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Introduction

Access to and engagement with a quality education is a right that all children are entitled to.

However, there are many factors in our globalised world today which may prevent or reduce

such an opportunity. Students who come from a refugee background for example often

belong to a low socio-economic status and are also one of the most disadvantaged SES

groups. Partnership programs made specifically for these students between educational

institutions may help increase their SES and also improve the quality of their lives. It is also

important for teachers to be trained in and be aware of the diversity that classrooms contain

and be able to recognise and support students from low SES and refugee backgrounds. The

article by Naidoo (2012) ‘Refugee action support: Crossing borders in preparing pre-service

teachers for literacy teaching in secondary schools in Greater Western Sydney’ explores the

integration of the RAS program into institutions and the preparation of teachers to this issue.

This will be discussed in comparison to the article ‘The Refugee Action Support program:

developing understandings of diversity’ (Ferfolja, 2009) which also explores the RAS

program but includes the importance of diversity awareness.

Critical Evaluation of Research Literature

The purpose of the study conducted by Naidoo (2012) is to address the needs of refugee

students and their participation in education. This is explored through the implementation of

the RAS program between schools and universities, an initiative of the University of Western

Sydney, the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation and the New South Wales

Department of Education and Training. The study by Ferfolja (2009) also explores the RAS

program but also emphasises on the importance for teacher preparation programs to develop

understandings for diversity. The study by Naidoo (2012) showed that the RAS program

allowed for the development of confidence and self-esteem in students, thereby providing

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them an opportunity to improve in school and engaging in learning. On the other hand,

Ferfolja’s (2009) study found that preservice teachers had a better understanding of diversity

and the importance to build trust with their students through the program. Both the studies

concluded that the implementation of RAS programs do help students positively. Allowing

them to develop a better performance in their studies as well as enabling students to be

confident and engaged in their learning.

Both the studies have highlighted in their literature reviews the issue of language proficiency

as a potential barrier for attaining educational stability. The articles draw on previously

conducted research into refugees and schooling to provide insight into the struggles and

needs of refugee students. Ferfolja (2009) outlines the learning needs of refugees being

different to other migrants who have arrived to Australia. This is due to the different nature of

the country they have left, many arrive with little or no schooling (p. 397) and are usually

expected to learn the language as well the cultural and social standards of their new society.

Naidoo (2012) expands on this by providing a solution; the necessity for teachers to follow a

language based approach which focuses on the needs of second language learning (Gee, 2000

cited in Naidoo, 2012). Naidoo (2012) also pointed out that research shows a need for

additional time to be given to refugee students in classrooms through activities which will

improve their literacy and language, an issue not addressed by Fefolja (2009). Ferfolja’s

(2009) study also differs from Naidoo (2012) by describing the role that families play in

education. That is, although many are supportive of their children’s education, due to their

limited English skills or limited resources they may not be able to provide assistance to their

kids at home with their schoolwork, thus it being crucial for teachers to be trained for this

regard. It is important that teachers go through training programs as they are proven to be

more realistic options to address the needs of English language learners (Karabenick & Noda,

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2010). It equips teachers with the necessary knowledge and skills to cater effectively for the

needs of refugee-background learners (Karabenick & Noda, 2010).

The methodological approach adopted by the two studies was similar, as both undertook a

range of semi-structured one-on-one and group interviews to assess the quality of the

program. Group interviews were conducted as they are seen to be more effective in obtaining

information, this is because they allow for interaction and dialogue amongst participants,

without power differences (Ferfolja, 2009). Naidoo (2012) interviewed classroom teachers,

RAS tutors as well as students who attended RAS tutoring centres, whilst Ferfolja (2009)

only interviewed preservice teachers working as RAS tutors. The exclusion of the

experiences of RAS students in Fefolja’s (2009) study can be identified as a gap in the study

because it reduces the outcome of the RAS initiative. This is due to the fact that students who

participate in the program are able to provide direct insight into how effective the experience

is for them and a failure to do so will not result in quality feedback of the RAS. Both the

studies also ensured that the confidentiality of their participants and the schools remained

intact by labelling them as anonymous. The study by Ferfolja (2009) recorded and transcribed

the data with written permission by the participants. It was crucial that both studies ensured

the privacy of those involved as this is an ethical issue in educational research and practice

