་

Meaning: Buddhist; Buddhist “insider”


Nangpa on its own simply means ‘Buddhist’ and is also the name of a sacred Buddhist pilgrimage site. When discussing ‘Tibetans-in-exile’, calling someone a ‘Nangpa’ means that the speaker believes that they are truly ‘Tibetan’. Interestingly, this does not connote someone’s religious values, practices, or activities. Being Nangpa means someone who is free of Chinese influence and who speaks Central or Standard Tibetan.

“Ramalug” ར་དང་ལུག་གཉིས་ཀ་མེད།

Meaning: Neither goat nor sheep

Pronunciation unavailable (colloquial term)

This Tibetan term is a metaphor for someone being a ‘hybrid’ and therefore not a real ‘nangpa’ and is used for newer arrivals from Tibet who have been exposed to Chinese language, modernity and influence. Such arrivals may be met with scepticism and suspicion, as shown in Yeh’s (2007) study, which followed Tenzin, who was raised in Tibet before migrating to America. His occasional refusal to be in group photos, combined with his time under perceived Chinese influence, led him to be viewed as a possible spy and dubbed a “ramalug”. An older Tibetan-in-exile felt that Tenzin could benefit from spending more time in ‘real’ Tibet. This perspective creates contradictions and complications for recent Tibetan migrants who have increasingly fled due to structural inequalities that place them at the bottom of society in Tibet.

The discriminatory treatment of recent arrivals into  Dharamshala is reflected in educational policies. The Basic Educational Policy for Tibetans was last updated in 2006, and in 2017 Tibetan researcher Nawang Phuntsog reported that textbooks had not been updated for over a decade. If Tibet itself had free and open communication, this might be less of an issue because there would be other sources for updating recent history and events in Tibet. However, it is increasingly difficult to leave Tibet, with one blogger noting “Getting a passport is harder for a Tibetan than getting into heaven”. Parents send their children to the Tibetan Children’s Village in Dharamshala without knowing when they will next see them. Strict censorship also means that there aren’t the real-time digital communication chains that can be found in other diasporas and migrant communities. The educational policy calls for empowering students to “uphold their ancestral cultural heritage”. But lived experiences and understandings of modern Tibet, or Tibet under Chinese rule, have been excluded from the curriculum, and therefore its students may be too.

 “Kacha” काछा

Meaning: Raw


A Hindi term which translates into ‘raw’, ‘Kacha’ is used by ‘Nangpa’ to refer to Tibetan migrants from outside of Central Tibet. There are up to 52 dialects that still exist in Tibet. But these languages are not being preserved or saved overseas and are becoming gradually extinct in Tibet.

Since the education policy calls for teaching ‘mother tongue’ Tibetan, i.e. Lhasa Tibetan, there is little acknowledgement of other regional dialects. The Basic Educational Policy  was intended to overhaul the curriculum away from monastic education and resolve previous inequities in monastic education in Tibet. However, it excludes other dialects and therefore their speakers from being recognised as true Tibetans.

Ma ‘ongs pa” མ་འོངས་པ

Meaning: Future


Future is an imperative idea for Buddhists and Tibetans-in-exile. The idea of dwelling on the past, no matter how painful, is not often promoted. Living in Dharamshala, preserving Tibetan language and heritage through education are all future-facing ideas in the hopes of ‘rangzen’, or at the very least, cultural survival.

But there are other opportunities for movements towards an educationally just ‘ma ‘ongs pa’ as this short language lesson has hopefully demonstrated. Here are some suggestions as to how this could be done:

  • Although adding other languages could overload students, an appreciation for different dialects should at least be acknowledged. There could be pathways by which new Tibetans-in-exile learn or teach in their native dialects in addition to learning Standard Tibetan, which would help preserve at risk histories, languages, and heritages.
  • Undoubtedly, promoting Chinese in Dharamshala schools could recreate harmful power structures and is antithetical to a government in exile constructed against the CCP. However, updating the curriculum to include recent events from Tibet could help legitimize recent migrants’ experience, trauma, and conceptions of home.
  • Ria Kapoor’s podcast on ‘Creating Refugee Archives’ could also prove a valuable learning and teaching tool for the government in exile and for schools.

