Pamela Clark, Stephen Cruikshank, Jenna
Hopping & Holly Jones
What are the first things that come to
mind when you think of Afghanistan
& its culture?
“Afghanistan is multicultural &
It is important to get to know the background of
your students.
With Afghan Refugee ELLs, it is important to
realize just how much diversity is within their home
country, Afghanistan.
Afghanistan has 22 different ethnicities living within
it, with various languages & religions.
 Pashtuns make up largest percent of Afghanistan’s
population and have traditionally been the dominant group.
They reside mostly in the South.
 Tajiks make up the second largest group and reside mostly
in the North.
 Some of the other smaller ethnic groups include Hazaras,
Nuristanis, Uzbekis and Turkmen.
Since 1992 there has been polarization between the Pashtuns
(who are a large part of the Taliban movement) and the
other ethnicities (many of whom are part of the Northern
It is important for teachers to
understand that due to a long
history of discrimination, division
and civil wars, there are still
tensions between various
Afghanistan ethnicities.
“Afghanistan has never
had a strongly unified
national culture and war
has led to further
A young Pashtun girl.
 Just as there are many ethnicities amongst the Afghan
people, there are a few different religions.
 The main religion is that of Islam, and the majority of the
people are Muslims (84% Sunnites and about 15% Shiites).
 There are also small groups of Sikhs, Parsis, Jewish and
Hindus in Afghanistan.
 Afghanistan is a very religious society and Islam is a
unifying force within the country and both lifestyles and
culture are influenced by it.
 Many disputes are settled in Mosques by the community
 An important figure in most communities is the Mullah, a
male religious leader who has many crucial duties such as
teaching others about the ideas of Islam.
Important Cultural Aspects &
Beliefs for Educators to know
about their Afghan Refugee
 Some groups in Afghanistan are egalitarian while others
are based on a hierarchy.
 Social stratification can occur amongst classes, different
religions and ethnic groups.
 Family is very important within Afghan society. There are
very strong community and blood ties. Honouring the
family and community are top priorities.
In order to better understand some important
things about their students, educators should
know the gender roles within Afghan culture.
•Afghanistan is a very male-dominated
society & traditionally there are quite
strict gender roles within society.
 The public realm is typically the domain
of men and the domestic realm is the
domain of women.
 Women’s duties are to take care of the
children, take care of the home and
sometimes create weavings and other
 Both urban and rural men are traditionally
not supposed to stay home during the day.
•Women face many obstacles if they try to study or work
or even get health care.
•Women are supposed to be modest and obey the wishes
of male figures (husbands, fathers, brothers).
•Women are also left out
of governmental decision
•Despite these traditions,
many rural women play
important roles and are
less secluded than the
urban women.
It is important for Educators to get to know these
cultural beliefs of their students because with this
knowledge comes a better understanding of who
your students are and where they have come from.
Knowledge of their religion, ethnicity, social
relationships and gender roles can help educators
better prepare for accommodating these students
in their classrooms.
1/4 Afghan youths in Toronto thought about committing suicide
16% have hurt themselves or tried to end their lives
these numbers double that of mainstream Canadian youth
majority suffer from emotional wounds left by homeland wars and
repeated migrations in search of safety
11% suffer post traumatic stress disorder
1/5 belong to a gang
1/5 have been expelled or suspended from school, mostly for fighting
1/3 showed symptoms of anxiety
15% showed signs of depression
15% always reported experiencing racism/ Islamophobia in school
only 9% reported getting help
based on a survey of 211 youth age 12-18 from GTA
These statistics are why so many of those youth turned to gangs,
for protection, safety, and a response to bullying and racism.
Majority reported not seeking proper help for their symptoms and
feelings because of shame, embarrassment, pride, and a lack of
community counseling services offering linguistic sensitive
As teachers and future teachers we need to educate the
community and link up with proper programing and counseling
services for these youth.
Developing Resilience in Afghan
Refugee Children
So why did only some youth in that survey have such negative symptoms?
