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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Forgotten refugees : understanding the language and literacy practices of Afghan refugees in Pakistan Sadiq, Assadullah


Most refugees arriving in permanent resettlement countries, such as Canada, come from first asylum countries, or countries that refugees move to first to escape the crisis in their homelands. Refugees arrive in permanent resettlement countries with various educational experiences and these pre-settlement educational experiences have largely remained undocumented, a phenomenon Dryden-Peterson described as a “black box” (2016, p. 131). In light of this gap, the purpose of this study was to document the language and literacy practices of young Afghan refugees in Pakistan in their homes, at school, and in their community, and to describe their parents’/guardians’ beliefs about language and literacy. Informed by sociocultural theory and Bronfenbrenner’s ecological theory, this qualitative study used ethnographic methods and focused on four Afghan refugee children and their families over five months. Language and literacy events were observed and analyzed using Miles, Huberman, and Saldaña’s (2014) procedure for qualitative research. Findings showed the children spoke Pashto at home but used Urdu and Pashto in the community. At school, the children spoke English, Urdu, and Pashto, but reading and writing were only taught in English and Urdu. The children participated in various literacy activities at home, including engaging in storytelling and practicing religious supplications. The female children were successful in their schoolwork and, with some assistance, could read and write in Urdu and English. The male children, however, could not complete most assignments that required them to read and write in English or Urdu independently and relied on their classmates, teachers, and resources (e.g., posters) to complete those assignments. In the community, the female children tutored others with schoolwork, Quranic reading, or religious supplications. The male children attended Quranic lessons to practice Arabic words to prepare for reading the Quran. Parents/guardians valued literacy and languages highly. Many believed that reading allowed one to see and that literacy instilled manners in one. This study enhances our understanding of the literacy practices of one of the largest refugee groups in the world, about which little is known. Specifically, insights about their literacy and language practices as they relate to codeswitching or translanguaging, and literacy brokering are revealed.

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