Augmented Reality Art Exhibition
A project by backpack2school.org
Featuring Artist Stephanie Künzli Ycaza & Andrin Grimm
15.11. – 30.11.2022
Augmented Reality Art Exhibition
A project by backpack2school.org
Featuring Artist Stephanie Künzli Ycaza & Andrin Grimm
15.11. – 30.11.2022
Nesrin and Houda Bourbia were born in Algeria and migrated to Switzerland at the age of 8. They experienced integration into a new society first hand and understand the importance of inclusive classrooms. In 2018 they founded Backpack2school to realize a program that aims to prepare the teachers of tomorrow for the increasingly multicultural classroom.
Backpack2school takes an active part in shaping the education system internationally. They work together with governments, universities and education institutions in Switzerland and around the world to launch initiatives in the field of education.
A-Young Kwon doesn't have an actual date of entry. She was born and raised in Switzerland and has South Korean roots. She is a teacher and holds a Bachelors of Science in Education.
A-Young, or Amy, as she sometimes calls herself, says she often perceives herself as "different" in Switzerland and especially at all levels of the education system. "Few people looked like I did. And this I noticed from a very young age."
Although she always had the support of her parents, she still found the school system anything but easy. In particular, she struggled with the prejudices against Asians as model immigrants, being smart and hard working. The attribution of the "hard-working" character put a lot of pressure on her.
As one of the few Asian teachers in the Zurich area (and also in Switzerland), A-Young is aware of her representative role. But it doesn’t come without continued challenges, specifically from parents who question her competence as a perceived immigrant, as she has repeatedly experienced. She remembers one incident vividly, where a parent asked, “and you are teaching my child German?!”
She hopes that increasing diversity among teachers will reduce racist and discriminatory thinking within the educational context.
"As a teacher, I realize that our school system still has a long way to go."
July 24, 2016
"Integration projects in Switzerland need to be more reciprocal."
Kingdom Karuwo’s official “date of entry”: July 24, 2016. Kingdom was born and raised in Zimbabwe. He is a PhD student at the Geneva Graduate Institute and holds a Masters in African Studies from the University of Basel and a Masters of Arts in Anthropology and Sociology.
Kingdom arrived in Switzerland as an adult. He emphasizes that it is difficult to connect in Switzerland – in all aspects of life. This is further aggravated by a language barrier – even more so in German-speaking Switzerland, where a distinction is made between German and Swiss German.
Despite learning the German language, access to the labor market is particularly challenging as a non-Swiss. Kingdom says that his previous academic achievements and work experience were not recognized because it "did not correspond to Swiss quality – the Swissness". This was the reason why he wanted to acquire the “quality stamp” via higher education at a Swiss university. However, depending on the employer, this was still not good enough: a latent preference for Swiss employees is felt, says Kingdom.
In general, he would like to see deeper exchanges and discourses between people who are new to Switzerland and Swiss society. Networks among one another should be formed that transcend nation-state categories and we should seek to "bring together different expertise, contexts, and experiences" so that even more productive collaboration emerges. This would counterbalance the current situation, which can be described as unfair and unequal.
Meriam Aissani has no “date of entry”. She was born and raised in Switzerland and has Algerian roots. She holds a Masters of Science in Medicine and is currently a Medical resident.
Looking back, Meriam says she was "lucky." In her schooling, she felt respected and supported by her classmates and teachers. At the same time, she describes that she always noticed things "in the background" that made her feel uncomfortable. Meriam had to constantly justify herself; whether it was why she did not celebrate Christmas and instead takes a day off for Eid, or why she speaks Arabic instead of German with her parents, or why her mother wears a hijab.
But one incident in particular that occurred at a very young age, had the ability to change her path academically if it were not for her parents' fierce will. Meriam had spent her early years in Geneva. Although by the end of Kindergarten she was able to converse in German without any issues, her Kindergarten teacher was convinced that she had to be placed in a class for children with special needs. The only reasoning was that her language skills were insufficient. However, due to the knowledge, intervention, and persistence of her parents, the teacher allowed her to take an IQ test. At the very end of the exam, she had to name different objects, but could not pronounce the word “juice maker” properly. Every other task was solved correctly. Yet, her teacher still insisted that she was incapable of being in the regular class. Once again, her parents were unintimidated and relentless and eventually Meriam was given permission to enroll in the Primary School regular class. "It seemed to us that she was just waiting for that ''mistake'', Meriam says. And sadly, she vividly remembers the discrimination she experienced in Kindergarten till this day.
In general, Meriam would like to see a more open approach to the unique characteristics of people in Switzerland. While she has been able to turn her negative experiences into motivation, she still finds herself asking, "What is integration, anyway?" According to Meriam, people like her are not seen as integrated because certain elements such as language, origin and religion are still highlighted to be too different, too non-Swiss, even if they were born, raised, and educated in Switzerland.
