Australian Journal of Education

Article Title

‘I’m telling you … the language barrier is the most, the biggest challenge’ : barriers to education among Karen refugee women in Australia


This article examines factors influencing English language education, participation and achievement among Karen refugee women in Australia. Data were drawn from ethnographic observations and interviews with 67 participants between 2009 and 2011, collected as part of a larger qualitative study exploring the well-being of Karen refugee women in Sydney. Participants unanimously described difficulty with English language proficiency and communication as the ‘number one’ problem affecting their well-being. Gendered, cultural and socio-political factors act as barriers to education. We argue that greater sensitivity to refugees’ backgrounds, culture and gender is necessary in education. Research is needed into the combined relationships between culture and gender across pre-displacement, displacement and resettlement and the impact of these factors on post-immigration educational opportunities. Training is needed to sensitise educators to the complex issues of refugee resettlement. The paper concludes with recommendations for service provision and policy.