Education prof explores policy gaps for immigrant and refugee students

In his latest publication, Faculty of Education Professor Louis Volante analyzed provincial education policies to uncover gaps in support for immigrant and refugee students.

In the paper, Volante and his fellow authors examined six types of supports mentioned in a pan-Canadian analysis of provincial educational policies. These include linguistic support, academic support, parental involvement, intercultural education, psychosocial supports and supports related to lower socioeconomic status. Research indicates that all six play a role in ensuring positive outcomes for students.

The first four supports were inspired by a comprehensive policy framework developed within the European Union. Volante and his co-authors added the two final factors to create a new theoretical framework with which to analyze educational policy.

“We find immigrant students often have issues around psychological well-being and health and well-being in relation to their precarious situation within the country or being a refugee and coming from a war-torn situation,” said Volante. “And then, of course, a significant percentage of immigrant students tend to come from a lower socioeconomic background.”

Volante said the addition of these two factors provide a useful lens for governments to use as they develop educational policies for immigrant and refugee students now and in the future. He hopes this new research promotes a more comprehensive policy approach in the future that would attend to the diverse challenges immigrant student groups traditionally face in adjusting to new school systems.

During their research, reviewers found a patchwork of policies in each province with some too old to meet the needs of students today. There was also inconsistency in terminology and language between provinces, hindering collaboration and knowledge sharing across the country.

“Some of the policy supports around psychosocial supports in Ontario are 30 years old,” said Volante. “Those need to be updated, obviously, because you can imagine the kinds of stresses students are facing now would be different than 30 years ago.”

The patchwork of policy documents in each province means Canadian teachers and administrators would need to sort through numerous documents to meet immigrant and refugee students’ needs. The researchers recommend in the paper that each province develop a standalone policy document focused on supports for immigrant and refugee students.

A second-generation immigrant himself, Volante understands the need for these supports first-hand — particularly since he had older siblings which did not speak English when they entered elementary schools in Ontario.

“I recognize what it feels like to be an immigrant within an education system that may not have been designed with those sorts of supports and policies in place for those types of students,” he said.

Canada has an increasingly diverse student population, with approximately 30 per cent of students being first- or second-generation immigrants, explained Volante. Supports for immigrant and refugee students will enable them to make substantial social and economic contributions to their communities.

Volante partnered with Camila Lara, his research assistant; Don Klinger, University of Waikato; and Melissa Siegel, UNU-MERIT / Maastricht Graduate School of Governance in the Netherlands, on the paper. He had supervised Lara during her time as a graduate student at the Maastricht Graduate School of Governance.

For her master’s thesis, Lara completed a similar analysis focused on policies covering refugee students in Ontario. She and Volante expanded the scope of their analysis to include policies covering immigrant and refugee students in all 10 Canadian provinces. This expanded focus meant the researchers had to review hundreds of educational policy documents and eventually analyzed 199 that addressed any of the six support types noted by the researchers.

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