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School to university transitional experiences of refugee background students: A journey of uncertainty and complexity June 23, 2015

Posted by Editor21C in Education Policy and Politics, Primary Education, Secondary Education, Social Justice and Equity through Education, Teacher, Adult and Higher Education.
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from Loshini Naidoo

 The blog is based on a 2012 OLT (Office of Learning and Teaching) funded project “supporting school-university partnerships for refugee students’ access and participation in tertiary education”. The views in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Government Office for Learning and Teaching.

 Australia has a long history of welcoming refugee communities into the broader social fabric and likewise of benefiting from the contributions made by these communities to Australian society. Refugee background students however represent a “high risk group which faces great challenges in terms of adaption to the school system, acculturation, social adaptation, English language learning, and eventual academic success” (Brown, Miller & Mitchell, 2006, p. 150). The adaptation to the new education system is further compounded for refugee background students by having spent prolonged periods of time living in refugee camps or in a transient existence (Naidoo, Wilkinson, Adoniou, Langat, Cunneen &bBolger , 2015; Ndhlovu, 2013).

Refugee background students, particularly those arriving from Africa, are a specific group with greater educational, welfare and support needs (Taylor, 2008). These include basic skills in reading and writing as well as the socialised reading and writing skills required to learn and communicate effectively. Thus, many refugee background students frequently find that they are expected to acquire social communication, academic writing and communication skills, while catching up to their native-speaking peers, who often themselves are still developing language competency (Naidoo et al. 2015).

Academic success and transition to university is dependent on the knowledge of engrained social norms that are often taken for granted (Trumbull and Rothstein-Fisch et al. 2014). ). No matter how natural they seem, these behaviours are culturally specific and must be actively learned by students (Nwosu and Barnes et al. 2014). Thus, many refugee background students who are not ‘fluent’ in the cultural practices of Australian higher education can often find the transition difficult (Naidoo et al., 2015).

The language challenges students face at university are connected to both their own English language proficiency, and also the very specific English language demands that university study and discipline specific study places upon them (Naidoo, et. al., 2015). University academic staff prioritise the dissemination of discipline based knowledge rather than language skills (Dunworth & Briguglio, 2011) and while academic staff are aware of the difficulties encountered by many international and some domestic students, they feel ill-equipped to provide English language support (Naidoo, et al, 2015).

Academic staff at university are concerned that generic learning support programs are inadequate to meet the specific language needs of refugee background students, and that scarcity of long term funding for specific programs limits their effectiveness (Naidoo, et al, 2015). A consequence of this outsourcing of academic language support is the disinvestment of responsibility by academics.

Alongside the need for explicit teaching of discipline specific content and language is the need to teach learning to learn cognitive and metacognitive strategies for the Australian university context. Cognitive strategies include understanding how to locate and select credible sources of information and metacognitive strategies include successfully planning assessment tasks that are appropriately structured to meet the needs of the discipline area (Hurst & Davison, 2005).

These culturally specific strategies are frequently taken-for-granted practices amongst university educators, and thus, form part of the ‘hidden’ curriculum. They present cultural challenges as what seems to be ‘everyday’ curriculum knowledge is actually part of cultural practice and is not necessarily known to English language learners.

Not having English language support that builds students’ capacity to engage fully within a discipline presents a distinct obstacle to academic achievement and the ability to manage the academic language registers of university (Naidoo, et. al., 2015). The current English language support strategies employed at universities are not directed at supporting the language acquisition journey of a student on a language learning progression, but rather with meeting more immediate needs around the submission of assignments.

The impact of an English language support program that transcends disciplines will create a new dialogical space to examine established power hierarchies and academic practices and will show institutional commitment to a more supportive, actively integrated language learning program at university that will enable diverse students to transition much more easily through university programs.

 

REFERENCES

Brown, J., Miller, J., & Mitchell, J. (2006). Interrupted schooling and the acquisition of literacy: Experiences of Sudanese refugees in Victorian secondary schools. Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, 29(2), 150-162.

Dunworth, K., & Briguglio, C. (2011). Teaching students who have English as an additional language: A handbook for academic staff in higher education. Milperra, New South Wales: HERDSA.

Hurst D., & Davison C. (2005). ‘Collaboration on the curriculum: Focus on secondary ESL’, in Crandall J., & Kauffman D (ed.), Case Studies in TESOL: Teacher education for ESL and content area teachers, pp. 41–66. Alexandria: TESOL.

