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The School and Labour Market Transitions of African Youth in Canada

Borrowed with permission from Adventure4Change

On average, immigrants tend to be better educated than non-immigrant Canadians, an outcome that is at least partly due to Canada’s immigrant selection rules in the economic stream, which favour education. It is therefore often taken for granted in policy and academic literature that the adolescent children of immigrants will have a seamless, linear trajectory from high school to postsecondary education and, ultimately, the labour market. Yet some groups of immigrant youth, including Black youth from Continental Africa – especially those with refugee backgrounds – have been found to achieve lower academic standards, study in lower streams, drop out at higher rates, and enter university in lower proportions (Abada, Hou, & Ram, 2008; Anisef et al, 2008; Sweet et al, 2010; TDSB, 2014). This is of critical importance to the lives of African youth as school performance has a significant impact on their choices when entering the labour market.

As African scholars and allies at Wilfrid Laurier University, we anecdotally observed disproportionately high drop out rates among African immigrant youth in our personal and professional lives. Determined to address the issue, in 2015-2017 our research team conducted a SSHRC Insight Development-funded study of the challenges faced by male African immigrant youth when attempting to access the support they need to make informed decisions about postsecondary education (university, college, trades) in Ontario. The study revealed that school-level programs that prepare students for the transition to postsecondary education (PSE) are critical for African immigrant youth whose parents often lack familiarity with the Canadian education systems and labour market. However, we found that the existing supports are inadequate, and often impede racialized African students’ ability to fulfil their postsecondary goals (Wilson-Forsberg et al, 2018; Wilson-Forsberg et al, 2019; Shizha et al, 2020).

This study has since evolved into an interdisciplinary community-engaged national research program housed in the Tshepo Institute for the Study of Contemporary Africa.

The specific goals of the research program are as follows:

  • To further our understanding of the educational and labour market experiences of African youth with immigrant and refugee backgrounds in Canada;
  • To promote the use of participatory and community-engaged research methodologies in age-appropriate and culturally respectful ways with the intention of building youth’s capacities, confidence and reinforcing their agency over decision-making;
  • To learn how educational systems can be strengthened to support Black youth; 
  • To share key research messages with a range of actors in academic, government, and non-governmental sectors.

Research Projects

Contact Us:

Stacey Wilson-Forsberg, Director


Oliver Masakure, Associate Director