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Weathering the Storm: How African Families with Refugee Backgrounds Coped with Online Schooling during the 2020-2021 COVID-19 Pandemic

Research Team: Stacey Wilson-Forsberg1, Oliver Masakure1, Rosemary Kimani-Dupuis1, Jeremey Horne2, and Oluseun Olayinka2
Affiliations: Wilfrid Laurier University1, Adventure 4 Change (A4C)2
Research Partner: Adventure 4 Change (A4C)
Keywords: mothers with refugee backgrounds, refugee women, youth with refugee backgrounds, refugee youth, Horn of Africa, online schooling, COVID-19 pandemic, Southern Ontario, qualitative methods
Jump to: Full Infographic, Methodology, Findings


Overview: The research focused on the experiences and challenges faced by mothers with refugee backgrounds from The Horn of Africa (Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea) and their children as they attended high school during the COVID-19 crisis.


  1. To understand how families with refugee backgrounds coped with the challenges of remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  2. To connect families with A4C’s resources and to build A4C’s capacity to respond in a coordinated and caring way to future crises.

Research Justification: Managing the social and economic stress and uncertainty associated with the COVID pandemic was a major challenge for many parents. However, the situation was even more challenging for families with refugee backgrounds.

Infographic Excerpt

Executive Summary

Full Infographic


The researchers conducted in-depth interviews and focus groups with 10 women and 18 youth residing in Waterloo, Ontario. The study used e-technology, phone conversations, and in-person interviews to connect with youth and parents. Two high school students with refugee experience led online discussions with youth about their experiences during isolation.


  • Schools provided Chromebooks for high school-aged youth to complete schoolwork at home; however, youth’s ability to use that technology was constrained by several factors:
    • Lack of physical space and time
    • Poor internet connection
    • Parental stress
    • Financial and food insecurity
  • Mothers’ low literacy and digital literacy skills, low English comprehension, and lack of knowledge about the Canadian education system prevented them from helping their children with schoolwork.
  • The following factors also contributed to a disconnect between schools and families with a refugee background:
    • Poverty
    • Low literacy
    • Religion (specifically, gender divisions)
  • The study also found gender differences amongst the youth, with girls more likely to complete their homework tasks and boys struggling to stay engaged.
    • In some instances where there weren’t enough computers for all children, boys got to use them first while girls were expected to help with housework.
    • Girls’ grades tended to remain stable, despite the extra household responsibilities, while the boys’ grades decreased.

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