Learning the Way: Teaching and Learning with and for Youth from Refugee Backgrounds on Prince Edward Island

By MacNevin, Joanne | Canadian Journal of Education, November 2012 | Go to article overview
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Learning the Way: Teaching and Learning with and for Youth from Refugee Backgrounds on Prince Edward Island


MacNevin, Joanne, Canadian Journal of Education


In a report by the Canadian Council on Social Development, it was estimated that by 2016, 25% of Canada's children and youth will have arrived in the country as immigrants or refugees (PCCY, 2006). Children and youth who are coming to Canada from refugee backgrounds represent a particularly vulnerable portion of the population. Many of these young people have experienced war, violence, separation from family and friends, loss of home and country, and/or interrupted educational experiences (Anderson, Hamilton, Moore, Loewen, & Frater-Mathieson, 2004; Helmer & Eddy, 2003; Stewart, 2007, 2009, 2011).

This is particularly salient and troubling when placed in the global context. According to the Global Trends Report 2010 that was published by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there were 43.7 million individuals worldwide in 2010 who had been forced to leave their homes and countries due to war, violence, and persecution (UNHCR, 2011). Moreover, of these individuals who were forced to flee their homelands, 44% were children under the age of 18 years (UNHCR, 2011). When these children and youth arrive in Canada, they deserve a safe place to live, grow, and learn. However, recent research has shown that these children and youth often face further barriers in Canada such as racism, discrimination, and poverty (Kanu, 2008; Stewart, 2011).

Between 2006 and 2009, schools in Prince Edward Island (PEI), particularly those schools in the province's capital, experienced a four-fold increase in immigrant students (EAL database, 2010). Of these newly arrived students, approximately 14% had come from refugee backgrounds (EAL database, 2011). In particular schools within the capital city, the percentages of immigrant children and youth from refugee backgrounds in the student population could range from 5% to 40% (EAL database, 2011). The number of students from refugee backgrounds in PEI schools, combined with the specialized teaching methods and resources that may be required to meet the educational needs of these students, highlights a need for research that will serve to guide policy and practice.

Significance of the Study

The purpose of this study was to explore the teaching and learning practices surrounding students from refugee backgrounds on Prince Edward Island (PEI). The study examined the challenges and joys expressed by teachers, the learning needs and strengths of students from refugee backgrounds, and the practices and strategies being employed by teachers. The specific research questions addressed were:

* What is being done in other provinces in Canada to engage learners from refugee backgrounds?

* What are the teaching practices, challenges, and opportunities as encountered by educators, and what are the challenges and opportunities as experienced by students from refugee backgrounds?

* What programs, supports, or pedagogical strategies could be integrated into Prince Edward Island educational contexts in order to enhance educational experiences for students from refugee backgrounds?

The significance of this study is found in the unique challenges and learning needs faced by students who come to the Canadian school system from refugee backgrounds. This work aims to address a gap in the scholarly literature, as there is currently a paucity of research available in Canada that focuses on the schooling of youth from refugee backgrounds. This study highlights issues and provides new understandings regarding teaching youth from refugee backgrounds with the hope that this will help enhance the educational experiences of these youth. As well, there is currently no policy in existence on PEI that relates to the teaching and learning of youth from refugee backgrounds, though the Prince Edward Island Department of Education and Early Childhood Development Minister's Directive (MD) on Special Education (2001) does recognize that students may require assistance or special considerations if there are "cultural and/or linguistic factors.

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