07 SES 09 A, Intercultural Education and Global Mobility
The overall purpose of this study is to find out how newly arrived individuals construct meaning, i.e. the foundation for their understanding, in their new life in Sweden. The research questions will be “What is given meaning by the refugee in the new society?”, “What tools/means does the refugee use for understanding his/her new life?, and “How does this affect the refugee’s life and participation in the new society?”
The example/setting for my research is the compulsory civic orientation course, which is 60 hours, and is equivalent to citizenship education. This course is included in the two years’ introduction programme for newly arrived, and is answered for by the municipalities, by order of the Swedish government. Citizenship education, as a concept, is not used in Sweden, but the civic orientation course has the same official purpose, i.e. to shape democratic citizens who actively participate in shaping and maintaining a democratic society.
Previously, all refugees gained the civic information through the language course Swedish for immigrants, but after a governmental reform in 2007, this course was divided. The state decided that the newly arrived would obtain civic information in their own mother tongues, since this would favour their understanding of the Swedish society, and by that, the newly arrived would get established easier and faster, both in society and working life.
According to the social constructivist approach, we should differ between real objects in the world and our ideas/concepts of them. For instance, Hacking (1999) brings up the example of money, and explains that the real object is the piece of paper that we have named “money”. This object would not have had any significance to us, had we not put a meaning in it, i.e. the meaning of a trade value. Thus, it is we humans, as social constructivists, who ascribe the object etc. its meaning, to be able to understand and deal with it. This meaning is embedded in the construction. (Hacking, 1999). Similarly, Patton (2002) means that because “human beings have evolved the capacity to interpret and construct reality – indeed, they cannot do otherwise – the world of human perception is not real in an absolute sense, as the sun is real, but is ‘made up’ and shaped by cultural and linguistic constructs.” (Ibid., p.96).The refugees’ background, former experiences and knowledge function as meaning perspectives, spectacles, by which they make sense of and learn about new things or phenomena in their new society. Therefore, the new things they learn, are learnt by relating them to the meaning perspectives. Thus, meaning making and learning are closely connected in that the former can be said to be constituted by both the meaning perspectives and the new learning.
Also the transformative learning theory (TL) will be utilized, since it is focused on the meaning making of adults. According to Mezirow (1991, 2000) and TL, learning means, among other things, that one’s former experiences are put against new experiences in the social interaction, and then get changed or “modified”. Our former experiences and knowledge is a part of our meaning perspectives, which guide our understanding of and behaviour in our life context. Since the meaning perspectives guide our thinking and reasoning, and shape our points of view, we should critically reflect on them. Our aim should be to transform our meaning perspectives, by gaining new perspectives that make us more open-minded, reflective and judicious. This transformation leads us to become democratic citizens. Rather than completely following the TL theory, I have chosen those concepts and ideas that I consider as relevant for the purpose of my study.
References Hacking, I. (1999), The social construction of what?. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard university press. Mezirow, J., (2000), Learning to think like an adult: Core concepts of transformation theory. In J. Mezirow and Associates (eds), Learning as transformation (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass). Mezirow, J., (1991), Transformative dimensions of adult learning (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass). Patton, M. Q. (2002), Qualitative research & evaluation methods. Thousands Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.
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