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Addressing barriers to education: OISE professor co-organizes workshop on the integration of refugees in Canada and Germany

June 28, 2019

By Lisa Smith

 conference attendees

50 researchers from Canada and Germany gathered for the CAN-Germany Workshop on the Integration of Refugees at OISE from April 9-11.

Canada may be among the countries that acted swiftly to provide asylum for Syrian refugees, but it is not enough to provide a safe harbour for those fleeing their homes, says Becky Chen, a professor in the Department of Applied Psychology and Human Development. To avoid perpetuating a cycle of poverty, host nations must mitigate a number of barriers to education. Syrian refugee children face the challenges of acculturation and language acquisition both of which make learning difficult especially when coping with complex trauma and limited family resources. Prerequisites for meaningfully assessing the educational needs of refugee children and youth include an understanding of complex linguistic and cultural contexts and of the impact of experiences of trauma on learning.

To address this challenge, Professor Becky Chen helped organize a workshop at OISE this past April for researchers and policymakers working with refugees. Co-organized with colleagues from Germany, the workshop brought together 50 participants from two research networks – Canada’s Child and Youth Refugee Research Coalition (CCYRC) funded through a SSHRC Partnership Grant and the Leibniz Education Research Network (LERN) sponsored by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research in Germany.  In comparing their understanding of refugees’ resettlement experiences in both countries, workshop participants developed research questions, shared knowledge, and identified best practices for educational policy and programming targeted at refugee children and youth.

workshop organizers

From left to right: workshop organizers Karin Zimmer (Leibniz
Institute for Research and Information in Education), Nicola Mühlhäußer (Leibniz Education Network), Becky Chen (OISE), and Jeff Bale (OISE).

The workshop helped advance the understanding of the refugee situation in Canada and Germany, facilitated the exchange of ideas and strengthened the connections between researchers and frontline settlement workers, said Chen.

Participants brought diverse perspectives to a range of topics related to the refugee experience, including language development and assessment, math education, mental health and well-being, and teacher education.

Presentations by researchers revealed important findings about the educational experiences of refugees. For example, Syrian refugee children are struggling with their studies more acutely than previously assumed, and teachers and psychologists are ill-prepared to meet their needs. Participants concluded that there is an urgent need for additional supports for children and youth as well as additional training for teachers and psychologists. Discussions emerging from the presentations helped lay the groundwork for future collaboration.

Sponsors of the workshop included OISE’s Department of Applied Psychology and Human Development (APHD), OISE’s Centre for Educational Research on Languages and Literacies (CERLL), OISE’s Office of the Associate Dean, Research, International & Innovation, and the Child and Youth Refugee Coalition (CYRRC).

Learn more about workshop participants