Academic journal article Outlines : Critical Practice Studies

School Involvement: Refugee Parents' Narrated Contribution to Their Children's Education While Resettled in Norway

Academic journal article Outlines : Critical Practice Studies

School Involvement: Refugee Parents' Narrated Contribution to Their Children's Education While Resettled in Norway

Article excerpt


By the time refugee families resettle in exile, their children will often have missed out on years of schooling due to war, flight or periods in temporary exile without the right to education (Alitolppa-niitamo, 2002; Hos, 2014; McBrien, 2005; Thorshaug & Svendsen, 2014). Such children may face considerable educational challenges in host countries. An important consideration is how refugee parents engage in their children's education and how this is reflected in research. Studies of parental engagement have tended to find that refugee parents adopt a more passive role than majority parents in the host country (Alitolppa-niitamo, 2002; Garcia Coll et al., 2002; Githembe, Morrison, Bullock, Kinnison, & Jacobson, 2009; Holm, 2011; Matthiesen, 2016; McBrien, 2011). This article is based on a study of parenting in exile in broad, where refugee parents narrate extensive engagement in their children's education. Their interviews provide rich descriptions of parent involvement. This new evidence will be discussed in the light of existing research, and go on to challenge earlier findings. The article is intended to show:

How existing research positions the involvement of refugee parents and how this obscures some parental contributions.

How parent involvement is narrated in my material.

This study leans on a social constructionist theoretical framework. Consequently, "[t]he terms in which the world is understood are seen as "'products of historically situated interchanges among people" (Gergen, 1985, p. 267). Hence, I consider parent involvement to be a culturally variable phenomenon that may be achieved in various ways (Intxausti, Etxeberria, & Joaristi, 2013; Knudsen, 2010; Whitmarsh, 2011). Epstein (1997; 2010) is often referenced, as are Hoover-Dempsey and Sandler (1997), whenever there is a need to describe or explain school-parent collaboration. Epstein has formulated six types of parent involvement,1 for which the school should take the initiative. Despite the fact that the public discourse concerning parent involvement is constantly changing (Dahlstedt, 2009; Knudsen, 2010), Epstein's types of involvement form the point of departure for a great deal of international research in this area, irrespective of whether the informants are teachers or parents.

The interviews on which this article is based, explore parenting in exile in general. Parental involvement in schooling was not a specific interview topic. However, while analysing the material it became apparent to me that the parents considered their children's education to be a highly pertinent topic, and as a consequence this was made a subject of specific analysis. In other words, the empirical evidence drove the analysis. The design of this study allows scope for involvement narratives that would easily be disregarded by research that employs pre-defined categories of parent involvement (Epstein, 2010). The study includes interviews with largely the same number of fathers and mothers, and many of the fathers provide rich narratives about parent involvement. Many of the earlier studies that involve ethnic minority parents include very few informant fathers (Holm, 2011; Intxausti et al., 2013; Mapp, 2003; Matthiesen, 2015a, 2015b, 2016).

The current body of research

The majority of research

In general, international research often points to the high ambitions that many refugee parents and other non-Western immigrants harbour for their children's education (Alitolppa-niitamo, 2002; Baquedano-Lopez, Alexander, & Hernandez, 2013; Garcia Coll et al., 2002; Leirvik, 2010; Louie, 2004; McBrien, 2005, 2011). Many studies point out that while the level of ambition is high, the level of parental engagement in home-school cooperation is low (Alitolppa-niitamo, 2002; Garcia Coll et al., 2002; Githembe et al., 2009; Holm, 2011; McBrien, 2011). Some researchers have sought to explain these findings, suggesting that the educational systems of Western countries have been developed with active parental involvement in mind, and that immigrant parents are rarely able to get involved in the way expected of them by the institutions of their adopted countries (Alitolppa-niitamo, 2002; Garcia Coll et al. …

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