(Gall, Gall & Borg, 2015). Furthermore, Naidoo’s data collection included the structure,

effect and value of the RAS program, whereas Ferfolja’s (2009) interviews of only the tutors,

focused more on the teaching perceptions, assessment and an understanding of refugee

students. The overall approach by both the studies in data collection was effective in

obtaining the required information, a broader interview group for Ferfolja (2009) would have

provided additional insight.

In the presentation of the research results, both studies presented their information in a

similar manner. There was much evidence of the effectiveness of the RAS program, mostly

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quoted directly from students, RAS tutors and school teachers alike. Naidoo (2012)

categorised the responses as school, tutor and refugee student perceptions towards the

program. The school found the program to be successful due to the joint involvement of

community and family members. Teachers from the school also quoted the tutors to be

‘sensitive of cross-cultural issues’ (p.271), indicating the tutors’ considerate attitudes towards

refugee background students. Results from Ferfolja (2009) similarly, showed RAS tutor

responses to indicate an awareness for diversity and cultures, as well as building trust and

close interaction with the students. It is these close relationships that the tutors had with their

students which focused on reciprocal learning in both studies, allowing the students to be

open and comfortable with their tutors. Despite dominant discourses identifying the teacher

as the individual with power in the classroom (Ferfolja, Diaz & Ullman, 2015), the

supportive interactions that the tutors had with the students in the study, proves to be

breaking down those perceptions. Both studies have highlighted that the end result proved

RAS as an effective learning program, which was made possible through the considerate and

positive behaviours of pre-service teachers. Naidoo’s (2012) student responses also showed

them to be friendly, and able to laugh and joke with their tutors, a quality which made

learning encouraging and supportive for them. In total, the results showed that the RAS

program was quite effective, implemented through school and university partnerships, which

had significant positive outcomes for students.

The research articles concluded on a positive note, outlining the benefits the program has

reaped for both students and pre-service teachers. Ferfolja (2009) described the positive

implications that the RAS program had for understanding diversity and the role it plays in

teacher education. This is because it allows teachers to prepare for their future roles, whilst

also broadening their perspectives to be supportive and understanding of various students and

their diverse needs. Naidoo (2012) also highlighted an important factor which Ferfolja (2009)

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did not, that without external assistance such as the partnerships with the university, schools

would not be able to achieve the learning that refugee background students are in need of.

However, Ferfolja (2009) shone light on the topic of the globalised world, thus a knowledge

of diversity being crucial to teacher understanding of differences and student sociocultural

needs. Overall, the conclusion made by both studies to the research presented the integration

of the RAS as a positive solution and an effective one for building learning needs in refugee

background students. It portrayed students as engaged, motivated, more confident and

progressive in their learning. Also, with effort to cater to their needs posing as critical to

betterment of their educational opportunities for the future.

Implications for teaching practices

In light of the background research and current study undertaken, it is important to discuss

the implications for teaching practices that the needs of refugee students and initiatives like

the RAS program can have.

The Refugee Action Support program is an initiative which benefits both students and

teachers in the context of education. The partnership that Western Sydney University has

with schools to implement the RAS allows preservice teachers to engage with refugee

background students, which can help them shape their understanding and teaching practices

in the future (Naidoo, 2012). It can also prove useful in developing their classroom

pedagogies for the future as it will introduce them to a section of the diverse population

present in our societies today. The initiative further supports these future teachers by

instilling in them an appreciation for community strength, resources and the needs and

expectations of the school society (Naidoo, 2012). In regard to refugee students, schools play

a vital role in integrating these students into the school environment (Taylor & Sidhu, 2012)

and so it is important for pre-service teachers to gain an understanding of the practices and

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pedagogies they will need to implement to cater to those students’ needs, a factor which

participation in the RAS program will ensure.

