Refugee Crisis – A Teachable Moment on Population and Migration

The migration of hundreds of thousands of refugees from the Middle East and Africa to Europe is a news story that provides a teachable moment for social studies classrooms this fall. Not since World War II has there been such an enormous migration of refugees, people displaced from their homes due to civil strife. There are many ways to approach classroom exploration and discussion on this evolving story, including:

  • Human interest story of people trying to meet their basic needs (safety, shelter, education, employment)
  • Immigration story of the push-pull factors that propel waves of immigration and why some countries are more welcoming than others of these refugees
  • A resource story of the ability of destination countries to absorb refugees
  • A story of differing cultures and religions and whether European towns and cities are destined to become “melting pots” or “mosaics” of different ethnic groups.

In this article, from last week’s Washington Post, writer Rick Noack uses population maps to explain why some countries, like Germany, might be welcoming refugees to ease its aging and declining population, while countries in Eastern Europe that are resisting the migration might be missing “demographic opportunities.” While it’s true that many European countries have low fertility rates and projected declines in their native populations, it’s also true that our global population of 7.3 billion continues to grow by over 80 million people annually (the equivalent of another Germany each year!) The UN now projects population to continue to grow to 11 billion by 2100, with most of this growth in the least developed countries of Africa. Because these high-growth countries are most vulnerable to civil conflict and climate-related catastrophes, there will be ever more refugees seeking safe harbors for the foreseeable future.

As an introduction to the topic of migration in the classroom, try  the PopEd lesson People on the Move. Understanding the push-pull factors of migration can be a good starting point to considering the drama unfolding today.