While African refugee communities report high levels of access to schools and education services, one study indicated that parents held concerns about cultural sensitivity and a lack of African staff, especially in peer support or counselling positions.126 This is important because children and young people feel safer and more comfortable when someone ‘like them’ is available for assistance and advice. A desire was also expressed for peer ‘settlement counsellors’ to be available in schools to provide support to students and help them with issues around trauma and resettlement.
Research with Somali young people in Melbourne found that young girls believe their parents’ pushing them to get married at a young age is their biggest challenge to continuing with their studies and finding professional work in the future. Whether inside or outside school, most Somali students who participated in the study said they made friends with other Somali young people because of cultural and religious similarities and to please their parents.127
13.7Support from educators
Teachers and school administrators can play an important role as mediators between refugees and the school community.128
For instance, acknowledging the presence and contribution of all students in the classroom can help a refugee young person realise that their ideas and experiences are as valid as those of other students and that they have a place in the classroom and the learning process.
It is also necessary to build understanding among teachers about their refugee students’ pre-migration experiences and how this might affect their educational experience and achievement in Australia.129
13.8 Inadequate period of adjustment – example
Refugee children and young people in NSW are entitled to one year support in Intensive English Centres (IEC), after which they are expected to conform to standard curriculum requirements.130 With no formal educational background, students need time to learn how to be a ‘student’ in an Australian setting, to understand the expectations in the classroom and how to follow directions for assignments. However, one year does not offer refugee young people the time and support they need to make progress with their studies and settle into a new environment.131 Refugee young people also reported that having to learn English concurrently with other subjects compounded their academic struggles.132
13.9 Need for tailored programs to assist refugee students
Refugee education programs are subsumed within broader education policies or programs on social inclusion. This ignores the significantly different learning needs and socio-cultural adjustments for refugees, compared with other migrants or international students.133 Many current educational programs are not set up to handle, or dynamic enough to absorb, the complex needs of refugee students.
13.10Benefits of after-school programs
Positive self identity and self-esteem have been identified as important predictors of psycho-social well-being among adolescents.134
After-school sports, recreation and tutoring programs have been shown to foster improvement in refugee students’ pride, self-worth, social responsibility, pro-social behaviour, cooperation, self-efficacy, self-concept and confidence on achieving goals.135 . Even when the primary objective of after-school programs is to improve school performance, participation in these activities can also improve social inclusion, as refugee students become more confident in their ability to succeed in education and in life in Australia more broadly.
These programs engage young people, encourage social connections and friendship, improve self-esteem, promote healthy lifestyles, provide an opportunity to practice language in an informal environment and foster trust among participants.136
14Social pressures on young people
There are great, if often opposing, pressures on refugee young people to both ‘assimilate’ and to ‘stay true’ to their own culture.137 They often feel they must choose between the two options. In their terms the choice is either to fit in and ‘be cool’, which means abandoning some or all of their culture, or stay true to their community and family, risking loneliness and further alienation from their schoolmates. Refugee young people who are caught between two cultures need mentoring to help tem navigate these issues and challenges.138 It raises an important question for policy-makers and service providers about the role they can play in helping bridge this divide.
“Often students have to deal with cumulative pressure from parents, teachers and peers, the pressure of the home environment, indigenous cultures, a foreign education system and Australian expectations.”139 Young people bear the burden of bridging the gap between the older generation and the broader Australian society.140 However, the fact that they acculturate more quickly than their parents and other elders can lead to family tensions and conflict.141
Participation in sport and recreation has been shown to be a strong tool for successful settlement of refugee young people.142 It offers great benefits in general, around health, well-being and social participation, and has the potential to positively influence nearly all aspects of a young person’s life. However, refugee young people can reap further benefits, as participation in group activities with their Australian peers increases the potential for positive social inclusion. However, they need to be empowered to engage meaningfully in the community and encouraged to participate in extracurricular activities, such as the arts and sports.143
African young people need to be given opportunities to explore how they can embrace mainstream Australian culture and also continue to respect their African traditions. Fostering this sense of belonging to both cultures can help sustain cultural diversity by highlighting their uniqueness, while also becoming a part of the wider Australian community.
A recent study involving a group of African migrant young people used a specific methodology of cultural engagement called the ‘Ujamaa Circle’. Through this process, the participants and facilitator examined the challenges to their cultural identities and alternative liberatory options. Growing up in a culturally alienating Eurocentric culture, they felt the need for an African cultural space where they could explore issues affecting them as African descendants. Racism and assimilation were of particular concern to them and they expressed the view that there should be an ongoing African cultural education program to facilitate cultural re-evaluation and continuity.144