07 SES 07 B, Education and Identity Formation
Educational contexts around the world are increasingly characterised by diversity including students from refugee backgrounds. Much research has focused on the educational needs of these students and the particular struggles they experience in educational contexts. According to Bourgonje (2010), the increasing number of refugee and asylum seeking children in OECD countries calls for rethinking of innovative the educational approaches to enhance the acculturation process in ways that build on individual’s prior knowledge and understanding of self. For most refugee children, particularly children with long period of interrupted learning and who have been resettled in regional areas, strong support networks and culturally appropriate learning processes both inside and outside of school are critical to their success in life (NSW DET, 2008; Bourgonje , 2010).
This paper is part of a larger study that focused on Sudanese young people in regional Australia, and investigated their out-of-school activities, networks and practices and how these contributed to their success across a range of contexts, but particularly relating to education. The study explored the following key questions:
- What are the practices through which former refugee students and their families negotiate their way into the discursive, material and social spaces of rural and regional settings?
- What types of capitalsdo former refugee students generate in out-of-school contexts in regional and rural settings?
- What social conditions enable and facilitate the generation of these capitals?
- How do these capitals facilitate success for students at school?
- What are the implications of these findings for schooling, in particular, in rural and regional settings?
This paper underscores the importance of space, place and networks in generating social capital and what this means in terms of students’ identity (re)formation drawing on the resources in regional locations that can contribute to educational success. We report on case studies of Sudanese-Australian students of refugee background, in two regional towns in Australia.
The study draws on theory of social capital in the context of the habitus and the field in which individuals form and re-form their identities. We argue that the resources in regional areas present both a challenge and an opportunity for young former refugee people in terms of repositioning themselves in new social, cultural and educational contexts. This study takes the view that forming and reforming identities is problematic and elusive especially for former refugee young people because of the multiple layers of “self”, and the social and cultural domains that one has to negotiate. Adding to the fluidity of self identity is the representation by the “other” which according to Nunn (2010) shifts depending on the resources (social capital) one can access (see for example, Ghorashi, 2008 & González, Moll, & Amanti, 2005). An understanding of these issues of identity formation has implications for social cohesion and success in the community which in turn influences educational success for the young people. According to OECD (2010), education can empower an individual with strong social capital—sense of self identity, self-worth, social skills and resilience in the community.
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