Through such measures, the voices of recent migrants could be amplified to make them feel heard, respected, and valued. Importantly tolerance, a key value to the Dalai Lama, can be promoted through education.

The Elephant in the (Class)room

By CEID Blogger, on 4 October 2023

By Rebecca Greenway

‘Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom’ (2019) is an Oscar nominated film set in the remote Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan. On the surface, it is a beautiful piece of cinema with authentic acting, stunning scenery and a hauntingly beautiful soundtrack but it also raises questions about schooling, migration and notions of development.

The film follows Ugyen, a talented singer and young teacher who is drafted to Lunana, a hamlet located eight days walk away from Thimpou, where he lives with his grandmother. An urbanite, Ugyen is reluctant to relinquish his dream of migrating to Australia to become a star. As he sheds his leather jacket and his iPod runs out of charge, layers of globalization are peeled back and he is confronted with the rites, customs and traditions of his heritage, all of which he considers parochial and backwards. The primary school he has been sent to is synonymous with many rural, remote schools with no blackboard, electricity, running water, pens or paper. Western audiences might hark for this ‘simpler’ way of life, as the humble authenticity of the villagers undoubtedly add to the charm of the film. However, the film refuses to fall into the trap of portraying a rural idyll without exploring the challenges of teaching and living in such a remote place. Collecting yak dung to stoke a fire and gathering the harvest before the onset of winter are entwined in the fabric of their existence. The forced closure of the school during the winter months reminds the viewer that the community is deeply connected to the environment and dependent on seasonal changes. The bucolic pastoralism that might have been portrayed is replaced with the realities of alcoholism, youth unemployment and hard to reach communities becoming forgotten and left behind. All of which presents a bittersweet rurality.

The happiness myth? 

Bhutan is renowned for embracing the ‘Gross National Happiness’ (GNH) development model, as the viewer is aptly reminded in the opening scene, with the words ‘Gross National Happiness’ written on the back of Ugyen’s t-shirt. Attracting interest from the world stage, Bhutan has captured the imagination of many as a kingdom which ensures the well-being of the citizens who live in harmony with their pristine environment. The GNH model rests on four pillars: good governance, sustainable socio-economic development, the preservation and promotion of culture and environmental conservation. There are nine key domains, measured through 33 indicators. They include ambitious targets of providing electricity and education for all. Furthermore, an inclusive approach to recognising diverse learning needs is made explicit in the Educational Blueprint, demonstrating a step away from homogenizing education systems.

As a result of significant progress made in reducing poverty and sustaining economic growth, Bhutan is set to graduate from the least developed country (LDC) list in 2023. However, scratching beneath the surface cracks emerge. Despite efforts to provide vocational training and entrepreneurship, youth unemployment is high. An overreliance on hydroelectric power to stimulate economic growth and lack of investment in diversifying the private sector equate to limited job prospects. Pull factors, such as seeking employment overseas are witnessed in the steep rise of outward migration. This leads to a false dichotomy where the older generation Bhutanese might naively question why anyone would want to leave ‘the happiest country on earth?’

The grass is always greener 

Imagined futures, opposed to static realities, are features of migration. This is captured throughout the film, as a sense of belonging and longing for something else, is in constant flux. Longing for his grandmother’s cooking is symbolized through the wooden bowl Ugyen eats out of upon his arrival in Lunana. As he dreams of migrating to Australia, he clings on earnestly to the pamphlet showing pictures of Sydney Opera house. Ironically, the pamphlet symbolically loses its original significance as he scribbles the lyrics to a traditional folk song on the back. Each time he moves, he leaves something or someone behind. Finally, once he arrives in Australia, the reality of working in a dingy bar, singing commercial songs during a noisy happy hour is a far cry from his imagined future of becoming a famous singer. Just as Ugyen’s physical journey exposes him to diverse settings, cultures and people, his intrinsic values and ideas evolve. The juxtaposing final shot of Bondi Beach to the bar where Ugyen is being paid to sing background music shows the trappings of a commodified vision of Western success.