A study was published in 2010 by researchers from Edmonton in a Canadian city
as to why some students survive and thrive in the face of adversity and some do
They studied 7 children between the ages of 13-17, 5 female and 2 male.
Each participant was born in Afghanistan, entered Canada through Pakistan, had
lived in Canada for at least 2 years and had a firm grasp of the English language.
Photo conversations were had with participants describing the most important
people, objects or celebrations in their lives.
Keeping up with school work
-Students learned basic English while in transition living in Pakistan
however, this is very different from academic subject area English
-In some cases, students were taking different subjects at different grade
levels which was challenging both socially and academically
-Students found it challenging to listen and write at the same time
Making Friends
-Students said it would have been easier to make friends if they were
younger, hard to make friends once in high school
-Friends they had made in Pakistan that were also refugees now lived on
the other side of the city
Common themes found in all children’s responses:
-Believed they were in control on the events in their lives
-Viewed change as an opportunity for growth
-Had the presence of caring adults in their lives during or after
times of stress
-Had routines they followed to stabilize the chaos following a crisis
-Treasured their own identities and integrated with other cultures
-Were involved in volunteer work in their spare time and believed in
the importance of helping others
Provide safe, non threatening environments
Strengthen skills of teachers, facilitators, counselors etc who work with
refugee children to adapt to the Canadian school system by: learning the
language, understand the Canadian accent, getting used to Canadian
teaching strategies
Collaborate with religious community or civil society ex: volunteers etc
Stress the importance of interdependency of family to support children
Facilitate integration with other cultures in Canada
Edmonton Afghan Charitable Society
People of Edmonton Afghan Society
Facebook Page
Edmonton Afghan Youth Group
Facebook Page
Catholic Social Services
-Cross Cultural Counseling
-Host Program
-Host Program Homework Club
-Newcomer Children and Youth Program
-Youth Support and Homework Club Program
Edmonton Immigration Services Association
-Bridge 2-Success Program for Newcomer Students
-Summer Camps
-Global Youth Network
-In School Settlement Program
Millwoods Welcome Center for Immigrants
-ESL classes
-Computer Classes
-Youth Education and Counseling Programs
Throughout history education has been used to
“promote political and/or religious viewpoints and to
strengthen positions of power” (Jones, 2007, p. 27).
 After winning their independence from the British
Empire in 1919 Afghanistan began to move to
modernize their society, this included their education
 For a period of time education was promoted and
provided to all children including girls.
 Although this can be seen as a positive move it created
a division between the generation that had access to
this new education system and the previous
(Yukitoshi, 2008, p. 66).
 During the ‘New Democracy’ period (1963–1973) the
education system was expanded and resulted in more
than 60% of graduates coming from families where the
parents had little or no formal education.
 This further widened the emotional and social distance
between generations.
 There were not enough jobs for these new graduates
 “Disconnected from traditional background, youth were
more inclined to accept foreign ideologies” (p. 67).
(Yukitoshi, 2008, p. 66-67)
 Tension between those who accept the communist and Islamic ideas
escalated to violence.
“Pedagogy of violence” became more explicit
Education became a “battlefield” where teaching violence was accepted
“The ruling communist government as well as the opposition
Mujahidin (holy warriors) used education as a ‘weapon’ in order to
achieve their respective goals” (p. 67)
Both groups use textbooks to reinforce their ideologies throughout the
1980s and 1990s
 Example:
 “One group of Mujahidin attack 50 Russian soldiers. In that
attack 20 Russians were killed. How many Russians fled?” (p.
 During the transition from the soviet rule to the rise of the
Taliban there were repeated collapses of the formal
education system.
 These collapses resulted in parents using madrasas (Islamic
theological schools) which then supplied young troops to the
 The ideologies of the Taliban, a puritan Islam had been drummed
into them and gave their lives meaning.
(Yukitoshi, 2008, p. 67)
 After the end of Soviet rule many people were resistant to
schools because the associated them with a communist
regime that played down Islamic values.
