Immigrant Children Should Go First

Aftenposten (Oslo), June 2, 2006

Immigrant children should be allowed to go to the front of the waiting lists for day care spots, and should get free care if their parents are strapped for cash.

While failed promises to provide day care for all remains a sensitive political issue, Rita Kumar, government adviser on immigration and integration, adds a new element to the debate, newspaper Dagsavisen reports.

Kumar is the head of KIM (The Contact Committee for Immigrants and the Authorities) a government-appointed advisory body made up of representatives from immigrant organizations, political parties and relevant governmental agencies and ministries.

Plenty of documentation exists indicating that early integration and language education is decisive for how immigrant children manage in school and society, while Norway’s education system has had poor reviews in this respect from the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development).

“If we are going to do something about this different treatment of ethnic Norwegian and immigrant children is absolutely necessary,” Kumar told Dagsavisen.

Kumar suggests that immigrant children get priority treatment and that this advantage should apply to the first five years after a family has first come to Norway. Day care should be free if parents have little or no income.

Kumar’s suggestion has support from educators.

“We would like to have free core time for all children from the age of two. Unfortunately this seems a long way off, therefore we believe that it is a good idea to offer free day care to minority language children as a first step in this direction,” Thorbjørn Hafslund, leader of Oslo’s day care division of the Union of Education Norway, told the newspaper.

Hafslund, like Kumar, is tired of arguments that all immigrants must learn Norwegian and that it is their parents’ job to teach them Norwegian language and culture.

“In practice it doesn’t work like that. If children are to get the language education they need before school they are completely dependent on attending a day care center with bi-lingual staff. Parents cannot teach what in most cases they don’t know themselves,” Hafslund said.

Kumar admits that one problem is that minority parents often opt against day care, and so she is willing to discuss some form of obligatory day care.

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