04 SES 08 D, Refugees In School And Higher Education: New Policies And Practices
Tenuous geopolitical affairs and environmental changes across the globe have led to a recurring problem: population displacement due to war, natural disasters, and famine. By the end of 2016, the Syrian war displaced 1.2 million refugees who were subsequently welcomed into Germany (Djahangard et al., 2017); by January 2017, approximately 40,000 Syrian refugees were welcomed into Canada (Zilio, 2016). When federal leaders made the decision to welcome refugees in response to the crisis, educators in Canada and Germany—at all levels of government and community governance—needed to respond quickly and decisively to ensure that all newly arrived Syrian student refugees successfully transitioned into their new schools and the surrounding communities. Although not inevitable, ongoing geopolitical tensions and environmental concerns suggest that mass population displacement is likely to occur again; there is a social and ethical imperative to document educators’ experiences in both Canada and Germany, and to draw lessons from and build upon the body of academic knowledge on how to successfully integrate student refugees into schools. Such an endeavour is timely, given that there are over 25.4 million refugees worldwide (UNHCR, 2016) and the need to harness education to prevent “lost generations” of children is pressing (UNHCR, 2017).
Our study investigated the question: How are K–12 educators in Canada (Ontario) and Germany (North Rhine-Westphalia) integrating Syrian student refugees into schools and the surrounding community? In addressing this research question, we identified (a) schools that took an inclusive approach to the integration of student refugees; (b) educational policies, whole school approaches, and classroom practices introduced to support the integration of Syrian refugee children and their families into K–12 public schools in the two targeted regions; (c) educators’ conceptions, perceptions, actions, and reflections on the design and implementation of integration policies, whole school approaches, and classroom practices across levels of government and governance; and (d) leaders’ decisions on structural factors (e.g., processes, role descriptions, funding mechanisms and other resources) that were essential to support integration efforts. The study responds to a gap in academic knowledge concerning student refugee integration into K–12 schools from the perspective of educators operating at each level of their school systems’ education governance structures. The paper presents the Canadian context as a comparative counterpoint to Germany, and draws analytic generalizations to inform the work of educators in Europe, North America, and beyond to help lead schools in ways that better respond to the needs of student refugees.
To develop our study’s framework, we adopted Ryan’s (2006) theory of inclusive leadership; broadly explained, it is an approach educators use to “operate within equitable, horizontal relationships, and as a collective process that is organized specifically to strive for inclusion” (p. 8). Using this approach, inclusive leadership practice involves “advocating for inclusion, educating participants, developing critical consciousness, nurturing dialogue, emphasizing student learning and classroom practice, adopting inclusive decision- and policy-making strategies, and incorporating whole school approaches” (Ryan, 2006, p. 11). Accordingly, all schools and school districts included in the study approached integration with an inclusive philosophy—for our purposes, educating national and refugee students in an integrated classroom setting, guided by the aforementioned inclusive ideals. Decision-making for public education systems in both Canada and Germany takes place at the subnational level, nested within a consortium of ministries, school boards, and school and community sites in both jurisdictions. For this reason, we are using the term educators to mean educational policymakers, system- and school-based administrators, classroom teachers, social workers, settlement workers, and other community support systems, upon which schools have relied to support integration. We viewed all educators as inclusive leaders in their own right.
