Academic journal article Kuram ve Uygulamada Egitim Bilimleri

In Pursuit of a New Perspective in the Education of Children of the Refugees: Advocacy for the "Family"*

Academic journal article Kuram ve Uygulamada Egitim Bilimleri

In Pursuit of a New Perspective in the Education of Children of the Refugees: Advocacy for the "Family"*

Article excerpt


This paper describes a qualitative inquiry into the experiences of Burmese refugee families with elementary schools in the U.S. and proposes a new perspective for serving the educational needs of refugee children. Data included in-depth interviews with 25 Burmese families in a midsize Midwestern city. Findings from the preliminary analysis demonstrated that due to their own limited school experiences, the parents did not know how they could advocate for their children's schooling and use academic opportunities. While the parents appreciated and encouraged their children's school learning, they lacked the resources to support their children in negotiating academic contexts. Moreover, the schools policies lacked innovation and resources to involve refugee parents. Finally, Burmese children's diverse out of school learning contexts and unique needs went unnoticed in school contexts. These findings suggest that educators, community agencies and policy makers take a new perspective, advocacy for the whole family, so that the parents might provide a stronger leadership in children's schooling. This could be accomplished in various ways: Advocacy for true bilingualism of refugee children, advocacy for family presence in school, support for community based academic learning and cultural responsiveness to the family goals for child growth.

Key Words

Education of Immigrants, Children of Refugees, Cultural Diversity, Early Childhood Education, Parent Involvement.

The education of refugee children or children of refugees is a challenging process for researchers and practitioners. While the majority of immigrants make choices regarding their new lives and experience a planned move for further education, a new job, or family union (Zhou, 1997), refugees are defined as "any person who is outside any country of such person's nationality or, in the case of a person having no nationality, is outside any country in which such person last habitually resided, and who is unable or unwilling to return to, and is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of, that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion." (Office of Refugee Resettlement [ORR], 2012). Refugee experiences might be extremely varied. Refugees arriving in the host countries might be affected by regional political issues such as the trauma related to violence they observed during the war. Other times, refugees experience socio-economic issues such as the recent Ethiopian and Somali refugees impacted by famine (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees [UNHCR], 2012). The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has a bigger umbrella defining the people stricken by those extreme circumstances as "refugees, asylum- seekers, returned refugees, internally displaced persons (IDPs) protected/assisted by UNHCR, returned IDPs, stateless persons, and others of concern to UNHCR" (UNHCR, 2012). Some of these refugees resettle in a different region in the same country, or in a different country. The United States, one of the few countries to respond to this global crisis, has been admitting resettled refugees in increasing numbers. In 2011, 56,419 refugees from 65 countries were resettled in the U.S., with the majority coming from Burma, Bhutan, Cuba, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Somalia, and Russia (ORR, 2012).

The unique background experiences of each refugee community are important to consider understanding their specific needs beyond common immigrant characteristics. When their teaching experiences are limited to larger and more prominent immigrant communities, educators and researchers may not easily recognize these issues in the refugee children's educational lives (McBrien, 2005). In order to notice how the lives of refugees and their schooling experiences interact, U.S. educators need to understand how refugees' past geographic, social and educational experiences Affect their current context. …

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