Abstract: Burmese Refugee Children Educational Experience in the United States: A Qualitative Inquiry (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

Burmese Refugee Children Educational Experience in the United States: A Qualitative Inquiry

Sunday, January 16, 2022
Marquis BR Salon 7, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Jenny Tonsing, PhD, Assistant Professor, Appalachian State University, Boone, NC
Background and purpose: Transition and migration are difficult for refugees due to the demands associated with adjusting to a new way of life in a different environment and even more so for children, as the events co-occur with the developmental changes they experience. Schools are one of the first and most influential service systems where refugee children will first encounter their host society. School is the most crucial factor contributing to their future success, and education takes on a prominent role in preserving hope (Duncan, 2000; Hagborg, 1998). However, there is little research on the educational experiences and adaptation of Burmese refugee children in the United States. The present study explores the educational experiences of Burmese refugee children. The main research question formulated to guide this study is: What are the educational experiences of Burmese refugee resettled children?

Method: The study employed in-depth interviews with 28 Burmese refugee children, ages range from 10 to 17 years, and the average length of time in the U.S. was 5.5 years. Burmese community leaders were contacted to help identify potential parents/guardians, and parental consent and child assent obtained before conducting the interview. The interview lasted 30-45 minutes and audio-taped with permission from participants. Data analysis followed the procedures of Strauss and Corbin's grounded theory. Analysis of the data revealed three key themes: school experiences, bi-cultural dynamics, and future hopes and aspirations.

Results: The study's findings revealed that refugee children's experience is a series of interrelated events and interaction. Their first-year school experience includes struggles in adapting to their new school environment and limited English proficiency, which often hinders interaction with teachers and peers. Being bullied because of their lack of English proficiency was the most challenging aspect of school adjustment upon their arrival in the new school environment. The Bicultural dynamics, where children experience role reversals within the family, also have life experiences that may be quite different from their parents, sometimes, this leads to struggles for the children as they try to navigate between two worlds. Notably, study participants also talk about their future aspirations and goals. They are also aware that going to college and getting a degree would help fulfil their dreams. Participants also shared regarding the parental support they receive towards their future goals and aspirations.

Conclusion and Implications: In this study, refugee children limited prior English proficiency coupled with their refugee background placed them in a vulnerable position as target for bullying. Teachers and social workers are in a unique position to foster a supportive environment by providing an avenue for refugee children to explore and become comfortable in the school environment, the process of resettlement by using cultural sensitivity and individual strength. It will be imperative to facilitate building and developing social relationships between refugee children and their local peers when planning support initiatives for refugee children. Support from peers, teachers, and social workers can act as a protective factor for refugee children.