A Canadian perspective on the educational systems/curriculum designed to support refugees: Ways to optimize parent-teacher collaborations

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The global political climate has created an unprecedented influx of refugees entering Canada and Canadian schools. This study explores the complex relationship between refugee families and their childrens’ schools, exploring both informal and formal ways to optimize parent-teacher collaboration, accessibility, and existing communications channels between all stakeholders.
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Conflicts in the Middle-East have long been displacing thousands of desperate families seeking refuge, with more than half of the refugee population often comprising of school-aged children (Gaynor, 2015). Following the Syrian war, Canadian classrooms welcomed an unprecedented influx of Arabic-speaking learners with interrupted/ limited prior education (40,000 resettled from 2015-2016) (Houle, 2019). Research about the experiences of Arabic-speaking refugees is not only essential, but necessary for establishing the educational infrastructure and support systems needed to promote integration and learning. This study examines the ways in which we can further develop refugee student learning by optimizing parent-teacher collaboration. We conducted 6 focus groups with the key stakeholders in Literacy, English and Academic Development programs, a unique school system part of a larger Canadian School Board supporting refugee learners exclusively for 2 years prior to entering mainstream classrooms. All interactions with the parents were held in Arabic language. The results discuss the ways in which communication channels may be modified to be more accessible to families, increasing awareness on the nuance of dialect and language with Arabic learners, creating informal opportunities for parent participation, as well as more administrative engagement with refugee families to better understand their needs and circumstances. This analysis investigates not only the challenges and barriers both refugee families and their children’s teachers face in establishing strong positive relationships necessary for student learning, but delves deep into the suggestions made by teachers, support staff and families in how this collaboration can be optimized from their perspectives.

Gaynor, T. (2015). 2015 likely to break records for forced displacement - study. Retrieved June 15, 2017 fromhttp://www.unhcr.org/5672c2576.html

Houle, R. (2019). Results from the 2016 Census: Syrian refugees who resettled in Canada in 2015 and 2016. Insights on Canadian Society (February 12, 2019). Ottawa: Statistics Canada. Catalogue no. 75-006-X
professor & Chair Language & Literacy
University of Calgary

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