The proposal to reform the existing educational system in Australia for the children of migrant and refugee families stems from current Government aims and to provide improved learning access tools to these disadvantaged groups. Not only would such a move have long-term impact in terms of reduced government expenditure on social welfare and the criminal justice system, but also empower future generations to become more productive citizens of this country, and assimilate better into the Australian way of life. In specific terms, the proposal calls for the following recommendations:
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- Children of migrant and refugee backgrounds being given more specialized attention on their English needs for enabling them to gain language proficiency.
- Defining a transformative school curriculum by reforming Australia’s Educational Act of 2004, which prepares these children for the rigors of a middle and high school curriculum, thereby, arresting the current trends of high drop-out rates currently prevalent in these communities.
Also, the immigration act of 1958 and the immigration regulations 1994 will be amended and reviewed respectively in line with the cabinet submission request.
Relation to existing policies
Proposed policy reform is consistent with Australia’s strong defence of existing United Nations human rights treaties and conventions , especially the Refugee Convention Article 22, which states that “refugees should be accorded the same treatment as nationals with respect to elementary education, and their treatment should be as favourable as possible, and in any event, no less favourable than that accorded to aliens in the same circumstances in respect to education” (Hathaway, 2005, p.594).
The convention basically states that children of refugee families should not face any disadvantage as regards their education, the acknowledgment of their schooling credentials in their home countries and full integration into educational standards of Australia (Hathaway, 2005, p.594). In order to meet this demand and overcome the barriers of learning faced by these disadvantaged groups, it is imperative that our educational system is reformed to specifically address their learning problems based on their unique socio-cultural backgrounds.
Currently, migrants from non-English speaking backgrounds (NSEB) are eligible for 510 hours of free English-language tuition through the Adult Migration English services (Field and Leicester, 2003, p.268). The idea behind this is that learning English is an entitlement for the concerned individual, and therefore, must be promoted across the board. Refugee children currently avail themselves of policy measures which allow them free and uninterrupted access to education tools. With a greater focus on English language proficiency through a reform on Educational Act of 2004, we can foster their integration into mainstream education in the future.
Active consultations have taken place with the following departments:
- The Attorney General
- The Ministry of Immigration and Citizenship
The passage of this proposal will demand an increase in the budget allocation in this financial budget by an additional 300 million dollars. The good news is that our development partners with specific reference to the United Nations High Commission of refugees to support this program.
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Australia is among one of the 160+ nations to have ratified the United Nations Geneva Convention of 1951 and the subsequent protocol of 1967 pertaining to refugees. Over 580,000 humanitarian entrants have settled in Australia since World War II (Department of Immigration and Citizenship, 2010). The welfare of refugees and other disadvantaged migrant groups is at the centre of Australia’s domestic and international obligations.
The education system of Australia strives to provide for holistic learning development needs of children, irrespective of their background, gender, race, colour, tribe, origin or any other factors. However, several studies have shown that the children of refugees and other disadvantaged migrant groups face immense problems in their pursuit of education. For example, the Ethnic Child Care Family and Community Services (ECCFCSC) reports that many refugee children who arrive in Australia face learning disability issues ranging from nourishment, cognitive development, social skills and psychological health (Ethnic Child Care Family and Community Services, 2010).
The main factor that leads to above situation is based on the premise that many of these children have had severe disruptions in study at their ancestral homelands since the parents fled persecution, genocide and severe upheavals (Ethnic Child Care Family and Community Services, 2010). Upon arrival in Australia, the children are exposed to academic environments which are very different from what they’re used to back home. Barriers in English are a major cause of concern since they prevent the children from taking the full time to develop minimal social skills. The lack of culturally sensitive support and care personnel only compounds the problem (Ethnic Child Care Family and Community Services, 2010).
Moreover, the case for children of asylum-seekers currently under detention merits a serious re-look into our existing education policies, and examine the failures of the system. According to Early Childhood Australia, an NGO, children in detention centres face severe trauma in the absence of child welfare facilities, a situation which is not very conducive in promoting a stable learning environment (Early Childhood Australia, 2010). Clearly, the unique situation of refugee children in Australia warrants a fundamental policy shift in the education system to accommodate their separate learning needs.
