E.g., 10/25/2016
E.g., 10/25/2016

The Educational Experiences of Refugee Children in Countries of First Asylum

October 2015

The Educational Experiences of Refugee Children in Countries of First Asylum

The histories that resettled refugee children bring to classrooms in the United States are multiple and varied. Refugees come from many countries and many socioeconomic, political, linguistic, and ethnic backgrounds. While their migration paths are unique and reasons for resettlement diverse, most refugees have experienced extended stays in refugee camps or urban areas within countries of first asylum. The previous experiences of refugee children affect the way they experience school and the relationships they form with teachers and peers. However, the histories of resettled refugee children are often hidden from their teachers and other school staff in the United States by factors such as language barriers, privacy concerns, cultural misunderstandings, and stereotypes.

The existing literature on the education of refugee children in the United States focuses primarily on postarrival experiences, with little attention to the educational experiences of these children in their countries of origin and first asylum. But the pre-resettlement experiences of refugee children can have significant ramifications on their post-resettlement academic performance, psychosocial service needs, and sense of belonging in school. Refugee children often experience frequent disruptions and limited access to schooling, leaving many behind their age-appropriate grade level. Sporadic schooling pre-resettlement may shape the attitudes of parents and children, potentially causing reluctance to invest time in schools and important relationships. Refugee children are also frequently exposed to multiple languages of instruction over the course of their migration, resulting in language confusion and difficulty mastering academic content. 

This report explores the educational histories of young refugee children in first-asylum countries and identifies elements of these that are relevant to post-resettlement education in the United States. The author’s analysis draws on more than a decade of in-depth research conducted on refugee education in countries of first asylum prior to arrival in the United States. Based on this research, the author identifies four key aspects of educational experiences that are particularly salient for U.S. teachers and schools: limited and disrupted educational opportunities, language barriers to educational access, inadequate quality of instruction, and discrimination in school settings. The report includes findings from field-based case studies involving children from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Myanmar, Somalia, and Syria, who were living in first-asylum countries Bangladesh, Burundi, Egypt, Kenya, Malaysia, and Uganda.

Table of Contents 

I. Introduction

II. Background: Refugee Children in a Global Context

III. Methodology

IV. Findings

A. Limited and Disrupted Educational Opportunities

B. Language Barriers to Educational Access

C. Inadequate Quality of Instruction

D. Discrimination in School Settings

V. Conclusions and Policy Recommendations