Assadullah Sadiq Dissertation Proposal

Assadullah Sadiq will present the proposal for his dissertation, “Language and Literacy from the Periphery: Understanding the Language and Literacy Practices of Afghan Refugees in Pakistan” on Thursday, August 10. All are welcome to attend.

Date: Thursday, August 10
Time: 1:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m.
Location: Ponderosa Multipurpose Room

Supervisory Committee: Drs. Jim Anderson and Marianne McTavish (Co-Supervisors) and Dr. Marlene Asselin (Committee Member).


This study seeks to explore the language and literacy practices of Afghan refugees living in their first asylum country of Pakistan. I will employ ethnographic methods to document the language and literacy activities and events that young children and adults in four Afghan refugee families engage in at home, in the community, and in the case of children, at school.

Most refugees resettled in North America and Europe come from countries neighboring their conflict or disaster affected country, rather than their country of origin (Dryden-Peterson, 2016). However, there is a lack of literature on “where or if refugees find education” (Uptin et al. 2013, p. 603) in these countries. The educational experiences of refugees in their first asylum country (the country that they move to prior to resettling permanently in Canada, the USA, etc.) remain a void or a “black box” (Dryden-Peterson, 2016). Recently, educators and scholars have called for greater and more nuanced understanding of refugees’ educational experiences in their countries of first asylum (Gahungu, et al, 2011; Isik-Ercan, 2012; Prior & Niesz, 2013) as little is known about how these educational experiences affect refugees educational experiences upon permanent resettlement (Dryden-Peterson, 2016). Thus, there is a pressing need for research with children and their families in their country of first asylum in order to understand refugee children’s literacy learning at home and at school, their experiences in school including their relationships with teachers, and their psychosocial needs, as these factors can affect their academic performance and success in life in the country of permanent settlement, such as Canada (Dryden-Peterson, 2015).

For many Afghan refugees, Pakistan serves as the country of first asylum. Pakistan hosts 1.5 million Afghan refugees, making it the second largest refugee-hosting country in the world (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR 2015). Afghan refugees are “one of the largest and longest displaced populations in the world” (UNHCR, 2015, p. 3). However, there is a dearth of studies that have explored Afghan refugees’ educational experiences or children’s language and literacy learning in first asylum countries, leaving educators in resettlement countries, who may have different orientations to teaching and learning ( Purcell-Gates, 2007) at a loss when working with Afghan refugees. Consequently, educators in the west may attribute Afghan children’s struggle (or failure) in school to deficiencies in the children themselves or in their families (e.g., Taylor 1993) and not that the struggles many refugees face in school are affected by their educational experiences in first asylum countries. Understanding Afghan children’s educational experiences in Pakistan is imperative, considering that the three decades of war in Afghanistan “has led to the education of successive generation of refugee children being disrupted, discontinued or forgotten” (UNHCR, 2015, p.3). Today, Afghanistan and Afghan refugees in Pakistan have one of the lowest literacy rates in the world and many families are unschooled or have few experiences with school.

This study is informed by sociocultural theory (Rogoff, 2003; Vgotsky, 1978) and the central tenet that learning is shaped by historical, cultural and social context. The study also will incorporate Bronfenbrenner’s (2005; 2000; 1979) bioecological theory in which children’s learning and development is conceptualized as occurring in nested systems (like Russian dolls). These nested systems range from the microsystem (the system closest to the developing person, such as the home, school or community) to the macrosystem (the cultural values, laws, or customs). Thus, even more distal systems structures influence more proximal ones, and eventually affects the individual. For example, children growing up in countries affected by war will experience different kind of learning and development compared to children who grow up in countries free of war.

In addition to contributing to theory, this study will contribute to our understanding of Afghan refugee families’ literacy practices. Furthermore, it will add to the limited literature on refugees’ pre-settlement educational experiences.