Just as the audience is left wondering what Ugyen’s future holds, we are also left pondering the fate of the Lunana villagers and the educational provision of the children without a teacher. The way of life for rural communities is under threat. Glacial melt due to rising temperatures leads to landslides, contributing to further isolation. Pastoralists that rely on seasonal predictability will be forced to confront the challenges of climate change. Future investment in infrastructure through the development of roads will allow better access to schools and yet will engender changes to a rural way of life. Bhutan already contends with increasing rural to urban internal migration as people seek employment opportunities, access to quality education and healthcare. The challenges of safeguarding the basic needs for all are complex and manifold. This tightrope of harnessing equitable, ethical growth that respects the planetary boundaries and ensures the wellbeing for all is an ongoing challenge.

Schooling without teaching? 

‘Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom’ is above all a film about development, globalization, modernity, migration and the teaching crisis. Ugyen is symbolic of a youth disenchanted with the idea of being a teacher. Retention, recruitment and attrition rates reflect this trend globally. Although there is consensus that teaching is a valuable and honourable profession that ‘touches the future,’ the teacher gap cannot be filled without societal transformation.

As a teacher, I hope for a revalorisation of the profession through improved pay and working conditions, ongoing support and professional development. However, I am also aware that there is no silver bullet to the acute teacher shortage. Country and local contexts cannot be ignored and neither can other realities, often financial, such as the large proportion of education budgets which are required for teacher salaries. Finally, measures such as fast-track recruitment programmes might fill an urgent need for bodies in the classroom but they do not address the systemic shift required to upgrade educational systems. After all, when it comes down to it, “every education system is only as good as the teachers who provide hands -on schooling.”

Migration exhibits as sites of learning: Refugees: Forced to flee.

By CEID Blogger, on 4 October 2023

 Imperial War Museum, London

By Isabella Hogg 

When you think about migration what do you picture? Every migrant’s story is different and museums can aid in the telling of these stories while providing places of inclusion for those who migrate. Many museums host exhibits detailing the different experiences of migrants. New Land, New Hope exhibit in the Migration Museum in Adelaide, for example, shows how refugees express their experiences through interviews. Other exhibits, such as the Keepsake exhibit in the Migration Museum in London, show the stories of migration through object biography, which is the history and interactions that the objects have experienced. One exhibit that has included sound, art and object biography is the Refugees: Forced to Flee exhibit in the Imperial War Museum in London, which ran from 2020-2021. The central aim of this exhibit was to provide first-person narratives detailing migratory  experiences.

Historically, many museums have adopted a Eurocentric approach to the display of artefacts. One of the first recorded museums was Lorenzo de Medici’s gem collection in Florence. Here the main objective was to store objects rather than provide a public space of learning. The first museum that was opened to the public was the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, which was established in 1683, with the aim of providing a space to expand people’s knowledge on topics such as the natural world and allow people to enjoy the collection. Changing the museum environment to a space which was open to the public transformed the nature of the museum from a space of storage to a place of learning. However, this was often to the detriment of those who had been colonised; many of the artefacts that were displayed were either looted or forced from colonies. The 19th century saw many empires compete in the acquisition of artefacts as a means of displaying wealth and power, with little understanding of the meanings and cultural significance of the artefacts that were acquired. Many museums today hope to correct the mistakes of the past. Migration museums that are centred around the voices of migrants themselves can be considered examples of postcolonial spaces of learning, as they seek to address the exclusion of knowledges from the Global South and the Eurocentric portrayal of the cultures and life of people from those countries.

An accompanying exhibition to the Refugees: Forced to Flee exhibit provided visitors with immersive film of refugee camps within Greece, with the intention of showing the lived realities of refugees living there. When people were asked their feelings about what they had seen, they stated it was moving and humanising, a sharp contrast to media portrayals of refugees which often mask the reality of everyday experiences within the camps and contribute to refugee feelings of exclusion. In reference to Syrian refugees, for example, the media was seen to display them in three contrasting ways: as dangerous and a burden to society, as helpless and in need of aid, and through humanising stories with the intention of gaining empathy. These different depictions of refugees can contribute to the formation of stereotypes based on western views. Museum exhibits such as Refugees: Forced to Flee can  help counter over simplified western constructions of refugees.

