New Zealand's First Refugees: Pahiatua's Polish Children
Age on arrival appears to have a marked effect on later educational success in all the ethnic groups surveyed. The highest number of those who left school with no formal qualifications arrived in New Zealand at 11 years old or more. While this conclusion is obvious in Graph 3, it may not be a true reflection of the situation concerning refugees as a whole, as many of the respondents in this group came from the former Polish children refugees.
The social attitudes and economic climate of the time encouraged young people to leave school and join the workforce at an early age. If the survey had gained more responses from arrivals in the 1970s and 1980s, then the proportion of those who gained no formal qualifications would, I believe, be lower. This is because of different social attitudes, particularly concerning the importance of education (as well as the increased awareness of the needs of refugee children) in more recent decades.
It seems logical to assume that, compared with refugees who arrive in New Zealand at a very young age, those who arrive late in their childhood will have greater difficulty in gaining educational qualifications. However, this survey indicates that age is not an overriding factor in determining whether or not new arrivals are going to enter the workplace with formal training and qualifications behind them.
Graph 4 reveals that an insignificant number of respondents in all ethnic groups were displaced for less than two years. Many were four or five years between the time they left their native country and their arrival in New Zealand. During this time, very few received regular schooling or had the opportunity to study English. Despite these handicaps and compounded by page 349their inability to speak or understand English, these children have gone on to make an enormous contribution in all spheres of New Zealand society. There is no indication, from this survey, that the length of displacement time has a marked effect on later educational achievement.
It is also significant that, of the 120 respondents, 77 had gained some form of qualification after leaving secondary school. All these children had to overcome considerable barriers to learning. Their trauma of displacement, culture shock, language difficulties and financial constraints means that every bit of educational success was hard won through diligence and effort. Refugee parents are acutely aware that education is the way forward for their children and there is a high level of commitment given to learning.
New Zealand has given sanctuary to refugees for more than half a century. This survey is just a glimpse of the total picture. It has relied on voluntary responses of former refugee children and is likely to be biased in favour of the high achievers who were more likely to be interested in contributing and more willing to respond. However, it is clear that refugees have given (and are still giving) New Zealand society greater diversity and continue to make significant economic, social and cultural contributions to the country.