Behind Successful Refugee Parental Engagement: The Barriers and Challenges


  • Rahat Zaidi University of Calgary
  • Christine Oliver Calgary Board of Education
  • Tom Strong University of Calgary
  • Hanan Alwarraq University of Calgary



Syrian refugees, Iraqi refugees, Arab refugees, literacy, English-language deve-lopment, parent–teacher engagement, education–parent participation


This two-year study examined the barriers and challenges encountered by refugee parents as they negotiate their children’s successful transition into a new school system. The researchers sought to determine what can be learned from parent and educator experiences of these obstacles in order to optimize parent–teacher collaboration for refugee families. Contextualized within a LEAD (Literacy, English and Academic Development) program in an urban centre in Western Canada, the study triangulated data from focus groups comprising Syrian and Iraqi Arabic-speaking families, teachers, and settlement workers. The data were qualitatively analyzed by incorporating Epstein’s six types of parental involvement, a culturally responsive model accounting for parental engagement within the context of home-school-community collaboration (Epstein & Sheldon, 2006). From this model, the researchers make recommendations that include province-wide initiatives to support leadership and teacher training, mandated programming to support refugee and immigrant youth, and the establishment and expansion of board and in-school settlement best practices province-wide.

Author Biographies

Rahat Zaidi, University of Calgary

Rahat Zaidi is Professor and Chair of Language and Literacy in the Werklund School of Education at the University of Calgary, Canada. Her research expertise focuses on multilingual literacies that clarify intersectional understandings across sociophobia, diversity, immigration, and pluralism. Through her research, she advances social justice and equity and identity positioning in immigrant and transcultural contexts.

Christine Oliver, Calgary Board of Education

Christine Oliver is a System Principal with the Calgary Board of Education. She supports 31 schools across the northeast quadrant of Calgary and has a passion for working with families from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds. Christine has extensive experience with English Language Learning and newcomer reception services.

Tom Strong, University of Calgary

Tom Strong is a professor and counsellor-educator who recently retired from the University of Calgary. He writes on the collaborative, critical and practical potentials of discursive approaches to psychotherapy and mental health. For Tom’s website and contact details, please see: 

Hanan Alwarraq, University of Calgary

Hanan Alwarraq is a Project Manager with a B.A in Education from the University of Calgary, and [Hon] B.A in English Literature & Psychology from the University of Ottawa. As a bilingual (Arabic/English) Teacher and Researcher, her interests include optimizing student learning and development, refugee family collaboration and multilingual literacies.




How to Cite

Zaidi, R., Oliver, C., Strong, T., & Alwarraq, H. (2021). Behind Successful Refugee Parental Engagement: The Barriers and Challenges. Canadian Journal of Education/Revue Canadienne De l’éducation, 44(4), 907–937.