Topic 1 Refugee Children

Refugee children come to face with many adversities (both in quantity and in quality). They often experience trauma of war, expatriation and, in many cases, violent separation from their families.

Four domains of challenges faced by refugee children: emotional, linguistic, academic, and social.

pre-arrival trauma, conflict and violence can cause severe stress for refugee children and affect their cognitive functions and academic performance. Refugee children often become mentally withdrawn in class, aggressive towards their peers or find it difficult to concentrate.

language distance can also cause difficulties for refugee children. Lack of knowledge of the country’s arrival language, illiteracy and little or no formal schooling can further exacerbate the barriers to refugee children’s school integration by affecting their ability to learn a new language and cognitive test performance. They are more likely to fail or drop out altogether. due to their limited language skills, it is much more difficult for them to blend in and make friends, especially where competition among peers is prominent. Children who feel that they can’t fit in, may be more susceptible to bullying, which in turn alienates them even more, creating a vicious circle.

expectation on the part of the children to adapt to new teaching practices, school routines and learning styles in the host country. Plus, many refugee students experience discrimination in schools not only from their peers, but also from teachers.

Refugee students in schools often feel uncomfortable expressing their issues and concerns to teachers and administrators who are primarily English speaking, and racially white (study in Canada: Ryan, Pollock, and Antonelli (2009). Children can feel distanced also from their parents who lack native language skills and may not be familiar with a certain school system.

  • The problems of the refugee children often remain unnoticed by both school personnel as well as parents, and affect their sense of belonging and connection and administrators, could lead to their isolation and discourage their involvement in the receiving society.
  • Need for a multicultural school and education: School can play a pivotal role in fostering mutual respect through the processes of enculturation and acculturation*.

*Enculturation is how an individual, usually a child, develops his/her views about the world. Children are first enculturated at home through the influence of their parents. As they grow, their enculturation process involves teachers, friends, and other individuals. On the other hand, acculturation is when one learns about and becomes assimilated to a culture other than their native one. Both processes are crucial for individuals in developing their own culture, becoming a member of their chosen cultural group. It is also how individuals become accepted in their local community. An educational model that best incorporates the above processes is the ‘multi-cultural school’ approach.

Benefits for a multicultural education:
  • It can assist cultural groups in feeling included, and therefore more engaged in the school community.
  • Helps in gaining accurate representation and knowledge of cultural groups through the process of intercultural understanding.
  • Promotes intercultural interaction and harmony in a school setting
  • Helps in obtaining awareness of biases and fosters critical thinking on current social issues surrounding cultural diversity, such as institutional racism, classism, sexism, ableism, ageism and homophobia
  • Gives equity in education: teachers provide specific help to refugee children in order to have better academic achievements

Activity 1: “Stories in storage”