Moreover, the presence of students of a refugee background in schools has implications as it

causes for teachers to be more aware of the diversity of student needs. Refugee students

usually have different needs to other low SES or migrant groups and therefore require teacher

pedagogies to create an inclusive environment, the means to meet psycho-social needs as well

as linguistic needs (Taylor et al, 2012). Schools and classroom pedagogies need to be able to

cater to the social, emotional and learning needs of refugee students, rather than just a focus

on their English learning needs (Taylor, et al, 2012). This does not only call for teachers to be

critically more aware of diversity but rather calls for them to be trained in and capable of

addressing the issues refugee students face with an ability to ensure inclusiveness in their

classroom. This leads to another implication for teaching practices which is what refugee

students are taught. A lot of the time refugee students in Australian schools have come from

very different educational and societal systems and are in need of just more than linguistic

proficiency. Teachers need to actively contribute in ensuring the curriculum content is

effectively taught o refugee students, along with the role of citizenship and building of a civil

society (Woods, 2009) in order to allow them to successfully become a part of their new

society. These students require literacy needs for their education not only language needs and

therefore an integration into ESL programs will not be enough for these learners (Woods,

2009). Implications for teaching practices will be affected as more refugee background

students are integrated into Australian schooling. Teacher pedagogies are crucial to

addressing the needs of these students and need to become more aware, more trained and

ready to cater to the different student needs.

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Conclusion

In conclusion, both articles have discussed the integration of the Refugee Action Support

program in schools in partnership with the university and have determined it to be an

effective and positive initiative. The findings from both studies including interviews from the

participants concluded that the RAS was successful and provided benefits both for refugee

background students and also for pre-service teachers in training. Yet, due to the dynamics of

the global world many refugee students may not be aware of the societal expectations of the

new setting they are a part of. Therefore it is necessary for teacher pedagogy to create a

supportive environment for them where they are able to progress beyond language needs,

improve their opportunities to a good education and for the betterment of the future.

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References

Ferfolja, T. (2009). The Refugee Action Support program: developing understandings of

diversity. Teaching Education, 20(4), 395-407. Doi: 10.1080/10476210902741239

Ferfolja, T., Diaz, J. C., & Ullman, J. (2015). The Unseen Half: Theories for Educational

Practices (pp. 1-17). Australia: Cambridge University Press.

Gall, P. J., Gall, D. M., & Borg, W. (2015). Applying educational research: How to read, do

and use research to solve problems of practice. (2nd ed.). Pearson Australia.

Naidoo, L. (2012). Refugee action support: Crossing borders in preparing pre-service

teachers for literacy teaching in secondary schools in Greater Western Sydney.

International Journal of Pedagogies and Learning, 7(3), 266-274. Retrieved from

https://vuws.westernsydney.edu.au/bbcswebdav/pid-2658004-dt-content-rid-

22276793_1/courses/102096_2017_1h/Loshini_RAS_CaseStudyHighSchool.pdf

Karabenick, A. S., & Noda, A. P. (2010). Professional Development Implications of

Teachers’ Beliefs and Attitudes towards English Language Learners. Bilingual

Research Journal, 28(1), 55-75. Retrieved from http://www-tandfonline-

com.ezproxy.uws.edu.au/doi/pdf/10.1080/15235882.2004.10162612?needAccess=tru

Taylor, S., & Sidhu, K. R. (2012). Supporting refugee students in schools: what constitutes

inclusive education? International Journal of Inclusive Education, 16(1), 39-56. Doi:

10.1080/13603110903560085

Woods, A. (2009). Learning to be Literate: Issues of Pedagogy for recently arrived Refugee

Youth in Australia. Critical Inquiry in Language Studies, 6(1), 81-101. Doi:

10.1080/15427580802679468