Role of refugee parents’ educational aspirations on their children’s academic outcomes

Chief Investigator: Dr Hannah Soong

Funding Amount: $33,452

Recipient: University of South Australia


Evidence linking the benefits of parents’ educational aspirations to their children’s academic outcomes, particularly first-generation migrant parents, is hard to ignore. However, most of the research has primarily focused on middle to upper income backgrounds, as well as migrant parents with good education background. By contrast, this project will investigate the role of educational aspirations of parents from refugee background on their children’s education, from primary schooling to tertiary level. This research will highlight the importance of integrating refugee parenting cultural practices to assist schools in developing culturally and linguistically responsive relationships matched to the needs of their students.

Research Outcomes:

Researchers: Hannah Soong, Rebecca-Reid Nguyen, David Radford, Alison Wrench, Heidi Hetz

Research Completed: 2022

Research Findings: Research into the educational success of refugee youth links curricula, pedagogical practices and English language proficiency as enabling resources for positive academic and employment outcomes. However, little attention has been given to the aspirations of refugee youth in achieving these outcomes or to the enabling role their parents play, as typically they are associated with illiteracy and other skill deficits. This research gives voice to 50 refugee young adults, children and their parents as they reflect on the factors that have shaped their aspiration, and success in settlement outcomes. The study is significant in presenting strong evidence of our contemporary diverse intergenerational population, showcasing alongside established refugee communities a resilient pattern of culturally and linguistic diversity in settling in Australia.

Key Outcomes:

Refugees struggle to find meaningful employment in Australia. In 2010, the Refugee Council of Australia found people who came to Australia on refugee or humanitarian visas remained “the worst off of the migrant visa groups” when it came to employment. Around 12% were unemployed 18 months after arrival, compared to 8% of those who came on family visas.

Education – and particularly opportunities for university education – gives people with a refugee background the means to significantly improve their lives and socioeconomic status. People with refugee backgrounds hope for a better life for their children than the one they had, and they see education as crucial step in this journey. But we know little about the role refugee parents play in influencing their children’s educational and long-term success.

This research focused on refugee families whose children performed well in school and university. We interviewed 50 refugee parents, children and their teachers to find out whether particular values of refugee families influenced the children educationally. We found parents who took the refugee journey to secure a good life for their family indirectly influenced their children to work hard like they did, and to strive for the kind of life denied to them.

The parents who participated in the research varied in their levels of education – from no formal schooling to having a PhD. Most parents did the interview in their first language with either a professional interpreter, a bilingual school services officer or an adult child interpreting. The refugee parents generally had high hopes for the opportunities education could provide for their children because they were denied the right to it in their home country or in refugee camps. From the interviews with the children, we found the parents’ high values around education motivated their children to put more effort into learning. The children, both at a younger age and as adults, were very aware of their parents’ impact on their ability to achieve well academically. But the parental motivation didn’t cross over into pressure.

Refugee parents have barriers to getting involved in their child’s education in the same way local parents do. For instance, some local parents volunteer in learning activities or attend informal meetings about school-related issues. They may help with homework and regularly meet with their child’s teacher. Refugee parents often face cultural and language barriers when it comes to these ways of offering support. But they act as indirect influences in their children’s lives. They do so through raising a child in a family with a history of taking risks for a more secure and better life, and one that regularly communicates this shared history and the aspirations that come from it with their children. In this way, children are more likely to confidently pursue their own aspirations while valuing those of their parents. They are intrinsically self-motivated with a strong belief in their own abilities.

Research Papers:

  • Submitted for publication

Soong, H., H. Hetz, D. Radford, A. Wrench, R. Reid-Nguyen, and B. Lucas (submitted on 22 March 2021) Intergenerational aspirations for educational and employment success of refugee youth in International Journal of Inclusive Education.

  • Report
  • Soong, H, Reid-Nguyen, R, Radford, D, Hetz, H, Lucas, B and Wrench, A 2021, Intergenerational refugee aspirations and academic success: from uncertain pasts to promising futures Final Report, University of South Australia, Adelaide.

ISBN: 978-1-922046-36-9001: http//

                Weblink for report and resources:

  • Soong, H, Reid-Nguyen, R, Radford, D, Hetz, H, Lucas, B and Wrench, A 2021, Intergenerational refugee aspirations and academic success: from uncertain pasts to promising futures Final Report, University of South Australia, Adelaide. DOI: http//

A video series, ‘Refugee-background young people talk about aspirations and educational success’ has been developed as a resource to facilitate reflection and discussion with educators, pre-service teachers, students and parents.

The series includes:

  • the main resource, a 9-minute compilation of five refugee-background young adults
  • a 3-minute video of one tertiary student of Hazara-Australian ethnicity
  • 5 extended videos; one of each of the participants.

The videos can be accessed via the following YouTube link:

Since the release of the ‘Intergenerational Refugee Aspiration and Academic Success’ Research Report and Video Series, I have been interviewed by Ticker News and Radio Adelaide.

I was interviewed in – Radio Adelaide’s – Packed Lunch at 12.05pm on Tuesday 23 November. You can listen back on the Packed Lunch page of Radio Adelaide to the episode featuring my chat with the interviewer at any time by clicking on Tues Nov 23 and then ‘Listen back’. The interview chat starts from 09:30 and finishes at 29:40. The interviewer was featured on the Radio Adelaide webpage.

The Conversation (released on 15 Dec 2021)

Also, I have received news from The Conversation today that the Editor is going to feature our research. It is an 800 word summary of our research findings and the piece entitled ‘We asked refugee parents and children what drives their education. Here’s what they told us.’ Click here to the link:  

  • Unpublished papers;

Soong, H., H. Hetz, D. Radford, A. Wrench, and R. Reid-Nguyen (unfinished) Intergenerational aspirations for post-secondary success of refugee youth. To be submitted to Higher Education Research and Development

  • Conference presentations arising from this research project.

Soong, H., A. Wrench, D. Radford, R. Reid-Nguyen and H. Hetz. The affective entanglements of being aspirational: Narratives of refugee young adults about their parents and life-history in Australian Association Research in Education Conference 2022.

Related Publications:

Future Outcomes:

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