It should be observed that refugees often leave their homes, work, education, family and friends and are thus, highly vulnerable to isolation and dislocation from normal life in their new abode (Field and Leicester, 2003, p.263). Also, refugees are not a homogenous group; they come from a variety of social, cultural and educational backgrounds and consequently, have diverse and specific needs (Field and Leicester, 2003, p.263). The biggest problem arises due to physical and mental trauma because of past experiences in their homeland which make them highly sensitive to external factors such as racial prejudice, cultural misunderstandings and the self-imposed fear, guilt and shame of identifying as a refugee Early Childhood Australia, 2010). All these factors come into play when these individuals seek social welfare services Early Childhood Australia, 2010).
The children of refugees are an especially vulnerable lot when it comes to availing of educational services. Care workers suggest that most of these children have expressed an eager desire to learn despite experiencing feelings of anxiety and despair in an environment which is a severe barrier to the learning process.
Another group that this proposal seeks to address is children of migrants. While they do not usually face the same psychological trauma issues as refugee children since they’re economically better off, and more capable of quicker assimilation into host society, they nevertheless face the same self-esteem and learning disability issues due to the lack of English usage as a primary language at home (Field and Leicester, 2003, p.271). Various studies have pointed out that migrants have as much of a problem accessing effective sources of advice, education and information as refugees (Field and Leicester, 2003, p.271; Adams and Kirova, 2006, p.140; Hamilton and Moore, 2004, p.124). Consequently, there is urgent need to address the problems of both refugees as well as migrant children.
“Special Education Programme”, the very term denotes a contextual phrase. Various Education bodies call it a successful integration programme that enables children of refugee and migrant backgrounds to be able to afford a good educational access, without causing any financial burden on the parents. Obviously, the implication lies in being able to conducively manage the associated costs with sponsoring education of these children. The full financial feasibility study of this proposal will be taken care off at a latter juncture.
The other stakeholders are the Government and care agencies who must retain their policies while enshrining to work on seeking assimilation of children into mainstream education system. The needs and necessity of providing education to such groups are numerous, and the only effective solution for the purpose of different sections of such groups are is borne with an endeavour to understand the true situations faced by them that go behind in evaluating the forces which dominate the current educational scene for disadvantaged groups. In doing so, we shall look into the constitutional, ethical and business perspectives that govern the implementation of refugee educational programmes. Now, we shall look into the key factors which promote welfare of these groups in an ideal educational setting.
Access to English language curriculum: Perhaps the single biggest determiner
of success that most refugee groups is seeking good knowledge of English because they believe that would pave the way for advancement in a new country. Australia is a cosmopolitan and diverse countries, and it is the social responsibility of the Government to provide better English language education access to children of refugees and migrants so that they can fully participate in social interaction activities in their adopted nation (Hathaway, 2005, p.45; Field and Leicester, 2003, p.320; ; Adams and Kirova, 2006, p.160; Hamilton and Moore, 2004, p.82).
In this regard, the government must come with a policy move which makes access to learning English language a fundamental right for children in Australia, regardless of their papers availability or country background. This would not only be in agreement with Australia’s humanitarian obligations, particularly Article 22 of the United Nations Refugee Convention, which calls for equity in refugee children’s access to the best educational resources for their holistic career development, but also set an ideal example for other nations to bring reform in their own legislation. Any futuristic legislation should address this issue immediately because failure to do so, will create unnecessary backlogs that can hamper the learning development growth of the hundreds of thousands of children across the country, who could otherwise benefit from it. As of now, Australia’s Education Ministry has already targeted an execution plan to double the number of English teachers available at these premises, by around 2010 (Early Childhood Australia, 2010).
Defining a transformative schooling curriculum which greatly improves
the quality of minimum educational access requirements for children of disadvantaged refugee backgrounds: One of the aims of this paper is to identify the magnitude and impact of problems afflicting migrant and refugee children, and achieve realistic solutions to solve such problems. In order to address the issue of providing equitable education access to all children of refugees, we must actively consider what is the actual definition of such a term. As it is, there is no clear-cut single term that would encompass all the contextual parameters that should be included in such a definition. Therefore, we shall present the definitions accepted by different policy groups and infer if there is one single definition that can qualify for all our policy requirements.
