Paraprofessionals and Refugee Schooling: A Primary School Case Study

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Singh, Parlo

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Li, Minglin

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This thesis examines the role of paraprofessionals in the provision of education for refugee students in a state school in Queensland. Paraprofessionals, often also referred to as home-liaison officers, are employed in schools to assist teachers in the provision of educational services to refugee students. Refugees are described as people who have been forced to leave their country because of persecution, war, violence or natural disasters (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 2016). Paraprofessionals are often respected members of local communities, speak the same first language as the refugee students and are familiar with the cultural, religious and other aspects of their backgrounds. As a result, they are well placed to form meaningful bridges between home and school (Lewis, 2004) and to promote better understanding of refugee students’ needs within school settings. Keeping this in mind, this study explores the work of paraprofessionals in contributing to the flows of knowledge across the boundaries of home, school and the local community to enhance the educational outcomes of refugee students. Specifically, the thesis explores three interrelated questions, namely:

  1. What school knowledge is selected and organised by paraprofessionals and communicated to refugee families?
  2. What knowledge is selected and organised by paraprofessionals from local communities and refugee families and communicated to school staff?
  3. How do paraprofessionals translate or recontextualize knowledge across the boundaries of school, home and local community? This research project employed a case study research design which involved interviewing six paraprofessionals responsible for working with refugee students and their families in one primary school in Queensland. Additional data for the study was collected through field notes including my own experience of working with refugee students, their families and paraprofessionals at the case study school. The findings of the study revealed how the paraprofessionals who often work closely with refugee communities can assist teachers in understanding the unique needs of refugee students, developing a broader vision and thereby creating a conducive environment that can provide better educational outcomes. The project’s analysis uncovered the subtle ways in which paraprofessionals contribute in overcoming the barriers between refugee students and their new school environment facilitating cultural integration, positive relationships and sense of belonging. This study has made new contributions to the empirical studies using Bernstein’s theoretical concepts while exploring the work of paraprofessionals in refugee children’s primary school education. The data analysis has revealed how the assimilation of instructional and regulative discourses can be profoundly influenced by new understandings of the ways in which paraprofessionals assist in the flows of knowledge between refugee students, their families, the school and the community. This research study makes a significant contribution to the field of refugee education, revealing new ways to design pedagogic practices in collaboration with paraprofessionals, which will make a positive difference to refugee students’ educational outcomes. The research study has informed how the differences in the modes of pedagogy between home country and host country, as well as the socio-cultural differences in pedagogic practice, can influence the pedagogic discourse that may impede refugee students’ learning. Despite adopting different strategies in bridging the gaps brought about by cultural and communication differences, several policy and practice recommendations emerge from the themes in this study that would further enable the paraprofessionals to act as intermediaries between refugee students, their families and school communities to promote better understanding in the educational context.
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Thesis (Masters)

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Master of Education and Professional Studies Research (MEdProfStRes)


School Educ & Professional St

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Refugee schooling

Primary school

Case study

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