Promoting Justice for Transnational Students

This week, IEN shares a post from Dr. Allison Skerrett, Associate Professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at The University of Texas at Austin.  This week’s post builds on work discussed in her chapter “Curricular and Pedagogical Perspectives on Transnational Students Within Socially Just Approaches to Literacy Education” from the book Future Directions of Educational Change.

Monica was a 17-year old young woman when I first met her in 2013 on the internationally diverse Caribbean island of Dutch Sint Maarten where she was born. Monica’s father lived and worked across Sint Maarten and the US to maximize the family’s economic opportunities. At age nine, Monica moved to Florida to live with her father when he secured long-term employment there. She attended schools in Florida until the middle of 11th grade at which point Monica’s father took a new job in Sint Maarten and she was abruptly re-instated in Sint Maarten schools. Arriving in the middle of the school year, Monica’s family had little school choice; thus Monica was enrolled in a vocational school in which she experienced a lack of academic challenge. Increasingly frustrated and bored in an educational system that failed to acknowledge her previous schooling experiences, Monica eventually dropped out of school. It was at age 20 that Monica decided to grasp back her educational future by sitting and passing the US GED exam. She then moved to Holland to attend university.

A recent UN policy brief (2016) reported that as of 2013 28.2 million migrants worldwide are between the ages of 15-24. Similarly UNICEF (2017) stated that as of 2015 31 million children worldwide are migrants. The term migrant students often raises images of students who are highly mobile due to their families following work opportunities. However the term transnational students is frequently used in educational scholarship to signal the deep familial, cultural, political, and other connections these students and their families build across their original and new homelands.

Ironically the school-age population of transnational students is booming in a time when some world nations are increasingly uncertain about, or even explicitly hostile to, flows of diverse peoples into and across their borders. This paradox emphasizes that the education of transnational students is a matter of justice. As I explained in my chapter in Future Directions of Educational Change, by justice I mean provision of equitable opportunities for all students to experience their full potential in academic and social life. In my earlier book, Teaching transnational youth and a related overview in Education Week, I detailed a transnationally-inclusive approach to literacy education that promotes the academic development of transnational and all other students.

In this piece, I argue it is critical for all educational stakeholders to protect and advance gains transnational students accrue from their teachers’ implementation of transnationally-inclusive approaches to literacy education. Below I lay out some specific and powerful action steps through which teachers, educational leaders, and policymakers can do so.

  • Learn about transnational students from professional articles and from surveying your own student populations.
  • Reach out to families to let them know you are aware of their transnational lifestyles and wish to support their children academically.
  • Ask families and students whether they can assist you with connecting to schools and educators in other countries they also call home. These transnational professional relationships will allow exchange of knowledge about students and help you better support students’ academic progress.
  • Hold conversations with other teacher colleagues, school leaders, and local and state policymakers to raise awareness of transnational students and their educational circumstances. In these conversations, share the transnationally-inclusive curriculum and instructional practices you have been using and student learning outcomes. Discuss broader-scale curriculum and other policy changes that would support rather than ostracize transnational students and families.
  • Build global educational networks for sharing about educational policies, curriculum, and instructional practices in different countries. This can be a grass-roots movement started by teachers in any school, region, or nation. A powerful example lies in the field of nursing where, through allnurses.com, nurses across the globe engage with questions, knowledge, and practices related to their shared profession.

It is possible and urgent to secure greater justice for the millions of transnational students like Monica who populate schools today.

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