Here I am trying to write the first blog post of my life. I recently won a National Geographic Explorer grant entitled TIES: Teaching Immigration in European Schools. This means that I will dedicate some of my time in the next two years to developing learning modules covering the main aspects of global migration – together with three great colleagues – two migration scholars, Katharina Natter and Simona Vezzoli, and a high school teacher with a background in journalism, Kerstin Brinnich, – as well as other teachers, students, storytellers and migrants. As with all successful project proposals, there is always this exciting but slightly frightening moment when an idea becomes reality: Developing ideas on paper is not the same as travelling to a suburb in a different country to do research, convincing someone to participate in a study, and living through the many difficult phases of data collection and analysis before results can be discussed, read and shared.
It would not be National Geographic if the grant did not come along with amazing courses about Photography, Video, Public Speaking, Social Media for Science Storytelling, and Writing for Impact, which grant holders are encouraged to take. I was initially hugely enthusiastic about leaving the stiff frame of academic writing behind, writing more creatively and learning how to tell research through strong stories. On a different level, these classes might also help me to deal with my current frustration not to be able to do fieldwork in Niger and Tunisia due to corona, which I had planned for months. But it is also a challenge. A smart person has once told me that the more he learns, the more he realises the extent of his ignorance. Besides wearing my hat as migration scholar, can I wear a different one? Or can I wear two at the same time? For me, the TIES project means to enter unchartered territory and to learn how to transform complex academic knowledge about migration into exciting online formats for school-aged youth and their teachers.
Why am I excited about starting this project in September 2020? Not least because National Geographic was one of the cherished magazines of my youth which made me want to travel and discover the world myself. But on a less personal and more societal level, it is because classrooms in Europe are prime spaces where migration plays out, as students come from different nationalities and cultures. In 2018, 5.4 per cent of the European population under 15 years of age were foreign-born and in many European countries, the percentage of children with a migration background is rising (Eurostat 2018). EU-wide, around one in five of people aged 15-34 have a migrant background, meaning that they are either foreign-born or have at least one foreign-born parent. Thus, European youth deal constantly with cultural, national and ethnic differences in their daily lives. At the same time, many teachers feel ill-prepared to teach diverse classrooms and migration is often dealt with as a side-topic in school curricula.
When writing the proposal, our hope was that TIES will allow to bring research to schools across Europe and contribute to a more nuanced and comprehensive understanding among school students of what drives migration and how it shapes societies across Europe and the world. Migration is a topic which has been at the epicentre of political tensions and heated public debates in European societies for many years. Yet, much of what many people think about migration is actually wrong: For example, it is not the poorest who migrate. Closed borders do not automatically lead to less migration. Migrants do not steal jobs. Refugees are not powerless victims. People can feel connected to different contexts and countries at the same time. We do not live in an era of unprecedented migration. People have always been mobile to lead a nomadic life, to explore the planet, to flee persecution and violence, to find work or to pursue education.
We hope that TIES and its open-access modules will change this gap.
Stay tuned and follow us on our website once it goes online and help us by sharing this post with teachers who might be interested in participating.