Migration, Bildung, Resilience

Lene Rachel Andersen
Published in
11 min readApr 4, 2024


One of the most toxic topics in Western politics is immigration. As a species, not just among Westerners, but globally, we need to figure out how to deal with migration fruitfully, because there is very likely going to be more of it in the years to come, and we need to educate differently and educate more teachers if it is going to go well.

The West attracts people from all over the globe because of its prosperity, the opportunities it offers, freedom, societal stability, and safety from political and other persecution. While the immigrants seek a better future for themselves, aging populations and in many cases declining population numbers — particularly in Europe — also make increased immigration seem necessary for most prosperous countries.

However, many Westerners fear for their country and how it will change when an increasing proportion of the population has not grown up in the country, speaks the language poorly (or not at all), and have different cultural norms. Though racism may absolutely be part of why many Westerners are anti-immigration there are also very reasonable fears, and there are cultural, educational, economical, and ecological challenges that need to be addressed due to migration.

There are not just the fears among people in the receiving countries, though. There are the fears harbored by the migrants themselves and the fears harbored by the countries that have net emigration. It is just that the fears among people in the countries that have net immigration are probably the most toxic.

The fears are not necessarily irrational or unfounded, because migration raises a number of crucial questions: How do we keep functioning countries or nation states in a world of increased migration? How can the indigenous peoples of receiving nations and the immigrants come to understand and appreciate each other? How can they come to share the same sense of belonging in and responsibility towards their shared country so that they all care enough about the country to keep it and everybody in it thriving?

Fear and hope among migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees

When we talk about fear and hope among migrants, we should distinguish between migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees; their situation, their hopes and their fears are generally very different. The refugees and asylum seekers may fear for their life where they are, and safety is the major hope that makes them go to another country. Their fears may include ending up being trafficked, being expelled from the country where they seek refuge, loosing contact with family and friends back home, and, of course, the biggest fear: dying while trying. People who migrate for economic reasons may share some of the same fears if they are illegal immigrants and do not have a work permit where they are going, but they may also be migrants with work visas and good jobs waiting for them; they often go by the title ex-pats.

Once arrived in a new country and a different culture, new fears and hopes may arise. One of my own lightbulb moments regarding this was some 20 years ago when I met a woman from Somalia in my hometown, Copenhagen. She was a refugee, she had acquired refugee status, and she was by then safe and settled, but it had been a horrible and perilous endeavor for her to get to Denmark. She had had to leave behind a newborn baby (years later they were re-united), the journey was dangerous, and when she got to Denmark, it was not at all as she had imagined.

Denmark turned out to be a cold, cold place, both with regards to the weather and the people. When she arrived at the asylum center, she got her own room. For a Dane, that would be a reasonable expectation regarding accommodation, and most Danes would absolutely prefer to get their own bedroom!!! For this woman, it was the first time in her entire life that she had had to go to sleep alone, and it was awful. How could she be alone in a bedroom and not have the comfort of having people around her when going to sleep? And then there were the Danes themselves: cold, always keeping a distance, bland clothing, food with no taste, awful people!

It wasn’t until she had been in Denmark for several months, when the Danish Prince Joachim and his fiancée Alexandra got married in 1995 and Denmark went royal-wedding-crazy with daylong media coverage of the wedding extravaganza that she finally felt a connection to the Danes. Those cold Danes turned out to have a soft spot and a warm heart after all: beautiful dresses, gala uniforms, royal castles, golden carriages, music, dancing, rituals, and young love! The Somalian newcomer sat as if glued to the TV set all day, and afterwards she felt that she could connect to her new country. A door had been opened.

The Danes turned out to have feelings afterall…

Fears, frustrations, and relief in the countries of origin

It is often resourceful people who migrate and for many poor countries, that is a huge problem: they are losing the people who could have contributed the most to economic growth, and they may be losing the best educated. Whether the migrants have had their education paid by their government or they have paid for it themselves, they are nevertheless contributing to brain drain in the country they leave.

