inclusive education, refugee children with disabilities, special education

A New Pathway for Inclusive Education: Dr. Robert Williamson on Refugee Children with Dis/Abilities

September 12, 2023
by Quincy Wang

Dr. Robert Williamson is an associate professor in the Faculty of Education at Simon Fraser University. His research focuses on inclusive education from the perspectives of individual diverse students, families, and the community. Currently, Dr. Williamson's research activities concentrate on examining the educational experiences of refugee children with dis/abilities, their families and those that teach them within forced migration contexts. By giving equal value to individual-level impacts as well as broader societal impacts, he is actively contributing to positive changes in inclusive education.

Extending his research into inclusive education, Dr. Robert Williamson is principal investigator for a SSHRC Partnership Development project: Pathways to Education: An International Study to Understand the Educational Experiences of Refugee Children with Dis/abilities. This project seeks to understand the experiences of refugee children with dis/abilities and identify any unmet needs and practices related to the provision of, and access to, educational services for these children. Dr. Williamson and the research leadership team including Dr. Susan Barber, Dr. Inna Stepaniuk, Dr. Ching-Chiu Lin and other academic leaders from across the globe have explored in depth the educational experiences of refugee children with disabilities (RCDs) and the uniquely complex intersections impacting their needs.

Given the growing recognition of a global refugee crisis and increasing awareness of the migration-related risks children face, Dr. Williamson responded to this complex problem by choosing three international research sites: Kazakhstan, Jordan, and Canada. This approach builds transverse global-local connections for enriched shared resources, a range of scholarly thought, and innovative solutions to address the needs of refugee children with dis/abilities. More importantly, this research has an international impact by highlighting how educational success for RDCs has profound sociocultural, political, and economic implications—not only for Canada but also other countries.

With Dr. Williamson’s leadership, this project is enriching research into inclusive education, synthesizing insights that enable a better shared global understanding of the concept itself while also supporting the education of RCDs where ever they reside. Further, his research serves to refine educational theories in special education. By conducting cross-sectional and site-specific analyses, Dr. Williamson presents “needs maps” that can facilitate the development of inclusive curricula and teaching methodologies for K–12 educators. The research team also hope their findings will inform emerging educational practices and be efficiently and effectively applied to educational services.

Dr. Williamson and his team also led other major research activities based on this research, including two symposiums in Vancouver during February and April 2023 that brought together research partners, experts, educators, and researchers. Both symposiums focused on critical topics concerning forcibly displaced or relocated children with dis/abilities and addressed two key research topics: first, the experiences of RCDs, their families, and their teachers regarding access to and engagement with education; second, the use of interdisciplinary and international cooperative research methods for studying this population, as opposed to site- and discipline-specific approaches. Research participants also visited local Canadian schools and community-support sites such as Burnaby, New Westminster, and Mission district schools. These visits enabled first-hand observations of displaced children with dis/abilities and offered valuable insights into the systems, processes, and philosophies that underpin Canada's approach to inclusive education.

"These two symposiums changed the way we understand the complex issues affecting the education of refugee children with dis/abilities,” says Dr. Williamson. "They also provided us with a new perspective and deepened our understanding of the educational journeys of RCDs, which helped identify areas for improvement by drawing on evidence-informed practices and policies across very diverse international contexts."

Dr. Williamson’s commitment to valuing both individual experiences and broader societal influences—as well as conducting international, interdisciplinary research through partnerships—not only underscores the possibilities for efficient collaboration but encourages knowledge dissemination, advancing interdisciplinary research methods and informing future efforts and directions for refugee studies. His research embodies the transformative power of research when driven by empathy, collaboration, and a commitment to inclusivity. As his work continues to resonate and guide, its influence will undoubtedly permeate educational practices, policies, and societies, fostering a more inclusive and equitable world for all.