Academic journal article Refuge

Aspirations for Higher Education among Newcomer Refugee Youth in Toronto: Expectations, Challenges, and Strategies

Academic journal article Refuge

Aspirations for Higher Education among Newcomer Refugee Youth in Toronto: Expectations, Challenges, and Strategies

Article excerpt


A large percentage of refugees have low levels of education and official language fluency upon arrival in Canada. This paper discusses educational goals of newcomer refugee youth from three communities in Toronto (Afghan, Karen, and Sudanese), and explores how these are linked to pre-migration and post-migration determinants. Guided by community-based research principles, we collaborated with eight refugee youth peer researchers and conducted ten focus groups and thirteen interviews with refugee youth. Results show that newcomer refugee youth develop strong aspirations for higher education in Canada as a proactive response to overcome pre-migration experiences of forced migration and educational disruptions. We then discuss how these youth negotiate educational goals in post-migration context in relation to shifts in family responsibilities and everyday encounter with multiple systemic barriers in Canada. In doing this, we examine the thin line between vulnerability and empowerment that refugee youth straddle and reveal policy gaps and contradictions in the depoliticized humanitarianism within refugee resettlement in Canada.


Un grand pourcentage de refugies a un faible niveau d'education et une faible connaissance des langues officielles a leur arrivee au Canada. Cet article presente les buts educationnels des nouveaux jeunes refugies de trois communautes de Toronto (afghane, karen et soudanaise) et examine en quoi ceux:ci sont lies a des determinants pre et postmigration. Suivant des principes de recherche communautaire, nous avons travaille de concert avec huit jeunes chercheurs de ces communautes, avons tenu dix groupes de discussion et realise treize entrevues avec des refugies. Les resultats montrent que les nouveaux jeunes refugies aspirent fortement a une education superieure au Canada en tant que reponse proactive aux experiences premigration d'un deplacement force et aux interruptions dans leur education. Nous examinons ensuite les facons dont les jeunes concilient leurs buts educationnels dans un contexte postmigration par rapport aux changements dans les responsabilites familiales et aux obstacles systemiques au Canada qui font partie de leur quotidien. Ce faisant, nous etudions la mince ligne entre la vulnerabilite et l'autonomisation que chevauchent ces jeunes et mettons au jour les manques dans les politiques et les contradictions dans l'humanitarisme depolitise de la reinstallation des refugies au Canada.


With the enactment of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) in 2002, Canada made firm commitments to sponsor refugees primarily on humanitarian grounds and removed restrictions on "admissibility" criteria based on medical, economic, educational, and language proficiency that are usually applied to economic immigrants. (1) Data from Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) indicate that a large and growing percentage of refugees upon arrival in Canada have less than high school level education and no English or French language ability. Arrival data from 2000 to 2009 indicate that on average, refugees fifteen years and older are four times more likely than economic immigrants (32.3 per cent vs. 8.43 per cent) to have had nine years or less of schooling. (2) Since 2005, the percent of refugees fifteen years and older with nine years or less of schooling has been steadily increasing from 27.7 per cent in 2005 to 38.3 per cent in 2009. Similarly, the percent of refugees with no English or French language ability upon arrival in Canada increased from 32.6 per cent in 2005 to 44.4 per cent in 2009. In comparison, only 21.1 per cent of economic immigrants in 2009 had no English or French language ability upon arrival in Canada. (3)

Yet literature on educational experiences of refugees is sparse. In Canada, evidence on educational pathways for refugees is particularly thin because the education sector does not collect or consider data about pre-migration experiences or arrival immigration status. …

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