Naidoo, L., Wilkinson, J., Langat, K., Adoniou, M., Cunneen, R., & Bolger, D. (2015). Case Study Report: Supporting school-university pathways for refugee students’ access and participation in tertiary education

Ndhlovu, F. (2013). Language nesting, superdiversity and African diasporas in regional Australia. Australian Journal of Linguistics, 33(4), 436-338

Nwosu, O. C., Barnes, S. and L, R. 2014. Where ‘Difference is the Norm’: Exploring Refugee Student Ethnic Identity Development, Acculturation, and Agency at Shaw Academy. Journal of Refugee Studies, p. 050.

Taylor, S. (2008). Schooling and the settlement of refugee young people in Queensland: The challenges are massive. Social Alternatives, 27(3), 58-65.

Trumbull, E., Rothstein-Fisch, C. and Greenfield, P. 2014. Bridging Cultures in Our Schools:New Approaches That Work. [e-book] A WestEd Knowledge Brief.

 

Associate Professor Loshini Naidoo is an academic in the School of Education, and a senior researcher in the Centre for Educational Research , at the University of Western Sydney (UWS), Australia.

We’re not talking to our kids: are we causing speech delay? June 2, 2015

Posted by Editor21C in Early Childhood Education, Primary Education, Role of the family.
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from Jane Hunter

A parent with a small child in a stroller is walking along the footpath with headphones in. The child is crying, the parent is oblivious.

A parent walks into a cafe engaged in conversation on the phone, with a child tagging along. The parent orders a coffee and a drink for the child. The parent sits down and continues talking on the phone. A tablet computer is pulled out of the parent’s bag and passed to the child. The parent continues talking on the phone.

A parent enters a doctor’s waiting room with child in arms, sits down; the child is placed on a nearby chair. The child is handed a mobile phone to play with, while waiting.

Is technology the villain?

As a parent and educator I encourage teachers to integrate technology in learning at schools. I have done a number of large studies in the area, and studies show educational programs on computers and other devices have great potential to improve early learning.

But primary school principals and early years’ teachers have expressed concern to me about the increased numbers of kindergarten students with obvious speech delays – so much so that in many schools speech therapists have been called in.

One inner-city Sydney school principal said:

From 62 kindergarten children this year, 11 require speech therapy. That is almost 18% of the cohort. While I am an advocate for using technology in education, I am very concerned about basic human skills like speech not being as developed as well as they could be when young children start school.

Are parents relying on technological devices to entertain their children – known as “pass ‘n’ play” – rather than direct conversation, story reading, playing games and make-believe, and other forms of quality interaction?

There aren’t enough studies on the effects of parents’ use of technology on children’s speech development to make definitive claims, but the fact that it has been raised by teachers and principals suggests we need to look into the issue more closely.

Pass ‘n’ play

This is just as it sounds: the parent passes the child a technological device to play with while in the café or in the doctor’s waiting room. While technology certainly has its place in childhood development, devices should be used as active tools providing quality interactions, not as pacifiers.

Parents should use the device with an educational app or game to question and talk about what is happening on screen. If technological devices are just “inbuilt babysitters” or “moment fillers” they are not fulfilling the educational capacity for which they could be used.

Similar fears of declining familial interactions were raised with the promulgation of television in the 1950s. The main difference here, however, is that these smart phones and tablet computers are carried everywhere we go.

What does the research say?

A UK study suggested “technology gadgets are blamed for a 70% leap in speech problems in the past six years”. In a follow-up article, a US paediatric speech pathologist asked whether technology is damaging children’s speech and language skills; it concluded too much time on devices is definitely playing a role.

When parents are endlessly busy on computers, phones, tablets and watching TV, that is time they are not spending interacting with their child. https://www.webchild.com.au/read/viewpoints/touch-screen-technology-and-children”>Brain scientist Dr Jordy Kaufman argued that in 2013 there were no scientific studies on the consequences of the use of technological devices by very young children. Research at the Swinburne BabyLab is being undertaken to fill this gap. Kerry Staples an early childhood specialist at the University of Western Sydney, adds:

We need some caution here – to say it’s all down to technological devices and parents’ overuse is too simplistic. Technology holds tremendous potential for young children but interactions between parents and children while using tablets and mobile phones is what I’d like to see more of.

Turn off the devices and talk

In his book Program or Be Programmed Douglas Rushkoff implores us to “not always be on”. Children do learn from TV and from using apps on devices and by using other technologies, but speech, language and social skills are learnt from real interactions with people. Technological devices can be used better, especially with young children.

This article was originally published on The Conversation in March 2014.

 

Dr Jane Hunter is a lecturer in the School of Education and an early career researcher in the Centre for Educational Research at the University of Western Sydney, Australia. The subject of her recent book, ‘High Possibility Classrooms’, is outlined in a previous blog post.

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