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