Making a difference for refugees

Making a difference for refugees

What happens outside the schoolyard may hold the key to improving the learning outcomes for young African refugees, according to Charles Sturt University (CSU) research.

The research also shows that church participation can help young refugee Australians to flourish.

The research team, led by Dr Jane Wilkinson from CSU’s Research Institute for Professional Practice Learning and Education (RIPPLE), has been examining the role that out-of-school activities and community networks play in the schooling of students from a refugee background.

Dr Wilkinson said the research has focused on the experiences of young Sudanese refugees who have resettled in regional New South Wales.

“African refugee students are one of the most under-achieving groups in the Australian education system. The group has highly complex educational needs as many students have experienced extensive periods of interrupted schooling or have had no formal education at all.

“Teachers are generally not well prepared to teach culturally and linguistically diverse students. This is particularly so in regional areas where there are limited opportunities for teacher professional development, poor resources and a lack of services such as translators,” she said.

A pilot study in 2011 worked with eight young refugees, their families and community members such as sports coaches and church members in Orange and Wagga Wagga.

Researcher Dr Kiprono Langat is a lecturer with the School of Education and member of the Wagga African Elders Group, WAFRICA.

Dr Langat said the study targeted young people who were seen to be successful in the community and involved a photo journal, interviews and observation.

“We worked with a small group including some families facing huge challenges. Yet we can still see a snippet of success,” he said. “It shows there is a window of opportunity to support these young people who are starting to settle, to achieve and to become ‘real Australians’.

“We selected young people who are trying to achieve and this project has identified the positive things that can be replicated in supporting those who are struggling,” Dr Langat said.

The study found strong networks of family and friends, involvement with church groups and sporting organisations along with living in a regional setting were positive factors in educational success.

“The young Sudanese people and their families in this study reveal themselves as strong, capable, resilient and keen to contribute to the Australian community,” Dr Wilkinson said.

“There’s a lot more to educational success than simply what goes on in classrooms. It involves being part of a community outside of school. Taking part in activities and being involved with people who can teach you skills that can be transferred to help you learn at school.

“Instead of focusing on the challenges or the gaps in the formal education, schools and classroom teachers need to look at what these young people can bring to the classroom,” she said.

“These kids may be fantastic at sport or achieving great things in the community. We need to build programs and teaching materials that engage them and build on those strengths.”

More information on the study can be found here.

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