"I don't have a ‘date of entry’ but sometimes it feels like I do."
Veronica Almedom’s “date of entry”: October 2, 1989. She grew up in Switzerland and has Eritrean roots. She is an activist for Eritrean people in Switzerland and Europe and holds an MBA with a specialty in Innovation Leadership.
During the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, which resulted in anti-racism being discussed within the broader global society, Veronica began to reflect deeper on her childhood in a small town in Valais through an anti-racism lens.
Veronica was the only Person of Color at her Primary school. She recounts an incident where one of her classmates would not hold her hand at school because it was "dirty and black" and no one intervened or stood up for her, not even her teacher. At the time it was hurtful. But only now did she understand the significance of his words and actions beyond the hurt. Today she understands that her skin color was used as a justification, consciously or unconsciously, by the little boy to paint her as being inferior or less-than.
The persistent portrayal of Africans as being inferior to the West is a continued concern to Veronica. She is a strong advocate for portraying a more complex picture of Africa, teaching about racism in schools, and highlighting the importance of seeing differences as a value-add to society.
"We need racial literacy – in schools, in the workplace; in fact, everywhere!"
Matthias Stierlin Szabo’s “date of entry”: October 21, 2013. He was born in Bolivia and spent part of his childhood in Hungary. He then came to Switzerland at the age of 13. This summer he completed his Information Technology apprenticeship and is now working at ETH.
When entering the Swiss education system, Matthias was eventually placed in “Sek B”. Given his good grades, his new teacher encouraged him to change to Sek A and told him “let’s just try it”. In Sek A, he was able to keep up without any problems and his grades remained consistently good. This allowed him to participate in the ChagALL program, which prepares talented migrants for the entry exam to Gymnasium. Although he did not pass the entry exam, he learned from the program what alternatives the dual Swiss education system had to offer.
The desire to go to the Gymnasium came mainly from his mother. Back in Hungary a successful educational career is traditionally associated with completing high-school and studying at a university. Today he is very happy about his choice and wishes that there was "better education around the advantages of an apprenticeship for students and parents".
"I was always told that as a "Sek B" student, I would never manage to receive a Federal Diploma in Information Technology."
Houda Bourbia’s “date of entry”: June 19, 1999. She was born in Algeria and came to Switzerland when she was eight years old. She holds a Master of Arts in Business Management from HSG, is a cybersecurity consultant and co-founder of Backpack2school.
Houda learned during a conversation with a casual acquaintance that her good grades in Secondary School (Leistungszug E) would allow her to transfer directly to Gymnasium. The institutional knowledge she needed to navigate the educational system was withheld from her by her teachers. In her case, it was much more luck or, as the example shows, the coincidental encounter that helped her to have more educational opportunities.
There is one experience in particular that has remained with Houda after all these years. As she was receiving her diploma from Secondary School to Gymnasium, her class teacher commented on her decision stating with utmost confidence and certainty, ''You won't make it in Gymnasium. That's all I have to say.'' Unfortunately that wasn't anything new to Houda. Her transitions from Primary School to Secondary Level I and later to Gymnasium were all marked by teachers who consistently denied her competencies. This is one of many examples of how teachers should not treat their students and unfortunately this type of behavior is more common than what we would like to believe and expect.
Nevertheless, she appreciates the flexibility of the Swiss education system and that not everything is "set in stone." There are different paths to travel and what she believes is missing is improved access to information for all students in order for them to be able to make the right decisions. In addition, more encouragement can often make the difference between success and failure for People of Color or disadvantaged persons. I hope you would join me in raising awareness about the inequalities experienced in the Swiss education system and work together to take tangible steps to enhance our educational system for all.
"It is important to me to make our fellow citizens aware that the Swiss education system allows our chances of social success to depend on factors that we cannot influence. One of these factors is our migration background."
Nesrin Bourbia’s “date of entry”: June 19, 1999. She was born in Algeria and came to Switzerland when she was eight years old. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, is a cybersecurity consultant, and co-founder of Backpack2school.
The selection process at the end of Primary School was a very abrupt event for her, occurring far too early. Only in Secondary School (Realschule) did she realize that this path was almost prescribed for her, without her being aware of the consequences of this placement.
Nesrin looked into her career prospects as a “Realschule” student early on and quickly realized that she needed to fundamentally understand the Swiss education system with all its possibilities. She adds that in Switzerland, you can only realize your potential if you are aware of the high flexibility of the system and use it to your advantage.
Looking back, she sees luck as the main factor in her school career that enabled her to move up the social ladder. But luck is not synonymous with equal opportunity. It is problematic how children and young people have to choose certain paths early on, and how teachers often divide up their students on the basis of factors unrelated to their performance. For Nesrin, it is extremely important to question the split of Secondary Schools into various types of schools because it is one of the factors that results in inequitable social selections.
