For my first official blog post on my project I wanted to start off with what appears to me to be a logical first step: where are these Syrian refugee students coming from? What was the situation they experienced before they came to Canada? I think the answers to these questions need to be explored before we even begin to think about how they can be best served in our Alberta schools.
In this first two weeks of work I have been creating my literature review and learning all about the various aspects of this project – experiences in refugee camps, methods educators are using, where gaps in support are internationally, and much more. To begin exploring the issue of the experiences, challenges, and educational reality of Syrian refugees before they come to Canada, here is a quote that made me pause and reflect:
For many children the right to grow in safety, the right to nutrition, water, the right to play and develop as healthy allround individuals are all rights that are daily denied to the refugees in camps. (Jabbar & Zaza, 2014, p. 1523)
When I first read this in an article on the impact of conflict and refugee camps on Syrian refugee children, the drastic juxtaposition between that reality and my childhood and the childhood of the average Canadian child struck me. The children who have and will join our schools as refugees have completely different experiences than their peers and this difference can be overwhelming for many involved.
Children who have gone through the trauma of war and refugee camps bring with them a backpack full of things that weigh them down. Many will be struggling with depression and post traumatic stress disorder because of their experiences. Their worldviews may be damaged causing them to be distrustful or not buy into the values of our culture. Before their family lived in a refugee camp, and likely during as well, these children will have experienced going without basic necessities such as food, water, and schooling. Being exposed to war, losing family members, and watching the infrastructure of your country be destroyed all have an impact on children, even after they have been moved to a safe place. Many children, after dealing with such process trauma, have developmental, emotional, and behavioural problems. It can take a long time for children to adjust, and that has everything to do with their backpack of struggles and not because they are at fault.
Education before children arrive in Canada is also not ideal. Many nations have difficulty educating the influx of refugees. This becomes important when one realizes that, “international legal framework [includes the] right to education for all persons of school age around the world, regardless of their migrant status, . . . protected by the related state” (Bircan & Sunata, 2015, p. 228). There is only a 45% enrollment rate in schooling in refugee camps and none of this schooling is accredited or regulated. Much of this is due to funding – only 2% of humanitarian aid during emergencies goes to education. Also, many children are bearing the weight of the situation and working as child labourers instead of going to school. The language of schooling does not always match the language that the children speak, yet another obstacle. However, even if the children end up in a school where they understand the language and their family is able to support itself without additional income, the conundrum of what to teach and how to teach also plagues education in these temporary situations. Are they to teach children what they would have learned before, had they not had to flee from their homes? Or perhaps children should learn the curriculum of the country in which the refugee camp is located? Should the children perhaps leave the camps and join local schools temporarily? All of these questions and more contribute to why refugee students’ education suffered before they came to Canada.
Naturally this is all alarming and overwhelming – how are we supposed to be able to deal with all of that? That is a lot of baggage to send along with a child on their first day of school in a new country. They haven’t even started settling into their new life and the cards are already stacked against them. This is all very true, but Canada is currently seen as one of the top nations for Syrian refugee resettlement, and in my personal opinion we are in the position to be able to help. As this project goes on, it is my intent to begin to determine how Alberta is currently helping these students, and where there is room for that support to grow even more. It is certainly a mountainous task, but with the right attitude and tools Alberta schools can rise to the challenge of helping to set Syrian refugee children back on the right track.
(featured image) Photo Unit from UNHCR https://www.flickr.com/photos/101268966@N04/
(Embedded image) DFID – UK Department for International Development https://www.flickr.com/photos/dfid/
Ayoub, M. N. (2014). An investigation of the challenges experienced by Somali refugee students in Canadian elementary schools. University of Windsor.
Bircan, T., & Sunata, U. (2015). Educational assessment of Syrian refugees in Turkey. Migration Letters, 12(3), 226–237. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.resources.library.brandeis.edu/docview/1718580495?rfr_id=info:xri/sid:primo
Ficarra, J. (2017). Comparative international approaches to better understanding and supporting refugee learners. Issues in Teacher Education, 26(1), 73–85.
Hos, R. (2016). Education in Emergencies: Case of a Community School for Syrian Refugees. European Journal of Educational Research, 5(2), 53–60. http://doi.org/10.12973/eu-jer.5.2.53
Jabbar, S. A., & Zaza, H. I. (2014). Impact of conflict in Syria on Syrian children at the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan. Early Child Development and Care, 184(February), 1507–1530. http://doi.org/10.1080/03004430.2014.916074
Williams, R. (2007). The psychosocial consequences for children of mass violence, terrorism and disasters. International Review of Psychiatry, 19(3), 263–77. http://doi.org/10.1080/09540260701349480