 Continued use of violent text books
 Social studies was removed from the curriculum in 2000 because
some ideas were against the teachings of Islam (Jones, 2009, p.
Girls were no longer allowed to attend schools. This policy was
backed by conservative readings of Islamic texts.
So while the boys were being taught with messages of violence and
hate, the girls were being denied education in a way that is
disempowering and silencing.
The education system was designed to create “good member of the
new Islamic Emirate (Jones, 2009, p. 115).
The Taliban’s education system resulted in generation that have
either been unable to be educated or exposed to a pedagogy of
(Yukitoshi, 2008, p. 67)
Since 2001 there has been an emphasis on “educational
access and equity … for all – girls as well as boys”
(Jones, 2009, p. 113)
 The new curriculum “emphasizes that ‘when young
people enter the world of work, as a result of the
implementation of the new curriculum, they will be
good Muslims, civilized human beings and true, selfreliant Afghans’” (Jones, 2009, p. 116)
 The Taliban Leadership Council has threatened to
attack schools because of curriculum.
 They feel that there is too much governmental and
foreign influences.
 In 2007 the Taliban opened schools in southern
Afghanistan that would use the 1980s’ mujahideen
 The Life skills curriculum is for Grades 1-3
 The program seeks to teach young Afghani citizens
skills to achieve peace, justice and equality.
 Life Skill is taught in the early grades to increase the
amount of children who are exposed to peace ideology
 This peace curriculum may not be able to succeed
while it is being taught in an environment of poverty
and war.
(Jones, 2009. p. 118)
 Taught in Grade 4 – 6
 Has elements in common with the mujahideen
curriculum but also includes peace and civic topics.
 Teaches that military presence is needed for peace.
 Existence of Justice
(Jones, 2009. p. 119)
 Opposition to new curriculum have sent threatening
letters demanding changes.
 One letter demanded a girls school to be closed
 “They are teaching infidel books to girls and we don’t
want these girls to become infidels” (p. 117)
 As teachers of students who are Afghan refugees or
immigrants it is important to understand how previous
experience can effect their willingness to engage.
 Some of their parents may feel resistant to schooling
 They see it as a way for the government to teach their ideals.
 They did not have access and therefore do not value it.
 If the child is a girl they may be fearful for her physical and
spiritual wellbeing.
 The curriculum may not be consistent with their beliefs.
 Understand background to L2 acquisition challenges.
 Language is a large part of culture; therefore
understanding of language background can help with
understanding cultural challenges as well.
 Challenges: How in depth can teachers research be
expected to go?
 Pashto is an Iranian language and one of the two
principal languages in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is
viewed as second in social prestige to Dari language,
and has no official status.
Estimated 9.94 million Speakers in Afghanistan.
Spoken in Pakistan (est. 14,000,000 native speakers).
Spoken in Iran (est. 50,000 native speakers)
Pashto Speakers = "Pashtuns". It is only in the last 50
years that the term "Afghan" has come to refer to
residents of Afghanistan.
 Dari refers to the language known as “Persian”, also
called “Farsi”, or “Parsi”.
 Official language of Iran, Tajikistan, and Afghanistan.
Approx. 14.2 million Speakers.
 Estimated half the population of Afghanistan speaks a
dialect of Dari.
 Influenced by Arabic and Persian loan-words, and
some by Turkish and English.
Dari literature and poetry is one of the richest in
the world having a long history of writings.
* In Afghan culture there is a strong appreciation of
poetry and song.
Appreciation of Creativity through Arts and Crafts,
(weaking work, rugs/carpets, silk industry.
**- Can this be useful for teaching integration
- By Dari Poet Jualaluddin Rumi
Who makes these changes?
I shoot an arrow right.
It lands left.
I ride after a deer and find myself
chased by a hog.
I plot to get what I want
and end up in prison.
I dig pits to trap others
and fall in.
I should be suspicious
of what I want.
