Specific Needs in Literacy and Language Learning of Refugee Children: A Comparison of Germany and Canada

Project Researchers

Xi (Becky) Chen
Coordination & Operations Committee

Associate Professor at University of Toronto

Project Description

Language and literacy acquisition of refugee students is shaped by multiple factors. Educational policies as well as refugee protection policies are assumed to influence the learning environments in schools and families. This pilot study aims to explore the family and school learning environments of Syrian refugee students in Canada and Germany through three family case studies in each country.

Both Canada and Germany are a common destination for the settlement of refugees but vary widely in terms of population size, immigration history and geographical location. Integration trajectories of refugee students are shaped through contextual factors of host societies (Korntheuer, Pritchard & Maehler, 2017). In Germany, refugee status is usually requested through an in-country asylum claim. In Canada, refugees gain permanent residency mainly through resettlement. This leads to considerable differences in the living situations of young refugee students. Additionally, the school system differs conspicuously: In Canada students are mostly integrated into the regular L2 classroom, while in some federal states in Germany students attend special preparation classes where they are taught in isolation from German L1 classmates.

The proposed study will serve as a pilot for a large-scale investigation on the cross-cultural and crosslinguistic comparison in the development of refugee children in Canada and Germany. It will analyze the development of language and literacy skills, which are the most important prerequisites for successful integration into society. It will also address the impact of socio-emotional wellbeing and motivation. Thus, the project will explore how the specific needs of Syrian refugee children in terms of second language and literacy acquisition are met by the institutions in both countries. The comparison will include children’s performance at school as well as their family dynamics and wellbeing in their new environment.

The results will contribute to a base of knowledge that enables us to further develop research questions and refine the instruments for a broader study on the language and literacy acquisition of Syrian refugee students. Furthermore, our study will inform policy makers, educational institutions, and the wider public on the special needs of refugee children and their families, and help refugee children integrate successfully into main-stream society.