Case Study: Van*

Fifteen-year-old Van was born in Burma. He arrived in Australia six years ago with his mother and sister (aged nine). Van had no formal schooling prior to arriving in Australia.

When he was seven, Van’s village was attacked, and he saw his father and older brother killed. He hid in the jungle with his mother and younger sister Sui. They were separated from his grandparents and older sister, and Van doesn’t know what happened to them.

Since arriving in Australia, Van’s mother has been at home taking care of his sister. She wants to help her children with their schooling and homework but finds it difficult due to her own lack of English and knowledge of the Australian education system. Now that his sister has started school, Van’s mother has found casual work as a cleaner. This means Van has taken on more responsibility for his younger sister.

The ongoing conflict in Burma is adversely impacting the family. Particularly since the February 2021 military coup, Van’s mother has experienced feelings of intense anxiety, grief and fear related to their family’s prior experiences and for family and friends who are now in danger. In the evenings, she watches and reads news from Burma and responds to messages from distressed family members.

Van seemed to enjoy school during Years 7 and 8. However, since starting Year 9 his teachers have noticed that his motivation for school has dropped. He has become withdrawn in class and seems to have few friends. Moreover, Van won’t answer questions in groups or in front of the class. He is, however, more engaging when one-on-one with his teacher.

Van isn’t completing much of the set work. Last week, he was supposed to present a prepared talk to the class about the article they have been reading. He had put this off, already saying he needed more time, but then didn’t show up to the next class. Van says he will submit his work but then doesn’t, and he evades any supportive catch-up sessions outside class. Offers of help are not taken up, even when needed and when offered quietly in a one-to-one conversation.

His teacher spoke to the Year 9 Coordinator who said that some of Van’s other teachers are frustrated that he does not seem to follow their instructions, know what is expected in a task, or ask any questions. Additionally, he does not seem to learn from their written feedback on his marked work.

Van’s teachers have followed up by informing his mother of their concerns about Van’s non-completion of tasks, but she does not respond. One teacher wrote an email to Van’s parent, concerned about his lack of focus on set tasks in class. As the teacher put it, ‘Van has been extremely slow to start work, often taking 15 minutes before even looking at the lesson plan on Compass or opening the files.’

A meeting has been set for the Year 9 Coordinator and Wellbeing staff to plan together with Van how to better support his engagement and learning.

*This fictional Case Study is an amalgamation of real characters and scenarios to facilitate professional learning.