Understanding Second-Generation African Australian (SGAA) students from refugee backgrounds in the classroom

Year: 2019

Author: Iser, Rose

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

In a context of contested dynamics of Australian multiculturalism, including politicised negative attitudes towards young Australians of African ancestry, second generation African-Australian (SGAA) students face social and educational challenges in schools. This paper reports on PhD research investigating the cultural and language resources of African-Australian students, and how one school responds to second generation African-Australian (SGAA) students to support their academic and social development and redress inequality for students from refugee backgrounds.

SGAA students from refugee backgrounds have been largely viewed by researchers and educators through an inferiority paradigm that emphasizes perceived deficits in language learning and cultural. Contesting these deficit views, a body of scholarship points to the importance of recognizing resources of marginalized students. In North America, considerable scholarship has explored how Culturally Sustaining Pedagogycan support linguisticand cultural pluralism in schools. Little work has been undertaken in Australia exploring how this pedagogical approach might support students from refugee backgrounds including SGAA students.

The research took place at one inner-urban primary school where SGAA students comprised the majority of students. The research specifically investigated what cultural and language resources the SGAA students possessed that might be drawn on for in-school learning; how these were understood by teachers and schools; and how the SGAA students and their caregivers experienced the school’s approaches to teaching and learning. The study drew on critical race theory as one theoretical framework to closely analyse how race-based biases embedded in social practices and educational institutions may impact the experiences of SGAA students.

The research employed multiple methodologies including visual and audio representations to access perspectives about SGAA students’ schooling experiences. Drawing on language portraits, surveys, interviews and soundscapes, the research found significant differences between the school, SGAA students and their families with respect to their understandings of multilingualism, and the meanings given to the SGAA students’ home languages and cultural resources. (Data analysis is ongoing with the PhD thesis to be completed by November 2019.)

Results of the study point to the need for further research into the application of Culturally Sustaining Pedagogyfor students from refugee backgrounds in Australia. The findings also offer opportunities for schools to increase their understanding of SGAA students’ schooling experiences and the role of language and culture for the students in the classroom and at home, and for schools and families to improve home-school partnerships in the interests of enhanced student achievement and improvements to educational equity.