A new UniSA research project looking at how schools create the social and educational conditions that enhance resilience in refugee children is set to overturn some stereotypes about the refugee experience.
Awarded an Australian Research Council linkage grant of $428,000, together with partner funding of $180,000, the researchers hope to unpack which policies and practices schools are using that nurture the best outcomes for some of our most vulnerable school students.
Lead researcher Emeritus Professor Bruce Johnson says the approach the project will take is a big departure from the usual models of research in the refugee space, which have tended to focus on individual problems and a notion of “fixing” refugee children.
“How well refugee children cope and flourish is a big issue for Australia, but also globally,” Prof Johnson says.
“Already this century has been marked by massive displacement and movements of people. Globally today there are more than 65 million people displaced from their homes and over the past five years, over 75,000 people from refugee backgrounds have settled here in Australia.
“We know that at least a third of those people are school-aged, and that as Australia commits to a higher refugee intake, schools around the country will face a bigger challenge in nurturing them.
“We also know that some schools are already doing a great job by developing inclusive approaches hallmarked by valuing students’ skills and experience, developing a positive welcoming ethos and establishing school environments that feel safe and supportive.”
Prof Johnson says in recent years, negative stereotyping of refugees and the polarised views often exposed in the media and online have skewed perceptions.
“That pervasive negative narrative can act to overstate refugee students’ problems and obscure the positive qualities and strengths they have, including their resilience, initiative, experience and maturity,” he says.
“What we hope to do in this research is develop a better understanding of the strengths of refugee students and the school policies and practices that foster their resilience.
“Working with our key research partners, we aim to share new ways to create the conditions that promote refugee student resilience and improve the educational and social outcomes for these students.”
Partners in the project – How schools foster refugee student resilience – include the South Australian Department for Education and Child Development, the Queensland Department of Education and Training, Catholic Education South Australia, Brisbane Catholic Education, and the Australian Refugee Association.
The research team includes Emeritus Professor Bruce Johnson, Associate Professor Anna Sullivan, Dr Melanie Baak and Professor Roger Slee.
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