Shannon Hill, PhD Candidate, School of Rehabilitation Therapy, Queen’s University
Over the past decade, military, Veteran, and family research has gained increased attention within Canada. With the support of organizations such as the Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research (CIMVHR), researchers have continued to explore a wide range of health and well-being issues across military, Veteran, and family populations. Despite Canada’s increased capacity to conduct research across these populations, a population that has remained understudied within Canada are military-connected students – students “having at least one parent as active duty in the military or the reserves, or a parent who was honourably discharged with Veteran status” (Kranke, 2019, p. 189). Given the lack of Canadian research that has focused on military-connected students to date, there remain limitations around what is known about the educational experiences of Canadian military-connected students.
Researchers in Canada who have started to study military-connected students have had to rely heavily on American research to better understand the educational experiences of these students. Academically, military-connected students may experience gaps and/or redundancies in school curricula when transitioning between schools and education systems (Garner et al., 2014). Relocating on average six to nine times between Kindergarten and Grade 12, military-connected students are often required to leave behind peer groups and develop new relationships with each subsequent move (Garner et al., 2014). Disruption to social networks can be particularly challenging for older military-connected students given the important role that peer networks play in adolescent development (Bradshaw et al., 2010). Military-connected students may also lose out on the opportunity to participate in previously enjoyed extracurricular activities due to missed sign ups or try outs (Bradshaw et al., 2010). The challenges discussed above can become further compounded for military-connected students who have special needs (Jagger & Lederer, 2014).
While American literature has provided the foundation for what is known about the schooling experiences among military-connected students, there are contextual differences that exist between the United States and Canada. A key example is the educational infrastructure in place to support military-connected students. Following World War II, the Department of Defence (DoD) established schools for the children of service members to attend (DoDEA, 2021). Known as Department of Defence Education Activity (DoDEA) schools, these schools remain active today with 160 schools located in “11 countries, 7 states, and 2 territories across 10 time zones.” (DoDEA, 2021). Recognizing the challenges that the military lifestyle can create for students, DoDEA schools offer services and supports that help mitigate such challenges (Esqueda et al., 2011). However, only a small number of American military-connected students attend DoDEA schools (approximately 86,000) (DePedro, 2011). Most American military-connected students attend what are known as “civilian-operated” schools: schools that are not funded by the military (DePedro et al., 2011). While it is suggested in the American literature that civilian-operated schools are unaware of or do not understand the unique needs of military-connected students (Esqueda et al., 2012), great efforts have been made by organizations like the Military Child Education Coalition (MCEC) to support the schooling experience of American military-connected students who attend civilian-operated schools.
Like the United States, schools were also established inside and outside of Canada following World War II by the Department of National Defence (DND) for the children of service members to attend (Morin, 1986). Many military-connected students used to attend these on-base schools which “personified the military spirit.” (Rehman, 2015). While two DND-operated schools remain open outside of Canada for military-connected students to attend while living overseas, the DND-operated schools within Canada were slowly phased out and passed over to provincial and territorial school boards in the 1990s (Rehman, 2015). This means that the 57,639 military-connected children and youth who are growing up in Regular Force families within Canada (Manser, 2018) are attending civilian-operated schools, where little is known about if educators are aware of this population of students. Given the contextual differences that exist between the United States and Canada, it is unclear to what extent the educational experiences of Canadian military-connected students, with and without special needs, are reflected in the American findings.
In recent years, a large emphasis has been placed within Canadian policy to support military families. In 2017, the Government of Canada released a new defence policy entitled Strong, Secure, Engaged. Within this policy document, Canadian military families were recognized as the “strength behind the uniform” (p. 12) and it was acknowledged that, in addition to military personnel, military families deserve to have access to services and supports that can help mitigate the challenges that can be associated with military lifestyle (DND, 2017). In support, the Department of National Defence (DND) has launched various initiatives, one of which is Seamless Canada. Launched in 2018, this initiative aims to better align programs and services for highly mobile military families across three areas: healthcare, spousal employment, and child and youth education. While the child and youth education portion of the Seamless Canada initiative is a step forward, little remains publicly known about how this initiative intends to support the education of children and youth growing up in Canadian military families.
At this critical juncture where there is a large emphasis being placed within Canadian policy to support military families, it is the opportune time to include populations like military-connected students who have been previously understudied. Including Canadian military-connected students in research would ensure their voices and experiences are captured in the both the Canadian and international literature base, while also contributing to an evidence base that could inform future policy and practice.
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DePedro, K. M. T., Astor, A. A., Benbenishty, R., Estrada, J., Dejoie G. R., & Esqueda, M. C. (2011). The Children of Military Service Members: Challenges, Supports, and Future Educational Research. Review of Educational Research, 81(4), 566–618. https://doi.org/10.3102/0034654311423537
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Jagger, J. C., & Lederer, S. (2014). Impact of geographic mobility on military children’s access to special education services. Children & Schools, 36(1), 15-22. https://doi.org/10.1093/cs/cdt046
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Manser L. (2018). Profile of military families in Canada: 2017 regular force demographics. Ottawa, ON:
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Morin, R. (1986). DND dependents’ schools. 1921-1983. Ottawa, ON: Directorate of History, National Defence.
Rehman, M. (2015). DND School Board. Retrieved from https://www.cmfmag.ca/best_cmf/dnd-school-board/