The idea for this book came to me soon after I’d spent eight months in New Zealand as an Ian Axford Fellow in Public Policy, working with the Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment (MBIE) and Ministry of Education (MOE) to analyse the country’s new strategy for resettling refugees. I discovered many practices that I found far superior to my own country’s policies (the US). I also became acquainted with Australia’s practices, which I found more similar to those of the United States.
Given that the United States, Australia, and Canada, primarily English-speaking countries, resettle the largest number of refugees annually (even now, despite drastic US reductions in 2018), it seemed important to provide a volume of research that would allow scholars, policymakers, and those working with refugees to compare policies and practices for educating resettled refugees in these countries. As I have mentioned in some of my previous publications, education frequently falls at the end of the queue when it comes to resettlement, as agencies concentrate on the more immediate needs of housing and employment so that resettled families can begin to pay for their own life necessities. Education typically falls to school systems and individual teachers, most of whom receive little to no training on the journeys of refugees, nor on their needs and their capabilities.
Major educational challenges include the struggle to teach English to refugee populations with highly diverse backgrounds. They range from students with no prior school experiences to those who attended excellent schools prior to the collapse of their country’s security, such as the case of Syria. Other important aspects for successful schooling include culturally appropriate psychosocial support, a sense of belonging, and filling in the gaps of content knowledge.
The chapters in this volume provide important information about what is working and on-going issues regarding the challenges in the English-speaking resettlement countries in Australasia (New Zealand and Australia), North America (Canada and the United States), and Europe (England, Scotland, and Ireland). By bringing together chapter authors who are experts in these countries’ policies and practices, we hope to provide useful cross-cultural knowledge to those tasked with the critical job of educating refugees who long to rebuild lives from the ashes of tragedies.
As I write this preface, popular rhetoric throughout the world has moved from support to fear and angry rejection of refugees and asylum seekers by numerous political leaders and the general public. Such sentiments make the work of resettlement and acculturation that much more difficult for refugees and those who educate and otherwise support them. Yet, it is education, and not the immediate needs of housing and employment, that can provide long-term benefits, not only to the refugees themselves, but also to the nations into which they resettle. Positive support through education can provide resettled students with the ability to achieve professional careers, which will benefit communities and the national economy. Ultimately, it can provide those resettled with a commitment to their new nations.
On a personal note, I began my work with refugee resettlement and education shortly after the attack on the Twin Towers in New York City when I was a doctoral student at Emory University. Just a few miles from Emory was Clarkston, Georgia – a town that has been called ‘the most diverse square mile in America.’ It is the largest hub of resettlement in the south eastern United States aside from Miami, which primarily resettles Cuban and Haitian refugees and asylum seekers. I spent three years volunteering as an after-school tutor and working as a summer camp counsellor at an independent resettlement centre in Clarkston, where I met the adolescent girls who became participants in my dissertation study. Seventeen years later, I remain in touch with four of them. They are remarkable young women. Two have bachelor’s degrees, and two have master’s degrees. All became US citizens. They have successful careers in education, medicine, and architecture. One has taught in the United States, Cote d’Ivoire, the Czech Republic, and South Korea. Another was a research assistant at the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) and Vanderbilt University. Three are happily married. Their lives included a great deal of anguish, and they confronted (and continue to confront) prejudice and discrimination. However, because they also encountered generous teachers and agency support, they have ultimately triumphed in their new situations.
Refugees are not merely victims of terrible circumstances. They are highly resilient and capable individuals looking for the chance to contribute and grateful for safety. When welcomed, they become loyal residents of the nations that offer them refuge. The authors of this book offer their work as ways to improve the policies and practices of supporting these newcomers through education.