Academic journal article Literacy Learning: The Middle Years

What Works?: A Program of Best Practice for Supporting the Literacy Needs of Refugee High School Students

Academic journal article Literacy Learning: The Middle Years

What Works?: A Program of Best Practice for Supporting the Literacy Needs of Refugee High School Students

Article excerpt


In Australia, policy recognises the potential of after school tutoring sessions to assist in learning for disadvantaged students, yet there is no consistent, long-term or coordinated approach to their provision (Bond, 2009). As a result, school-university-community partnerships programs are being offered in disadvantaged areas so that there can be closer collaboration with schools. The university's future in many ways depends on how well it responds to local needs in the community. As such, university graduates have to be better equipped for service to the community and better motivated to engage in lifelong learning. Epstein's (1987) theory of 'overlapping spheres of influence' emphasises that schools, families, and communities are major institutions that socialise and educate children. He argues that student academic success is of interest to each of these institutions and is best achieved through their cooperative action and support. Partnership programs can therefore provide new insights into the complexity of the many critical issues (literacy being one of them) facing refugees in education today.

The Afterschool Alliance in the US (cited in Pate, 2008), highlighted afterschool approaches to learning which included: academic instruction designed to meet the needs, abilities and learning styles of students; engaging, relevant community-based projects designed to increase student motivation to learn; linkages made to the school day by applying school day lessons to real world settings; student choice built into program design; partnerships among schools and community-based organisations; students having opportunities to work both independently and in groups, and maintaining communication between families and teachers.

As the discussion of 'what works' for refugee students will show, RAS consists of many of the practices mentioned above and as a sixty hour community engagement practicum for Master of Teaching pre-service teachers in the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney, it focuses on assisting refugee students in after-school centers where preservice teachers have the opportunity to forge personal relatonships with and expand their understanding of the complex histories of refugee students. RAS for pre-service teachers generates a critical awareness of the limitations of conventional classroom practices, and the need for individualised, small groupwork with particular students.

Refugee Action Support

The Refugee Action Support (RAS) program which began in 2007 is a collaborative arrangement between the University of Western Sydney (UWS), the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation (ALNF), and the New South Wales (NSW) Department of Education and Training (DET). The program provides targeted literacy and numeracy support to humanitarian refugee students who have transitioned, within the previous two years, from Intensive English Centres (IECs) to mainstream secondary schools. Despite the fact that all refugee children who attend secondary schools are provided with English language instruction through enrolment in Intensive English Centres (IECs), time restrictions of four school terms in government funded centres result in only a partial development of language and acculturation skills (Ferfolja & Vickers, 2010; Ferfolja et al., 2009; Naidoo, 2009).

RAS includes ten high schools in Western and South Western Sydney. Tutors are allocated to schools for one day a week for twelve weeks. The program is open to students in Years 7-11 who entered Australia on a refugee or humanitarian visa (Ferfolja & Vickers, 2010; Ferfolja et al., 2009; Naidoo, 2009). During school hours, tutors do a range of activities such as assisting students in class; working with a small group of students outside the classroom (e.g. in a learning centre or library); working one on one with a student outside the classroom; creating teaching and learning resources for students' on observing classroom lessons so as to prepare for after-school support. …

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