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Teachers in Mexico help refugee students with their education

by Yucatan Times
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We believe that education is a human right – regardless of the nationality

“We believe that education is a human right – regardless of nationality – access to education is good for children’s development. It’s good for the child, the family, the community, it’s good for everyone. We all win when we support people to become educated citizens,” says María Teresa Niño Ovando, a teacher at a school in Tapachula, in the Mexican state of Chiapas.

Many teachers in different cities in southern Mexico are sensitive to the situation of thousands of refugee, asylum-seeking and migrant children and adolescents, who face significant backwardness because their academic education has been interrupted after fleeing their homes. For several years, these teachers have been trying to ensure that these children can continue their studies while their asylum processes continue before the Mexican Commission for Refugee Aid because they know that education is a fundamental guarantee.

Mexican refugee and asylum law

The Mexican law on refuge, complementary protection and political asylum allows access to education for refugee children and adolescents. Many teachers have opened spaces for all, although their schools require a lot of support and supplies.

The right to education and school insertion are also basic principles provided for in the Global Compact on Refugees and the Regional Comprehensive Framework for Protection and Solutions, promoted by the UN.

“At least here in Mexico, basic education is compulsory. It has been extended to high school (pre-university), but we know that this is far from reality (…) It is important that they continue studying because it is in these early years that they acquire what is necessary, which is the foundation of education to be able to continue progressing intellectually,” says Rogelio Rojas Becerra, teacher at the Venustiano Carranza Garza elementary school, located in Ciudad Hidalgo, Chiapas.

A group from the José María Morelos y Pavón Federal Secondary School in Tenosique, Tabasco. This school hosts a number of refugee and asylum-seeking students.

UNHCR supports communities

In 2019, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) conducted a comprehensive diagnosis among communities in order to find out what they needed for the development of different local projects.

One of the recurring themes was access to school and the need for more dignified and safer educational infrastructures. The educational situation deteriorated with the COVID-10 pandemic, which caused the total closure of classrooms and led to further school backlogs.

“We have more children than expected and their needs seem to be more complex. For example, after COVID-19 more behavioral problems and educational delay have appeared. We teachers have a lot to do to help children overcome school backwardness,” explains teacher Niño Ovando.

In 2020, through a three-year program with Educate a Child – which promotes the school insertion of refugee children and adolescents who are out of school – UNHCR carried out different interventions in schools and provided training to teachers and other sector staff in Chiapas, Oaxaca, Tabasco and Veracruz with the aim of supporting host communities and expanding opportunities for durable solutions for refugee families and children.

More than 80,000 refugee and local elementary school students in Tapachula, Ciudad Hidalgo, Union Juarez, Palenque, Tenosique, Acayucan, Oluta and Ixtepec received school supply kits during the pandemic.

In addition, in 2022, 39 computer classrooms in schools in Tapachula, Palenque, Tenosique, Acayucan, Oluta and Ixtepec were remodeled and equipped with computers, printers, desks, blackboards, tables, chairs and other furniture.

With funds from the German Cooperation Agency, four classrooms and bathrooms were built in two schools in Ciudad Hidalgo, Chiapas, allowing students to leave their temporary classrooms installed on the sports field.

Uriel Vázquez Peña has been teaching at a school in Tapachula, Chiapas, Mexico, for 20 years. He affirms that children accept differences more easily than adults. His groups have included children from Honduras, indigenous Mam, El Salvador, Haiti, and all share their knowledge and cultures.

A space conducive to learning

“Our school has many shortcomings. If we look at our classrooms, there are three classrooms that are enclosed and that does not allow us to carry out some activities, such as using technology, projectors or other alternatives. It makes it a little more difficult for us,” says Yadira Yaneth Díaz Renoj, a teacher at Venustiano Carranza Garza elementary school, located in Ciudad Hidalgo.

“We are happy because now we are going to be in a classroom and this is really the right space for the children to learn well,” says teacher Rogelio Rojas Becerra.

For Jorge Francisco Hernández Solorzano, principal of the Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez Afternoon Elementary School in Palenque, Chiapas, this support is important to strengthen the students’ learning, particularly in this school, which has 20% of refugee children.

“The socioeconomic condition of most of the parents is low or very low. This represents an approach for our students because it is very difficult for them to have access to digital media at home, even though they are children born in the digital era. It is important that here in the school they can be oriented through these computers. It will benefit them,” says the director.

Inclusion and integration of refugee children

Tapachulteco teacher Uriel Vázquez Peña notes that foreign children tend to be more accepted than adults, so education not only strengthens the students’ abilities, but also promotes their inclusion and integration into the community.

“I have seen how Honduran, indigenous Mam, Salvadoran, Mexican and Haitian children, all of them in the classroom, share tools and cultures. For them it is not as strange as for adults, they see the difference as something normal in the classroom. As teachers in border cities, we are used to this diversity, there are different nationalities and cultures,” she points out.

Coexisting with children of different nationalities allows them to strengthen learning and exchange about cultures and be more sensitive to others, adds Cecilia del Carmen Real Magaña, Spanish teacher at the José María Morelos y Pavón Federal High School in Tenosique, Tabasco, and emphasizes that the tools and support given to them at school offer them the opportunity to reaffirm this inclusion.

“The coexistence makes them integrate very quickly. The kids become supportive and supportive. For us, the teachers, it is satisfying but, more than anything, it is rewarding and fulfills us as human beings because, even though they are here for a season, we know that we can educate them and through the coexistence they get to know our country. That, as a teacher, nourishes me,” she concluded. 

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1 comment

JamesDaley October 23, 2023 - 9:00 am

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