"With the project Einreisedatum, we are addressing the whole society. People with or without an “entry date” should be able to find themselves in these stories, experiences, emotions, and anecdotes."
Zahra Al-Ayouby’s “date of entry”: April 24, 2016. She was born and raised in Syria. She holds a Master of Science in Dentistry and was a practicing dentist in Syria. Today she is studying dentistry at the University of Zurich to be allowed to practice in Switzerland.
Zahra's arrival to the canton of Uri follows a journey marked by war, loss and displacement. She fled from war-torn Syria to the neighboring country of Lebanon. Without going into too much depth, this time was traumatic, difficult and linked with tremendous loss for her and her family. From Lebanon, Zahra and her family arrived in Switzerland through a UN program.
During her time in the canton Uri, Zahra had mixed feelings. On the one hand she was "grateful and at ease", on the other hand she found the Swiss context challenging.
She reached out to the local government in order to have her diplomas and professional experience recognized and to become involved in Swiss society. The response from the authorities was far from satisfactory. They had no experience "with such [educated] refugees" and information on how to approach such concerns has not been shared either. “In most cases, refugees have to proactively reach out to private organizations when governments are unable or unwilling to help.
Zahra appeals to Swiss society and our institutions to acknowledge the value all refugees can bring to the country and to support them in their ambitions. "We are a factor of strength and can enrich countries. We need them and they need us."
"We wanted to learn the language first, then take care of the recognition of our diplomas. However, everything was unclear and we received no information."
Allan Gomes da Silva’s “date of entry”: February 04, 2004. He was born in Brazil and spent his youth in Switzerland. He is a freight forwarder at Roche, a DJ and music producer.
Allan came to Switzerland at the age of 13 and couldn't speak a word of German. He was assigned to an integrational class. Allan describes the atmosphere there as playful and creative with a really sensational teacher.
He quickly learned the language and was able to transfer to the regular class. He is especially thankful of his former teacher. He said he was lucky not only with the teacher, but also with the timing of his entry into the Swiss education system, because two or three years later, it would have been much more difficult to succeed as he would have been placed directly in a regular class at Sek I.
One moment that had a great impact on Allan was during one of the first French lessons in his new class. Everyone had to read aloud in French, one after the other, but Allan couldn't do it because he had never had a French lesson before. The other children laughed at him. However, this incident pushed him to work harder. He became the top of the class within six months. Allan feels that he and migrant children in general have a "work harder" attitude, which he likes.
One aspect Allan criticizes is the division of the Secondary School in school types, Realschule (A), Sekundarschule (E) und Progymnasium (P). The Realschule is also known as the "immigrant school", whereas the (E) school, to which he soon transferred, had hardly any migrant students. This division is extreme and a great pity, since it is anchored in the mentality of the students and also of the teachers.
"When you have a foreign sounding name or you look slightly “different”, you’re often underestimated. But it is precisely these immigrants who always work the hardest." says Allan.
"I saw Switzerland as an opportunity to change my life completely."
Dr. Omar Z.’s “date of entry”: July 27, 1998. He was born and raised in Libya and holds a PhD in social development and pedagogy. Prior to coming to Switzerland, Omar was a highly regarded professor.
When Omar learned that like many of his colleagues in academia, he was on the "blacklist" of the Libyan regime, he decided to flee to Switzerland. In the mid-90s, people from his work environment fled abroad because of this – including to Switzerland. He knew Geneva from several conference visits and did not feel strange, as the city is so international.
The network of Libyan refugees from 1995 supported Omar and his family on their new start in the assigned canton of Baselland. For Omar, the German language remained a major obstacle, although he speaks English and French fluently. The offers of work and/or education in small communities are modest and the exchange with the government, employers or society was not easy.
Omar had also contacted various universities and had participated in various programs to find a connection in the academic world, but these attempts failed repeatedly. Omar describes the justifications for being overqualified as mere excuses; he did not expect much pay nor made high demands. He just wanted to work in his professional field.
Omar worked his way through various professions, from the postman, to the handyman on the construction site, and on the farm. Today, all of the work he does in his professional field is mainly on a voluntary basis, working with the Arabic-speaking community and Swiss Church Aid (HEKS).
"I think one must listen. This is also true for the Migration Office and other departments. They create a system which makes us dependent, although the system should strive to create independent human beings."
Allan Gomes da Silva
Dr. Omar Z
Isabella Lima Rohr
Matthias Stierlin Szabo
Stephanie Künzli Ycaza
Impact Hub Basel
Neues Wir – Eidgenössische Migrationskommission
PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Schweiz
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