For other poor countries, thousands of people leaving is not seen as a problem: There are no ways they can create enough jobs for young people, they do not have the resources to educate them, and once people have migrated and found work elsewhere, they send home money to their family. It is a much-needed contribution to the local economy. In 2022, it was around USD 800 billion globally that went from the richer countries to poorer countries due to migrant workers. Also in 2022, foreign aid from Development Assistance Committee (DAC) countries of the OECD rose to “an all-time high of USD 211 billion;” i.e. migrant workers sent home almost four times as much money as the rich OECD countries paid in foreign aid.

Fears, hopes, and realities of receiving countries

The fears, hopes, and realities of people in the receiving countries is where things tend to get toxic: citizens of prosperous countries are often hostile towards immigrants from poorer countries. Yet, those prosperous countries cannot remain prosperous without immigrants. At least not as we currently define prosperity: constant economic growth, which requires constant growing consumption and production, which requires more people. Currently, the European population does not reproduce itself in sufficient numbers to keep the economy going, while a country like Nigeria has a young population with few to no prospects. Here just three examples: Denmark, the Netherlands, and Nigeria:

In Denmark, the population is 5.9 million people, the annual population growth is 0,49%, the fertility rate is 1.7 child per woman, the median age is 42, and GDP per capita 2023 was USD 71,400.

In the Netherlands, the population is 17.6 million people, the annual population growth is 0.31%, the fertility rate is 1.6 child per woman, the median age is 42, and GDP per capita 2023 was USD 61,770.

In Nigeria, the population is 224 million people, the annual population growth is 2.41%, the fertility rate is 4.6 child per woman, the median age is 19 years, and GDP per capita 2023 was USD 1,755.

It recently came out that the fertility rate in Denmark is going to be even lower soon: 1.5 child per woman, which means that unless women in Denmark start having more children or immigration increases radically, the population in Denmark by the year 2100 will be around 2.5 million people. In other words: by the end of the century, the population will be half the size of today. Nigeria will probably have 377 million people as early as 2050.

It does not take much imagination to see that this is not sustainable.

Three scenarios

Seen in isolation, fewer people in Europe is not a problem; it would mean more natural and other resources per person and overall lower consumption, which is a good thing. The problem is the economic model and the welfare societies that will collapse if the population keeps aging and declining; ‘underpopulation’ in the north and ‘overpopulation’ in the south will create some immense inequality problems. Europe will have to use immense amounts of violence to keep people from Africa and other parts of the world out. It is a situation that could turn into a true dystopia, eroding basic humanistic principles, and requiring huge investments in military and surveillance to keep borders tight. This is scenario 1.

Scenario 2 is increased immigration in Europe to keep the population and the economy stable.

Scenario 3 is sufficient education and sustainable economic development around the globe, which will lead to better opportunities and subsequently lower birth rates globally, perhaps even as low as in Europe today. This would not only mean fewer people seeking towards the West as migrants and refugees, but also better chances of saving the planet.

Scenario 1 is where we are currently heading. Scenarios 2 and 3 will require immense investment in education right now. As in: ENORMOUS investment in education, beginning today and taking effect tomorrow. And not just education, also bildung, culture, civics, sustainable food production skills, and methods for self-organizing it. On top of that there needs to be heavy investments in sustainable and digital infrastructure.
Scenario 2 and 3 are different in that they have different migration patterns: scenario 2: heavy immigration into Europe and North America; scenario 3, less migration in general. Either way: the need for education and bildung that will allow people to live peacefully, meaningfully, and productively next to one another is gigantic and we can only start the upgrade of our education systems too slowly.

To maintain some level of global stability, scenarios 2 and 3, which currently seem the less likely, are what we need to pursue.