Bodies which work with children of refugees understands the definition as the “provision of specialized educational tools and care personnel to ensure that the children do not miss out on a learning environment which would foster their cognitive development. Here, the NGO called the Early Childhood Australia understands the definition as a “trade-off between the extent to which educational services which can be provided for disadvantaged groups such as refugees and third-cultural kids who do not speak English as a main language, and the amount of money that has to be invested by the Government to provide these services to the children coming from such backgrounds” (Early Childhood Australia, 2010).
There are two main forms of educational access definable as per our current needs: social education (education provided for those children who did not have access to basic education upon arrival in Australia) and intermediate education access at the next level (a system of education designed to help children continue with their schooling based on their countries of origin, such as continuation of subjects like Math and Science and the right to transfer grades/marks based on report cards of schools in their countries of origin).
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Using these two different scenarios, the definition of an ideal educational system for children of refugee and migrant backgrounds should go hand in hand with what is known as a “sustainable education of children” – a concept which is able to meet the diverse needs students of diverse backgrounds in order to provide the best knowledge resources, skills-set and opportunity for economic inclusion, and overall prosperity, at a later stage in life.
Now, we shall delve on a refined defining term called “sustainable education access” which shall form our basis for the remaining discussion in this paper. This term has been used in reference to an economic think-tank called Australian Policy Online, which provides a host of services for educationists, migrant advocacy and refugee counselling groups, multilateral and bilateral donors and also, Government agencies. The definition of “sustainable education of children” goes as this where we split each term to understand its relevance for our present discussions:
- Education: The education must be of highest quality that would allow children of various backgrounds to become productive citizens, with specialized skills-set to enable them to earn a livelihood at a later stage in life (Australian Policy Online, 2001). This broadly means that the government has the responsibility to finance an educational environment which automatically leads to creation of productive citizenry at a later point of time, right from students studying in school to adults at institutes like TAFE. Children of refugee background should not be discriminated against, or excluded from these privileges (Ethnic Child Care Family and Community Services, 2010).
- Free and Compulsary education: At present, the education system being accessed by children of refugee background is certainly free and compulsory. This can be given more force by doing some research on what the children’s households actually have to incur, by costs. Obviously, this definition must loosely vary for different economic sections for which the educational systems are being investigated. The affordability in sending their children to school, with added expenditure for books and transportation, for parents of refugee background is much less than those who are of only a migrant background (Ethnic Child Care Family and Community Services, 2010). In case of private education, the affordability must remain throughout the first few formative years of education, so that children are later prepared well for middle school.
- Sustainable education: For the benefit of these concerned, good quality and free education must continue for the children in the age group 6-14 years to ensure no problems are encountered in the future. Therefore, it is important to note that the system must be able to maintain enough cash flow to cover overall expenditure in the years to come. Cash flow would encompass the deeds out of a sale (whether to an individual or the Government) or the voluntary donations from international refugee welfare bodies. Expenditure would entail development and maintenance costs of a sustainable educational platform (Ethnic Child Care Family and Community Services, 2010).
At a functional level, the definition of a transformative educational system would reflect the actual government policies on providing valid education as per budgetary allocations and other targeted goals to be reviewed. According to a review by Ethnic Child Care Family and Community Services, Local Governments and the Regions should utlize the definition can also be explained in terms of quantitative aspects. The quantitative aspects, in our case would be reflected by changes in Government policy, points that need their due consideration in the light of shifting patterns of new educational systems allocated (Ethnic Child Care Family and Community Services, 2010).
The local plan policies on sustainable education must reflect the interrelationship between income levels of refugee families and other miscellaneous expenses such as house price or rents for different types of households (Ethnic Child Care Family and Community Services, 2010). As a thumb rule, the Government’s plans should allow the schooling system to be made available to parents of refugee children, especially those who are facing financial difficulties (Ethnic Child Care Family and Community Services, 2010). As per the earlier discussion to provide “sustainable high quality education” to one and all, the Government has been identified in its unique role to help create mixed and inclusive communities which offer a varied choice in learning environments (Ethnic Child Care Family and Community Services, 2010). This envisages a renewed focus on providing mixed and balanced communities which provide the much needed momentum to address the context in which a government plan is justified (Ethnic Child Care Family and Community Services, 2010).
