Language for an Unknowable Future: How Language Shapes the Lives of Refugee Children
Celia Reddick

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



Harvard University

Primary Discipline

Millions of children globally are displaced from their homes and face the challenge of attending school in languages they don’t understand. Despite this crisis, there is little research about the implications of linguistic displacement for growing populations of refugee children seeking education. My dissertation addresses this critical gap, examining how language-in-education policies—and particularly those privileging English—influence refugee children’s relationships to school, self, and home, and the ways their experiences of language at school may differ from those imagined by education policymakers. As a comparative case study conducted in Kampala, Uganda, my dissertation integrates three primary sources of data: 1) ethnographic observations across schools and NGO/government convenings; 2) analysis of global and national policies related to refugee education; 3) semi-structured interviews with Sudanese and South Sudanese refugee families, Ugandan teachers working in integrated schools, and policymakers intervening in refugee education. Preliminary findings reveal tensions related to language and refugee status: refugee children are expected to put aside home languages and achieve membership in exile through English, the language of power in the region. In response, families seek opportunity through linguistic assimilation, often at the expense of languages and cultural knowledge that are central to relationships with family left behind and aspirations for return. But emerging findings also reveal practices that can mitigate the profound loss of language, culture, and home that refugee families face while still enabling opportunity in exile, with lasting implications for research and policy to support some of the world’s most vulnerable learners.
About Celia Reddick
Celia Reddick is a Ph.D. Candidate in Education (Cultures, Institutions, and Society) at Harvard University. Through a comparative case study research design, Celia examines the ways that language-in-education policies and practices at school shape refugee families’ experiences of exile and their aspirations for the future. Drawing on field work conducted in Uganda, Celia integrates national and global policy analysis related to language and refugee education, ethnographic school-based observations, and interviews with refugee families, educators, and policymakers to understand the implications of language-in-education for refugee families’ present- and future-building.Celia’s research is informed by her experience as a teacher and teacher-educator. Prior to beginning doctoral work, Celia was a high school English teacher to newcomer students in New York City. Thereafter, she worked with teachers in Uganda and with clinicians and educators in Rwanda, collaborative work that continues to inform her approach to research and teaching. She also designed and teaches the graduate course Language and History at School: Colonialism and Neocolonialism in Education Development in Africa at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE), was an Editor and Co-Chair of the Harvard Educational Review (2016-2018) and is an affiliate of HGSE’s Refugee REACH. Her research can be found in the Comparative Education Review and the Journal on Education in Emergencies. Celia holds an M.Ed. in International Education Policy from HGSE, an M.Sc. in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) from Lehman College, and a B.A. in the College of Letters and German Studies from Wesleyan University.

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