Repositioning Refugee Students from the Margins to the Centre of Teachers’ Work

By Margaret H. Vickers and Florence E. McCarthy.

Published by The Diversity Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

As several notable international scholars have argued, the standardised practices of schools are problematic for many students, since they reinforce the constructed identity of a predominantly white, middle-class, English-speaking society, reflecting the predominantly mono-cultural nature of the teaching workforce. Students located at the ‘margins’ of this institutional identity are constructed as a minority. These students are mostly from families that are socially or economically disadvantaged, and often culturally and/or linguistically diverse. Refugee students occupy an especially ‘marginal’ position on these criteria. They represent a distraction from what neo-liberal discourses have established as ‘central’ goals for schools, namely, a focus on outcomes rather than inputs, the use of standardised testing, and an auditing of student outcomes that places schools in competition with each other. Yet in the Western suburbs of Sydney, a region housing almost 10 per cent of Australia’s total population, where one third of the population is overseas-born, where half the world’s languages are spoken, and where approximately 80 per cent of all humanitarian refugees to NSW are settled, these ‘marginal’ students are more often at the ‘centre’. As a result of an increasing degree of school segregation over the past two decades, in some Western-Sydney schools, these so-called ‘minority’ students constitute a majority, and educating them is central to their teachers’ work. This paper reports on an action-research program based in several of these schools. It provides an account of a refugee support partnership that connects a University-based teacher-education program, local public schools, and a not-for-profit agency whose mission is to support literacy development. Research data from this program indicate that the provision of one-on-one tutoring by student teachers results in substantial gains in refugee-students’ cultural understandings and academic achievements. The program also transforms the student teachers’ understandings of what it means to be a ‘good teacher’.

Keywords: Refugees, Teacher Education, Transformational Learning, Neo-liberalism, Teachers’ Work

International Journal of Diversity in Organizations, Communities and Nations, Volume 10, Issue 2, pp.199-210. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 616.527KB).

Prof. Margaret H. Vickers

Professor, School of Education, University of Western Sydney, Sydney, NSW, Australia

Margaret Vickers is a Professor of Education at the University of Western Sydney. Her career includes senior appointments in the Australian Public Service and the Paris-based OECD. She has authored several studies on secondary schooling for socially and economically vulnerable populations, on early leaving and youth in transition, and part-time student employment. Over the past three years she has been working in Western Sydney schools, with African refugee groups, and with community organizations including the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation and the Australian National Schools Network. Through a series of inter-linked research and action programs, she and her colleagues have developed strategies for providing support for African refugee students and their teachers, including a focus on involving beginning teachers as refugee tutors.

Florence E. McCarthy

Adjunct Associate Professor,, Centre for Educational Research, University of Western Sydney, Sydney, NSW, Australia

Dr Florence McCarthy is an Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Western Sydney. She has extensive experience in educational and social development programs and is currently engaged in research on refugee education and community engagement. She is Vice President for Asian Affairs for the International Partnership for Service Learning and Leadership, and Special Adviser in Service Learning at the International Christian University, Tokyo, Japan. She has held the position of Associate Professor at Cornell University and Teachers College,Columbia University, been a Fulbright Scholar, and has served as adviser and researcher for the Ministry of Agriculture, Bangladesh, and the Norwegian, Swedish and Danish government assistance programs. Since 2001 she has been instrumental in the development of service-learning in Asian and Australian tertiary institutions.

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