23
Jul

The Experiences of Iraqi Refugee Children’s Education in Australia: Mothers’ Perspectives

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Education is a resource that can assist individuals and families to cope with adversity. It is particularly important for relatively recent refugee families because of the need to re-establish their social life and relationships after leaving schools behind in the homeland. Participants in my doctoral study are seven Muslim women who came with their families from Iraq to Australia as refugees for permanent settlement in 2008 and I am one of these participants. As mothers these women place great emphasis on their children, their care and their education.

However, they confront many challenges in relation to the education of their children in Australian public schools. This paper discusses some of my PhD research findings on the challenges of everyday lived experiences of Iraqi mothers, their feelings, and reactions to their children’s educational experiences in everyday life Australian Multicultural public schools. It also addresses the ways in which Iraqi women express their new roles as “mothers in Australia” and gives a new insight on the issue of ‘being a Muslim student in a non-Muslim Australian school’. In Particular, I suggest rethinking ways of social inclusions to Muslim women and their families to serve better future to them and Australia. Due to word limit in this post I will discuss some of the main points briefly.

The value of Education

Participants in my study place great emphasis on their children, their care and their education. The participants give many reasons for the importance of education. These include social, cultural and personal factors. For example, there was limited education in Iraq because of war conditions. This meant that many women lost their chance of being educated. This can also make an Iraqi mother value education for her children:

You know I lost the chance to have a degree because of the war and difficult life conditions in Iraq and I do not like my children to lose their education like me so that I feel it is very important to encourage my children to get good education in Australia and I do not like them to face the problems that I faced in my life and now they are the hope for future (Kafee)

 

These women value the safety in Australian schools. They are also aware of the high standard of equipment and the range of activities. Although there are areas which cause concern, and these are discussed later, the women acknowledge the many positives of Australian education:

My children can go to school every day safely. The school is big enough and children have enough time to learn, play and eat. At the same time the school staff is friendly and helpful. The schools invite us to celebrate some events and see our children work. (Entida)

 

It is clear from the discussion above that the education of their children is linked to the participants’ perceptions of themselves as ‘good’ mothers and ‘good’ Muslims. If there are problems with their children’s education, this reflects badly on the mother who has failed in her duty to ensure that her children do well in school. This is a particularly problematic situation for these women who have little understanding of the Australian education system and many things which they do understand, they do not like.

Cultural Clashes in the School Environment: Facts and fears

Although a great emphasis is placed on children and the value of education, Iraqi Muslim mothers in this research confront many problems and challenges in relation to the education of their children in Australian public schools. The participants describe a number of different issues. Cultural clashes between Islamic values and teaching and the western secular school system seem to be the key issue. This can include issues like social interaction, provision of Halal food, wearing Hijab and other clothing (especially for physical education and swimming), the content of learning materials, communication problems and sex education. Below are some of participant’s reactions to these topics.

As all the participants are from Islamic and Middle Eastern Culture which is different thatn the western culture in many aspects, one important theme mentioned by participants in this study is social interaction at schools which is a major source of conflict between Muslim parents and their children, especially parents with teenagers. There have been changes in Kafee’s teenage sons’ education and life in Australian local schools. She is bewildered by the high school system in Australia and she often sits and worries so much about things that she begins to think life was better at home in Iraq:

In Australian schools, boys and girls are mixed together from an early age, resulting in opposite-gender friendships and eventually dating relationships. In Islamic culture, it is frowned upon for unmarried males and unmarried females to be together in private. (Kafee)

What Kafee wants and believes in is in sharply contrast to the reality that social interaction between teenage boys and girls is the norm in Australian high schools. Students in Australian schools are expected to participate in a range of school activities regardless of their gender, activities which reflect acceptance, experience and skills and which are regarded as part of living a normal life.

One important issue mentioned by participant was that the Provision of Halal food at Australian schools. The absence of Muslim perspectives in Australian schools is also one of these parents’ concerns. Provision of Halal food in schools is a problem which faces Iraqi Muslim mothers. The importance they place on providing Halal food for their children is linked to respect, tolerance and maintaining Islam and Islamic culture. It is also seen as a way of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. I suggest that schools and staff should have knowledge about Halal food:

School encourages birthday parties which should include food. My son likes to participate in such parties but most of the food is not Halal. No labels or words on food that guide Muslim children to eat Halal food (Seham)

I do not want my son to be excluded from class activities. Celebrating birthdays at Australian public schools by bringing treats to share with the class is an activity which all the children enjoy. Children hear their name mentioned on the morning announcements and classmates are expected to present a birthday card. I am torn between wanting my son to be part of the fun and wanting to make sure that he only eats Halal food.

The education of Iraqi Muslim children in Australian public schools is an important theme that merits close investigation. Five of the study participants have children in Australian schools. It was important in this post/article to look at how these mothers think, feel and react to their children’s educational experiences.

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