Not enough teachers

However, even if we decided to invest sufficiently in education and to begin today, we are facing a precarious problem: we do not have enough teachers, teachers are quitting, we do not educate enough teachers, and teachers’ education is generally not geared towards handling cultural clashes between ethnic groups — be it in classrooms or in society — and neither is it geared towards educating for the sustainability needs of the 21st century. According to a February 2024 report from the UN, globally, we will be 44 million teachers short by 2030: https://news.un.org/en/story/2024/02/1147067. Which means that if we want to have enough teachers globally by 2030, they should start their teacher’s education no later than next year. The report does not mention adult education at all, which means that the 44 million teachers needed may just be for children. The number ’44 million needed teachers’ may not take into account the millions of adults worldwide who need to upgrade their education, be it because the educational level in many parts of the world is already too low, or because we are all facing new needs for education as the technological development, the global economy, climate change, and the other aspects of the poly-crisis change our circumstances.

If your politicians are not already addressing the teacher shortage, maybe you should start asking them when they will?

Culture, peoplehood, and meaning-making

Around the globe, there is an increased appreciation of and focus on indigenous knowledge and indigenous peoples, not least as we are facing climate change. Indigenous peoples often hold unique knowledge about flora, fauna, and eco-systems that is crucial for our long-term survival and thriving as a species. But there is also an increasing understanding of the significance of culture, community, rootedness, language, place-based meaning-making, and a sense of belonging if we are going to thrive as individuals and societies.

Not just nationalism but also the nation states themselves have a bad reputation in certain circles, particularly among academics and so-called progressives. The reason is obvious: nationalism has been turned into toxic nationalism, national chauvinism, xenophobia, fascism, and Nazism, and this has caused wars, immense suffering, and millions of deaths.

On the other hand, we cannot have thriving societies and democratic countries if people do not identify with their country and care about it. If the country just becomes a venue for everybody’s fight against everybody over resources and various privileges and benefits, then the country falls apart. People tend to care about their country when they love their country, and we tend to love our country when we share narratives, language, culture, habits, rituals, and social norms within the country. When we don’t, we tend to lose trust, commitment, sense of belonging, and willingness to serve the country rather than just serving ourselves.

Which brings us to migration, bildung, and societal resilience: How do we keep functioning countries or nation states in a world of increased migration? How can the indigenous people of receiving nations and the immigrants come to share the same love of country so everybody cares about the country enough that society and everybody in it can thrive? In this regard, Danes, Germans, Lithuanians, Ukrainians, and the British and the Dutch are just as much indigenous peoples as the Maori of Aotearoa New Zealand and the hunter gatherer tribes in the Amazonas rain forest. Our human need for meaning-making through place-based culture and language, our need for making ourselves understood among people who resemble us, and our need for belonging is the same.

With increased migration, we therefore need to address the meaning-making challenges that it produces. We need to address the challenges through culture, bildung, and education. Otherwise, we cannot have stable, peaceful societies. We might be able to uphold some kind of stability and “peace” with increased surveillance and violence, but open societies and democracy with peaceful mutual disagreement and fruitful friction would not be very likely.

We therefore need more teachers, not less, and we need to see education, bildung, culture, language, and meaning-making as a mutual obligation towards each other and ourselves if we want to thrive and live in functioning societies.

A Global and a European conversation

We need a global conversation about this.

We need a conversation about the teacher shortages. In the Global Bildung Network, we initiated one at the Global Bildung Day on September 21, 2022, and you can watch the videos here: https://www.globalbildung.net/gbd2022-september/. But we also need continental conversations about it because the situation is different from continent to continent.

We also need conversations about our collective meaning-making, how we can preserve, renew, and vitalize indigenous cultures around the globe, particularly as we see increased migration. We need to address this globally, and we need to address it culture zone by culture zone, country by country, and people by people too. In the Global Bildung Network, we initiated that conversation at the Global Bildung Day on March 21, 2023, and you can watch the videos from that here: https://www.globalbildung.net/gbd2023-march-21/

In Europe, the European Bildung Network will host a conversation about Bildung, Resilience, and Migration at the European Bildung Day 2024 in Rotterdam, May 7–8: https://www.globalbildung.net/ebd2024/. And we hope we will have a plurality of European voices in the conversation, because the future of our continent depends on it.



Lene Rachel Andersen

Economist, futurist, author, full member of the Club of Rome. Works at Next Scandinavia, Nordic Bildung & European Bildung Network. www.lenerachelandersen.com