Conference looks at equity in education

Educators need to do more to make immigrant and refugee students feel welcomed and supported in Canadian schools, says an education expert and keynote speaker at an upcoming Faculty of Education conference this month.

Denise Armstrong

Denise Armstrong

Ali A. Abdi will speak about how Canadian teachers engaging African immigrant and refugee students at Brock’s Equity Engagement conference on Feb. 28. Abdi is a professor of educational policy and co-director of the Centre for Global Citizenship Education and Research at the University of Alberta.

We assume that education leads to the social well-being of everyone, including refugee and immigrant students, Abdi said. But schools are actually structured in a way that benefits the middle class.

“That is not effective for the learning and social of development needs of these populations,” Abdi said. The needs of refugee children are higher than other students, and most are coming in with little money and no formal schooling. For almost all of them, English is not their first language.

“Many are coming from refugee camps and are, socially and educationally speaking, in a very vulnerable situation.”

Schools need to be more understanding and proactive, he said. Otherwise, the students will not succeed in school. There are many ways to achieve this, but it’s important that we do it.

“I’m proposing a higher level of open mindedness and policy/program inclusiveness where teachers understand the background as well as the needs of the learner and respond to them,” he said.

Abdi is one of three keynote speakers at the conference. Heidi Mirza from the UK’s University of London will speak about the intersection of class, race and gender in Britain. Gerardo Lopez from the Loyola Institute for Quality and Equity in Education will speak on the politics of immigration in the U.S.

The conference brings together educators and community activists to talk about equity and social justice, said Denise Armstrong, associate professor in the Faculty of Education.

There will be panels and group discussions about how to ensure that education is equal for everyone, she said.

Other speakers will include Jennifer Brant from the Tecumseh Centre, Margot Francis from the Centre for Women’s Studies, and employees from local public and Catholic school boards.

Armstrong anticipates a welcome meeting of minds.

“Our research shows that educators who are involved in equity often feel alone,” she said. “There’s often resistance in schools to people who are committed to it, particularly if they’re challenging the system. We want to provide a safe space for people to create sustainable networks.”

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