Abdullah grew up in Ghazni in an isolated rural area of Afghanistan. His father was a farmer with a small land holding and his mother died when he was young. His grandmother looked after him and his two siblings while his father worked. Neither of his parents had been to school and both were illiterate.

Abdullah was the only child in the family to attend school. His first language was Hazaragi, but school tuition was in the Dari language. The school had two teachers and 100 students. Adbullah loved it, but his attendance was erratic because he often had to help his father work.

When Abdullah was 10, his cousin disappeared while helping on the family farm. Soon after, the family began receiving threats. With his grandmother and aunt, Abdullah and his family fled to Pakistan, where they lived with relatives in Peshawar.

The only tuition available for Abdullah in Pakistan was at an overcrowded community school. The teachers spoke Urdu and learning was predominantly by rote, while discipline was harsh and children were often struck for making mistakes. Abdullah learnt enough Urdu to get a job selling small goods on the roadside for a local shopkeeper. However, because his was the family’s only income, he had to leave school after a year.

When Abdullah was 14, he and his immediate family were granted humanitarian visas to resettle in Australia, but his grandmother and aunt were refused. After they arrived in Melbourne, Abdullah and his family lived with one of his late mother’s cousins while they looked for more permanent and affordable housing.

Abdullah spent six months at an English language school (ELS) before entering Year 8 at his local high school. He really enjoyed the ELS because he made many friends and played soccer at lunchtimes. He was looking forward to high school and dreamt of becoming a doctor to help his community.

However, he found high school very difficult. When the ELS’s transition officer visited the school after six months to see how he was going, his year-level coordinator said Abdullah was struggling to complete the Year 8 curriculum and was finding it hard to fit in.

Abdullah said he was unhappy and lonely, particularly at lunchtimes. He enjoyed Physical Education and Music, and also liked making a model in Maths. Abdullah said he could understand some of the EAL class work, but felt other subjects were too hard. His subject worksheets and notes were mixed together in one disorganised folder. He also said some teachers were nice, but he didn’t know their names and felt embarrassed to ask for help.