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Did you know a third of the Australian school population speaks a ‘foreign’ language at home? Or that nearly half (49%) of all Australians were either born overseas or have at least one parent born overseas?

This can present some challenges for schools when they are seeking to engage migrant or refugee families whose children are entering the school system. With World Refugee Day approaching on 20 June, School Stream looks at some of the barriers to inclusion of both refugee and CLD (Culturally and Linguistically Diverse) communities in school life and some potential strategies and resources.

There are many strengths inherent in children and young people who have lived the refugee experience. They are resilient and highly motivated learners who want to do well at school, seeing it as the foundation for a better and safer life. These students are also bilingual, often speaking more than two languages, and research has repeatedly shown that bilingual brains are more flexible, more creative and better at problem-solving.

However, despite these clear strengths present in the students, schools can often find it difficult to engage refugee families. Here are some factors which can inhibit engagement:

  • Expectations around parent/school involvement
    In Australia, a relationship between the school, student and family is seen as the ideal partnership in a child’s schooling. However, this can be difficult to achieve if the parents have come from a country where there is a strict separation between home life and school life.
  • Stigma
    Different expectations of schooling can cause families to associate any school contact with crisis or trouble; something most of these families are desperate to avoid.
  • Language barriers
    Newly arrived family members can often feel uncertain of their English language skills in the absence of interpreters or interpreted information.
  • Fear
    Anxiety levels can be high in newly arrived families, particularly in refugee communities where their children may have been endangered or lost. Fear also exists around the Westernisation of their children and the subsequent loss of culture. This can affect parents’ willingness to allow their children to participate in extracurricular activities.

This is only the briefest of overviews but there are plenty of resources available online with a detailed approach to tackling some of these issues.

A quick step you can take is to leverage technology. Have you considered a school communication app with a translation feature? We are not suggesting School Stream is a magic bullet. But we are proud to say that School Stream is assisting schools with diverse populations by providing a comprehensive translation feature that covers over 100 languages so schools can communicate with families in their own language. Keeping parents in the loop is a good first step to addressing some of the barriers to inclusion and will make families feel more welcome. A good outcome for everyone.

Refugees will go on to be Australia’s most entrepreneurial migrants and have a real contribution to make. Let’s work together to make sure we get their schooling right and get them off to a good start.

Here’s what Deputy Principal, Rebecca Bishop had to say:

“Our school has over 700 students and most of our parents are non-english speakers. This has been a challenge as a lot of the paper notices being sent home was not understood. Thankfully, with School Stream’s translation feature, we’ve been able to allow our communication net to go wider as we now have over 1300 app users which includes the extended families. As a result, we’ve reduced a lot of traffic to the office and increased attendance at school events because parents are now receiving school communications in their own language.”

Click here to learn more about School Stream’s translation feature.