Looking at the classroom as a microcosm of the world

Amidst the devastation and chaos of the Syrian conflict, the successful relocation and settlement of refugees in Canada and other receiving nations offers a glimmer of hope in a seemingly dire, intractable situation.

But these newcomers still face many challenges in integrating with and accessing the benefits of the societies they’re joining. One such challenge is obtaining an education, especially given their unique needs beyond cultural differences, language deficits and the customary challenges faced by other migrants.

Integration as a two-way street

Neda Asadi, a graduate student in the University of Alberta’s Department of Educational Policy Studies who is researching educational policy related to refugees in Alberta and British Columbia, says it’s important to acknowledge that not all migrants to Canada are alike.

“We need to look at refugees as a distinct population. They are not immigrants or international students—usually we lump them all together,” Asadi says.

Unfortunately, she adds, general perceptions about who refugees are don’t always account for the entirety of their lives and experiences.

“Refugees are often looked upon as a burden on society, or they come with all these traumas. We should acknowledge the value and knowledge they bring. History has shown that if the integration process is done properly, they are beneficial contributors to society,” Asadi says.

“But we must provide holistic help for refugee students with the needs they have. We talk about integrating them into our society, but it’s a two-way communication, so we should understand them. Teachers and students should know who they are and should understand how you become a refugee as a way of removing the stigma of it.”

Symposium takes holistic approach to education for newcomers

Asadi will take part in a discussion on understanding the needs of international, refugee and newcomer students as part of a symposium on international education which takes place Wednesday, March 2, in the Maple Leaf Room in Lister Centre. The event is presented by the Faculty of Education’s International Office and the Centre for Global Citizenship Education and Research (CGCER).

Sophie Yohani, a professor of educational psychology at UAlberta who researches resilience among survivors of mass violence and armed conflict, will also participate in the symposium. She says accommodating post-secondary students who have come to Canada as refugees constitutes a unique opportunity—to learn not just about their needs, but also about the coping strategies and attributes that enable them to persevere.

“Refugee post-secondary students are one group who have received very little attention in both Canadian and other refugee-receiving countries,” Yohani says. “Knowing their strengths and the challenges they encounter is vital for enhancing our understanding of resilience and for the university community to better support this group of students.”

The symposium also features sessions on internationalizing curriculum and pedagogy, creating supportive educational spaces for newcomers, and incorporating Indigenous knowledge and experiences in international education.

Lynette Shultz, associate dean (international) and director of CGCER, says the symposium is an opportunity for researchers, administrators and practitioners to connect and share knowledge. International education, she notes, is a concept that’s increasingly relevant to local educators at every level of the system.

“Global is not ‘out there.’ Global is here,” Shultz says. “What we’re seeing in our classrooms is people from all over the world, and with them all the issues of the world play out in those classrooms. It’s a microcosm of the world.”

For more information about the “International Education: Meeting the Needs of International, Refugee and Newcomer Students in Alberta” symposium, visit the event page.

Feature Image: Maryam, 8, holds her hand drawn sign alongside her family to welcome the first Syrian refugees at Toronto's Pearson International Airport on December 10, 2015. Source: Stacey Newman / Shutterstock.com.