Considering the social needs of a variety of children from refugee backgrounds, housing organisations have also called for a National Blueprint in order to better quality education through the Planned system. The blueprint contains a list of don’ts which must be strictly adhered to in order to fulfil the necessary requirements (Ethnic Child Care Family and Community Services, 2010):
- Access to interpreters at each and every phase
- Maintaining privacy of families
- Providing parents with detailed knowledge on important services for refugees and how to access them.
As a mark-up to the researcher’s definition in taking sustainable education into context, and provide an analysis on needs assessment of local residents, with a wholly pragmatic view to translate the definitions into real developments, we have to evaluate the definitions according to changing Government policy over the years. With a clear picture of appropriate Government interventions in different phases of housing development, we shall be able to define a working hypothesis for what should be considered as our definition for affordable housing (or sustainable affordable housing) and thus, our motivation to conduct research will be made clearer.
- Our vibrant media has constantly raised the concerns of the various stakeholders in regard to the provision of quality education to the refugees and immigrants. This has been because our policies in these areas have failed to live up to the current standards and underline the constantly ever changing demands of the refugees and immigrants.
- The past and current policies on the educational facilities available to the refugees and immigrants in Australia have been in the spotlight for long and have received enough share of criticism.
- A cabinet endorsement on the establishment of special middle school education (7, 8 &9) for migrant and refugee to address the problem related to the parity in the provision of education and the problem of high rate school drop out.
- The Universal Declaration of Human Rights which Australia is a signatory to will be respected and its provisions in regard to the provision of educational needs to the refugees and the immigrants fully upheld.
- High levels of consultations have so far been undertaken to ensure that all the affected parties are fully informed on the steps and details as far this policy stand today.
- The consultations have centered on stakeholders and institutions that have in the past carried out activities within the departments of refugees and immigrants. These have included our home higher learning institutions, foundations and national governmental organizations that have developed interest in the manner in which refugees and immigrants have been treated in the past in this country.
A number of stake holders have also been consulted to ascertain their support or criticisms for the establishment of special middle school education (7, 8 &9) for migrant and refugee. The stakeholders who have so far been consulted include:
- The office of the deputy Minister
- The ministry of education
- The ministry of immigration and Citizenship
- The United Nations High Commission of refugees
- Amnesty International
- Australia Commission of high learning education
- Non Governmental Organizations
If the cabinet gets approval for the establishment of special middle school education (7, 8 &9) for migrants and refugee, the educational Act of 2004 will be amended to make them in line with this policy and entrench the provisions of this cabinet proposal and its subsequent submissions into the Constitution.
The immigration act of 1958 and the immigration regulations 1994 will be amended and reviewed respectively in line with the cabinet submission request.
- There is a very urgent need for this country to move fast and enact the policies of this submission paper. I request the cabinet to accept this proposal and its full submissions.
- The Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Education should bring the proposals of this proposal to the House for discussion before members of the house go for recess. This will ensure the submission gets the urgent attention it needs and it is done within this period.
- The opposition will has voiced their concerns and has remained the biggest critic to the government in regard to the handling of the educational needs and demands of the refugees and immigrants and is expected to ensure the proposals of this submission fail to sail through the floor of the house.
- The leader of the government business will together will supportive members of the house to ensure that this cabinet proposal passes through the first stages of the discussion and finally sails through.
Adams, L. & Kirova, A. (2006). Global Migration and Education: School, Children and Families. London: Routledge.
Australian Policy Online. (2010). Economics of Equality [online]. Web.
Department of Immigration and Citizenship. (2010). Fact Sheet 60- Australia’s Refugee and Immigration Program. Web.
Early Childhood Australia. (2010). Children in Detention- An Australian Issue. Web.
Ethnic Child Care Family and Community Services. (2010). Helping Refugee Children in Children’s Services. Web.
Field, J. & Leicester, M. (2003). Lifelong Learning: Education Across the Lifespan. London: Routledge
Hamilton, R.J. & Moore, D. (2004). Educational Intervention for Refugee Children: Theoretical Perspectives and Implementing Best Practice. London: Routledge.
Hathaway, J.C. (2005). The Rights of Refugees Under International Law. New York: Cambridge University Press.