Inspired by Connecting Classrooms Citizenship training, English teacher Hiba set up a project to get Lebanese and Syrian pupils talking to each other about the topic of immigration.  Not only did they improve their understanding of each other, but they improved their English skills as well.

 “Is immigration a blessing or a curse?”  That was the question facing a group of Syrian and Lebanese pupils at DMeet Public School in Mount Shouf, Lebanon.  It was a question certain to generate debate – Lebanon is currently hosting more than one million Syrian refugees, and like many Lebanese schools, DMeet has a large population of Syrian students. 

English teacher Hiba felt that relationships between the Lebanese and Syrian pupils were not always harmonious.  She wanted to address this through developing her pupils’ understanding of citizenship.  Inspired by her Connecting Classrooms core skills training in Citizenship, Hiba created a project on immigration for Lebanese and Syrian pupils, aged 13-14.  She hoped to encourage her students to reassess their values and to increase their awareness of cultural diversity, immigration and refugees.

Understanding different perspectives

The starting point was the question, ‘Is immigration a blessing or a curse?’  Hiba introduced her pupils to types of immigration and the difference between immigrants and refugees.  Both Lebanese and Syrian students then used their English language skills to interview each other, as well as refugees and immigrants from the community.  This gave them an opportunity to understand a variety of different perspectives. 

In one activity, Hiba displayed signs in Italian around the classroom and encouraged pupils to imagine how it would feel to live in a country where they couldn’t understand the language.  In another, students explored the relationship between immigration and citizenship, and the rights and responsibilities of immigrants and refugees.  Pupils identified the importance of immigrants being active citizens who follow the rules of their host country. 

In a particularly powerful speaking activity, pupils discussed whether they might choose to emigrate one day and why.  Both Lebanese and Syrian pupils expressed a desire to emigrate, either to Europe or to the United States.  However, the Syrian refugees also made it clear that they were eager to return to Syria and make it a better place. Similarly the Lebanese pupils agreed that ‘there is no need to emigrate if we could make our country a better place’.

Resolving challenging issues

Pupils were highly motivated by the project.  They enjoyed sharing different experiences and views openly.  They now have a much better understanding of cultural diversity, immigration and the importance of citizenship.  Challenging issues – including religious divides and different cultural backgrounds – have been brought out into the open and resolved.  There is more respect and understanding for each other from both groups of pupils. 

Not only did pupils’ Citizenship skills improve, but their language skills benefited too.  The students developed a range of communication skills, including interviewing, taking notes, presenting evidence, analysing case studies, listening to others’ views and expressing opinions. Their spoken English skills improved.

Hiba is now committed to delivering lessons differently, in a way that enhances pupils’ critical thinking skills and links with real-life experience.  She plans to continue this work to improve relationships within school and prepare pupils for the future.