CEO message: Responding to the needs of students from refugee and migrant backgrounds during COVID-19

With the State of Emergency extended until 11 May, and many Victorian students commencing Term 2 via remote learning last week, one of the key challenges for young people and families we work with is accessing the support they need to learn from home.

The latest information on learning from home can be found here:

The Victorian Government last week announced a suite of measures to support primary and secondary school students, including providing a safe place to learn at school where learning from home is not an option; loaning laptops and tablets to students who don’t have access to digital technologies; and providing free internet access for students who need it most.

Digital inclusion is critical to ensure every young Victorian stays safe, connected and healthy during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond.

Many young Victorians from refugee and migrant backgrounds experience socio-economic disadvantage alongside other factors that place them at risk of digital exclusion. In the current health emergency, as essential services such as education and health shift online, this vulnerability is exacerbated and must be addressed immediately.

Key concerns include a lack of access to digital technology and data in the home to support regular and reliable connection and digital participation; and poor digital literacy, including among key supporters in the home such as parents and carers, limiting digital support and guidance, and placing young people at greater risk online.

CMY welcomes the Victorian Government announcement that it will work to meet the digital technology and data needs of students to support their shift to online learning due to COVID-19. However, we are concerned that schools may not have the information or resources at hand to be able to quickly and adequately identify those young people and families with needs in these areas.

As such, we recommend the Government explore how they could support schools to:

  • Assess the access and support needs of young people from refugee and migrant backgrounds as a priority. This assessment would go beyond technology and data needs to understand the capability of others in the household to support the online learning needs of young people. This information could be used to develop targeted online educational support for these young people and/or to support a discussion with the young person and the family about other support options (e.g. online homework clubs or tutors), or even the possibility of the young person physically attending school.
  • Connect in with organisations and services, including settlement services, youth services and community organisations which are closely connected with communities from refugee and migrant backgrounds, to ensure families and young people with digital access and support needs are not overlooked and get the most appropriate support for their situation.

To address their needs, young Victorians from refugee and migrant backgrounds urgently require:

1. Priority access to technology and data for school-age young people from refugee and migrant backgrounds and their families.

2. Assistance to young people not currently enrolled in school in Victoria to access the technology and data required to remain safe, connected and healthy. 

3. Access to additional supports to ensure the digital literacy gap between parents/carers does not impact on learning and connectivity by supporting homework clubs and other key out-of-school learning supports, including in the tertiary sector, to transition to online formats.

CMY’s Education team continues to provide advice and support to homework clubs and learning support programs, with many in the process of adapting their programs to provide much-needed additional support to students from migrant and refugee backgrounds who are navigating online learning. For resources and upcoming webinars in Online Tutoring Strategies and Creating a Child-Safe OSHLSP Online, visit our website or contact our team on

Some of our program staff who have been working in school settings are now focused on working alongside schools to adapt our programs in a way that aligns with the new learning environment, so that we are able to continue to support students at risk of disengaging from education.

It is absolutely critical that schools and community organisations are adequately supported to respond to the complex learning needs of students from migrant and refugee backgrounds and their families during the COVID-19 crisis. Many of our newly-arrived communities and students with English as an Additional Language are already struggling with the demands of school; the move to remote learning and digital platforms only exacerbates the existing challenges they face.

From overcrowding and a lack of adequate space to study without distraction, to having multiple students in one family needing to access a single digital device; the challenges of “learning from home” are overwhelming for many migrant families, before the learning has even begun. These issues may be compounded by the stress of families having to deal with loss of income or changes in employment due to COVID-19.

We must ensure in all of this, that no young person is left behind; that all young Victorians have access to the technology, support and guidance they need to continue their learning, and to stay connected, safe and healthy.

Check out the COVID-19 Resources page of our website for the latest info, updates and resources to support young people through COVID-19.