The geographies of the schooling experiences of immigrant children at a primary school in KwaZulu-Natal.
In the last two decades or so, South Africa has become home to people of various nationalities, in particular citizens from other African countries. The South African Refugee Act passed in 1998 has been welcomed as a necessary piece of legislation that protects the rights and welfare of immigrants to the country, which includes the rights outlined in Chapter Two of the South African Constitution (Republic of South Africa, 1996). There has been a growing body of research that has explored the lives of immigrants and their families in South Africa (or example, Osman, 2009; Sookraj, Gopal & Maharaj, 2005; Vandeyar, 2012). The aim of the study was to explore the schooling experiences of African immigrant children in South Africa. The key research questions were: What are the stories immigrants children have to tell about their schooling experiences in South Africa? How do they negotiate the complex and varied spaces of schooling? The study was conducted at a primary school in KwaZulu-Natal. The participants were 6 students whose families immigrated to South Africa from six different African countries. The study was a narrative inquiry. Data generation methods were: individual interviews, focus group interviews and photo-voice - a child centred, participatory, visual method. The findings of the study reveal that all six immigrant children interviewed in this study had experienced exclusionary pressures in one way or the other in the schooling spaces. The key exclusionary issue was the language factor. The informal language policies and practices are in violation of education policy and legislation in South Africa. The key barrier that participants experienced to curriculum access was lack of language proficiency in English. Participants navigate the language issue through sourcing help and support from peers, and in particular, teachers, parents and networks outside the school. Children also experienced exclusion and oppression perpetrated by peers at the social level that impacted their sense of belonging at the school. However, much of the experience of exclusion occurs in the early years at the school. Learners also had good stories to tell about specific teachers by whom they are affirmed and who support them out of their own personal initiatives such as working with them during school breaks. The participants were able to share their constructions of what it means to be a good teacher from their own lived experience. The issue of the school’s responsiveness to cultural diversity emerged in the study. Although multi-culturalism appears to form part of the curriculum, the manner in which it is interpreted and practiced is questionable. From an analysis of the children’s narratives, it seems that the curriculum reflects a traditional multi-cultural education that focuses on celebrating diversity and understanding other cultures, in particular their religious beliefs, foods, dress, etc. The study suggests that there needs to be a shift in how the school engages with diversity, from a traditional multi-cultural education approach to a critical multiculturalism and anti-racism perspective. The findings of this study suggest that immigrant children are active meaning makers of the schooling spaces they navigate in South Africa. Their voices need to be accessed to inform interventions that could support immigrant children to make the transition into the education system in South Africa.