 Literacy rate among Afghan
Pashtuns has always been very
low (about 5%)
 Literacy rate of Pashto & Dari is
estimated to be around 21%.
(More Dari literate speakers,
than Pashto).
 (How would this effect teaching
English to Afghan refugees?)
 **How can knowledge of
literacy rates help us as
PASHTO: 3 Primary dialects: (1)
Kandahar (western) dialect, (2) Kabul
(central) dialect, (3) Ningrahar (eastern
DARI: Ethnic groups (various dialects):
Tajiks, Hazara, Farsiwan, Aimaq).
 * Note: There is danger with
Ethnic/ Language
Distribution in Afghanistan
 Pashtun: 42%
 Tajik: 27%
ethnic grouping:
 Hazara: 9%
“Nowadays, an increasing emphasis
on ethnicity has dismayed many of
the country’s educated citizens, who
still see themselves as ‘Afghans’,
rather than as Pashtun, Tajik, or
Hazara: they say that it is the
politicians who have divided the
people, in order to rule them.”
(Afghanistan, Johnson, p.8)
 Uzbek: 9%
 Aimak: 4%
 Turkmen: 3%
 Baloch: 2%
 other: 4%
•Pashto belongs to the Indo-European family of languages.
•Dari is a branch of the Indo-Iranian languages.
 Example of Pashto
 Example of Dari
 Written with a variant of the Arabic alphabet and uses a number of
Arabic words, but is not related to Arabic or Turkic languages. Arabic
letters are used, but dots are added to allow the writing of sounds like
"p" and "g" and other more specialized sounds.
 Type of writing system: abjad - includes letters only for consonants.
Vowels, when indicated, are written with diacritics and/or
combinations of consonant letters.
 Direction of writing: right to left in horizontal lines; numerals written
from left to right.
 Dari language and Pashto and Persian speakers share a lot of words and
similarities but will not understand each other.
English: 5 Vowel symbols; 21 Consonants
Pashto: 9 Vowel symbols; 32 Consonants
Dari: 6 Vowel symbols; 23 Consonants
 Consonant clusters -Pashto uses a lot more consonant
clusters than English, incorporating up to 3
consonants before and after the vowel.
 English: 32 Double consonant clusters
 Pashto: Over 100!
- Follows those used in languages written in Arabic
 *THINK: How do differences in grammar of Pashto& Dari affect
learning ability of L2?
 ** Unlike English, there is no standardization in the Pashto language. There are
no universally accepted rules for spelling and punctuation, and many speakers
have never had formal instructions in Pashto.
 Nouns: Feminine & Masculine nouns
 Adjectives: Feminine and Masculine alternatives.
 Pashto Verb system: 5 Tenses; English =12 tenses, 17 (French, Spanish)
 Verb conjugations: (Dari) Subjunctive, perfect, pluperfect ( similar amount as
that of French, Spanish)
 Case Markings: eg/ Accusative Case –Explains the object of the sentence.
 Questions: Uses intonation much like English, to relay question.
 Prepositions: Act similar to that of English.
 Syntax: The sentence structure does not follow even close to the
structure of English. This is where the primary learning challenges for
English learners may arise.
 For example a directly translated sentence of Pashto may read as such:
 "of Asad those five other very big books"
Meaning: "Those other five very big books of Asad's."
 The manner of expressing ideas may also differ:
 "Pashto very with heart like language is"
Meaning: "Pashto is an interesting language.”
 Jones, A. (2009). Curriculum and civil society in
Afghanistan. Harvard Educational Review, 79(1), 113 –
 Jones, A. (2007). Muslim and Western Influences on
school curriculum in post-war Afghanistan. Asia
Pacific Journal of Education, 27(1), p. 27-40.
 Yukitoshi, M. (2008). Education for demilitarizing
youth in post-conflict Afghanistan. Research in
Comparative and International Education, 3(1), p. 6578.
Understanding your refugee and immigrant students : an
educational, cultural, and linguistic guide
Flaitz, Jeffra

Afghan Refugee ELLs