Kirsten Cavanaugh, Saskatoon Public School Division and Dr. Janet Okoko, College of Education, University of Saskatchewan

Recently arrived refugee children face many challenges when adapting to their new country and schools along with their parents who may be looking for work, attempting to learn English, and adapting to a different culture. For these families, the experience with war, lack of familiarity with the Canadian school system and implicit expectations and norms can be a struggle. Without strong in-school supports, these children are at risk of failing socially or academically. The purpose of this project is to explore the experience of Syrian refugee families with at-home learning and establish ways of strengthening our supports for student success.

Strong relationships between families and schools must take place to support all our learners. Never have these co-operative relations been as important as they are during COVID 19 pandemic when our students were expected to attend to learning with the help of their parents.

By speaking with families directly, the researchers hoped to establish the unique barriers that refugee families were facing and recommend avenues for support. Using a short survey, followed by open-ended interviews with families, the research identified the following themes:

·        Families appreciated the logistical supports that were in place to ensure their children were able to learn from home. They spoke highly of the relationships with the teachers, the access to technology (laptops and wifi hotspots) provided by some school divisions, and that there was no longer a commute to school.

·         The following challenges were also identified:

o Pace of instruction was too fast for students considering they were still learning English.

o  Loss of student voice and less engagement on the part of the students.

o  Limited variation in teaching activities and fewer supports (e.g. Education Assistants and volunteers). 

o  Lack of resources especially for printed classwork.

o  Distractions within the home (e.g., younger siblings, parents working from home, and other responsibilities).

o  Shift in family relationships caused by the added role of managing learning.

o Concern over loss or delays in the opportunity for parents to continuing to learn English. The challenges associated with the inability to support their children with learning and the inability to get employment and provide basic needs for their families. 

·        Recommendations:

o   Continue responsive delivery of technology to families who need it.

o  Family-centered learning. This should include sharing outcomes and pedagogically strong teaching tools with families.

o  Equipping families to be able to use the teaching tools that are provided to them.

o   Strengthen partnerships with settlement agencies and other organizations that offer Language Instruction for Newcomer to Canada (LINC) programs to refugees (e.g. Saskatoon Public Schools – EAL unit, Global Gathering Place, Open Door Society and Saskatchewan Polytechnic). 

As well, there must be recognition that Syrian families want to support their children in schools and the impact the pandemic has had on their ability to obtain the language they require to do so. Schools need to contribute towards ensuring that refugee families get the resources and support they need to fulfill their role in the education of their children.