We conducted a comparative, qualitative multicase study that focused on educators operating at all levels of their respective K–12 public school systems. The first case is bounded by the Ontario K–12 public education system; the second is bounded by the K–12 public education system of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW). Each constituted a single case in the overall cross-case inquiry (Yin, 2014). The study focused on the surge of Syrian refugees in January–April, 2016; the two jurisdictions were selected due to the number of refugees they welcomed, as well as their regions’ recent histories of welcoming immigrants and refugees. The scope of our data collection reflected the bounds of the case (Yin, 2014). The schools we visited in both jurisdictions share a common, inclusive approach to the integration of newcomers—refugee students are, largely, integrated into regular classrooms. In Ontario, we visited “model” elementary and secondary schools with large Arabic populations; in NRW, autonomous school site leaders determined our access, which led to evidence from a wider variety of school types that represent the German educational school system. Our primary method of data collection was the semistructured interview, supplemented by a document review. We conducted 58 interviews (20 in Germany and 38 in Canada) with teachers, principals, vice-principals, Second Language educators, settlement workers, school district and ministry education authorities, directors of welcome centres, teachers, social workers, and so forth. Guided by our study’s framework, we analyzed all of the documents and interview data for each case (Merriam & Tisdell, 2016) before engaging in cross-case analysis. Contexts entered into the data analysis through our research design, which captured both vertical (formal government agencies from local to state level) and horizontal (wider education agencies operating at the school–community level) dimensions of governance. A comparative analysis brought governance, policies, and structural needs—especially resources (i.e., space, staffing, and funds)—as well as classroom pedagogies into clearer focus. Team members independently reviewed all data and organized them into common themes that confirm the literature, emergent themes that nuance or challenge existing findings, and outlier findings. We followed Miles, Huberman, and Saldana (2013) to code the transcripts and documents, and used Geertz (1973) to interpret field and journal notes by relying on local researchers to aid intercultural interpretations. Having both native and non-native researchers on this project helped to ensure multiple and accurate interpretations of both the German and Canada contexts.
The schools and school systems differed in terms of educational priorities, governance, and access to resources, which resulted in material differences in terms of where students were placed, how their past experiences were handled, how leaders flexed (and could flex) structural processes to support teachers and students, how families and communities interacted with school leaders, and how students’ first language and cultures were being taught (i.e., dual language of English and Arabic versus direct instruction in German in all subjects). Our data analysis also shows that many of the trauma and mental health issues that the refugees experience have also affected the educators. Although schools and school systems in both cases sought to provide newcomers with the best possible futures going forward, what was most remarkable was how both countries defined academic and social successes in ways that reflected inclusive ideals, even when such approaches were at odds with various citizen groups situated beyond the world of schooling. In both settings, educators have had to adapt resources, including knowledge and skills, to accommodate newcomers; they reported that schools and school systems have become more “nimble,” innovative, and, indeed, caring. Whether initiatives launched to support integration can be sustained and institutionalized within the larger education systems of both cases remains an open question. In this paper, we present these findings with a high level of detail so that both countries and beyond can draw lessons on how to improve educational access for student refugees through policy, whole school approaches, classroom practices, services to student refugees, adequate resourcing, and so forth. We also aim to contribute to a public narrative and consciousness that translates into greater public support for welcoming student refugees into schools.
Djahangard, S., Elger, K., Elmer, C., Olbrisch, M., Schaible, J., Schlossarek, M., & Schmidt, N. (2017, May 12). Integration by the numbers: Germany’s ongoing project to welcome its refugees. Spiegel Online. Retrieved from http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/integrating-refugees-in-germany-an-update-a-1147053.html Geertz, C. (1973). The interpretation of cultures: Selected essays. New York, NY: Basic Books, Inc. Merriam, S. B. & Tisdell, E. (2016). Qualitative research: A guide to design and implementation (4th ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers. Miles, M., Huberman, M., & Saldana, J. (2013). Qualitative data analysis: A methods sourcebook (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications. Ryan, J. (2006). Inclusive leadership and social justice for schools. Leadership and Policy in Schools, 5(1), 3–17. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). (2016). Figures at a glance. Retrieved from http://www.unhcr.org/en-us/figures-at-a-glance.html The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). (2017). Syria in focus. Retrieved from http://www.unhcr.org/sy/syria-in-focus Yin, R. (2014). Case study research design and methods (5th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications. Zilio, M. (2016, February 28). Liberals’ revised goal met as 25,000th Syrian refugee arrives in Canada. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved from https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/liberals-revised-goal-met-as-25000th-syrian-refugee-arrives-in-canada/article28944527/
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