The exhibit has also utilised art and music and the creation of soundscapes to provide more immersive experiences, which can aid in the learning process and help form emotional connections. Other museums have used similar methods to engage visitors, including the Paris-Londre Music Migrations exhibition in Musée de l’Histoire de l’Immigration in Paris, which explored the power that music held in providing migrants with a voice and the ability to make their mark on the culture and society within Paris and London.

Exhibits that are based on collaborations with refugees and migrants also construct environments that can elicit feelings of self-reflection among visitors, who may relate personally to the stories that are told. One such experience was recorded by Briony Fleming who felt a connection to the We Are Movers exhibition in The Migration Museum in London. While walking through the exhibit she was reminded of her experience of migrating from Ireland to England and the sense of fear of the unknown that existed at the time. When such connections are formed it can aid in the understanding of other people’s experiences.

The Imperial War Museum collaborated with the British Red Cross to bring the Refugees: Forced to Flee exhibition to life. The display of objects that were distributed to refugees within camps around the world, including tinned food and hygiene products, along with plaques detailing their significance allowed for the stories of these items to be told to the visitors. However, as the objects were provided by the Red Cross, rather than by migrants or refugees themselves, they may not be an accurate representation of what was provided to each refugee within the camps and may only tell a partial story.

The Refugees: Forced to Flee exhibition can be seen as offering a new learning environment for visitors. The accompanying film exhibition offered an alternative learning experience for those who value immersive activities as engaging and thought provoking. By utilising a postcolonial lens within the museum environment, the voices of those who are often misrepresented or unheard can be projected more authentically to an audience, allowing their stories to be told; for museums to truly have a postcolonial perspective it is important that these voices are not censored or overlooked.


Blog Series – Migration, Education and Development

By CEID Blogger, on 4 October 2023

Elaine Chase and Amy North

In 2022 we launched a new optional module within the Education and International Development cluster of programmes on Migration, Education and Development, which was accompanied by the publication of a new open access edited volume Education, Migration and Development: Critical Perspectives in a Moving World (Bloomsbury).  The aim of the module is to introduce students to a range of critical and interdisciplinary perspectives on the education-migration-development nexus.

Building on research within CEID on education, migration and (im)mobility, the module explores how migration, education and development processes intersect across a range of local, national, regional and global contexts and are shaped by wider dynamics of globalisation, uneven development, conflict and inequality. It looks at some of the multiple – and often intersecting – causes of migration and reasons that people migrate both internationally and internally (including, for example, forced migration and displacement, migration for educational or economic advancement, internal migration, seasonal labour migration, the movement of nomadic and pastoralist groups), and considers how these processes, often entailing movement of resources and ideas as well as people, interact with education and development in complex ways.

A key focus of the module is on understanding the implications of migration for education systems, practices, and the experiences and wellbeing of learners in both sending and receiving countries and communities. This entails paying attention both to how migrants engage with and experience processes of inclusion or exclusion within education, and also to experiences of immobility, and the impact that migration has for those who stay behind. This includes, for example, consideration of the impact of remittances and the role of the diaspora in supporting (or undermining) processes of education and development in their communities of origin; looking critically at debates around the so-called ‘brain-drain’ and the impact of outward teacher migration in low-income contexts; examining how migration may shape educational aspirations among young people in communities of high outward mobility; and exploring the implications of rural-urban migration for ‘left-behind’ children.

For the module assessment, students are asked to write a two-part assignment which includes (i)a 3500-word essay focusing on the interconnections between migration, education and international development in relation to a context of their choosing; and (ii) an accompanying public-facing blog piece of up to 1500 words, which engages with key ideas from the assignment topic, and presents them in a blog format for academic and non-academic audiences.

This series presents some of the best blog pieces written by students on the module 2021-2022.  These all offer insightful and creative ways of engaging with the education-migration-development nexus, highlight some of the diverse spaces and media through which the nexus can be explored (including film, literature, museums, language, and the arts more broadly), and shed light on how the nexus can play out in a range of different global contexts.