Improving school engagement of African refugee students

The challenge

For refugee youth, schooling is a critical gateway to culture learning and successful resettlement. They acquire the knowledge and skills they need at school to integrate meaningfully with society. The value of schooling is particularly important for African refugees who arrived at a young age with limited education. However, African refugee students are at high risk of school disengagement. Educationally disengaged youth are more likely to face challenges associated with unemployment, poverty, risky health behaviours, and social withdrawal.

Project overview

Despite the gravity of African youth disengagement in education and social life, little is known about why the problem persists and what can be done to improve the educational attainment of the group. Using a multimethod research design, this Future Fellowship aims to investigate the problem of school disengagement among African heritage students from refugee backgrounds (AHS-R). It aims to:

  1. Analyse the framing of school disengagement in sectoral policies and institutional strategies.
  2. Investigate whether and to what extent schools support the academic and social engagement of AHS-R.
  3. Identify personal contexts and experiences mediating AHS-R school engagement levels and trends.
  4. Examine how outside-school conditions (including parental engagement, community services, and social contexts) influence educational aspirations, experience, trajectories, and outcomes of AHS-R.
  5. Advance an innovative theoretical approach for understanding and improving school engagement of refugee students.

By building new knowledge that can inform policy responses and school practices, the project contributes to improving educational attainment and integration outcomes of refugee-background students in Australia.


Expected outcomes of the project include new insights into causes and manifestations of school disengagement among African refugee students and a Framework of Engagement that outlines viable strategies for addressing the challenge. The study should return tangible benefits by raising the academic outcome, economic participation, and wellbeing of students from refugee backgrounds. It also has strong potential to support the successful implementation of current government policies that call for targeted support for disadvantaged students, including those from refugee backgrounds.

Project team

Dr Tebeje Molla


6 March 2023 to 5 March 2027


Australian Research Council – Future Fellowship


More information

Trauma-Responsive Services: Submission to WA Parliament


inclusive education, African refugees, diversity, racially diverse