The geographies of teaching and learning at a secondary school : narratives of six high performing immigrant learners.
As the number of immigrants entering South Africa increases, so does the enrolment of immigrant learners at our schools. It is therefore imperative that the schooling experiences of these learners be studied and understood. Thus, the focus of this research was to explore the schooling experiences of immigrant learners within the province of Kwa-Zulu Natal. Previous research has been conducted within the local context, which highlighted the experiences of immigrant learners and the varied challenges that they encounter at South African schools (Hornberger and Vaish, 2008; Maduray, 2014; Mpofu, 2013; Vandeyar and Vandeyar, 2012). With this research study, the focus was specifically on the experiences of academically high functioning immigrant learners. The participants were six female immigrant learners from a secondary school in the central Durban area, between the ages of thirteen and eighteen years old, ranging from grades eight to eleven. Theoretically, the paradigm in childhood studies referred to as New Sociology of Childhood (NCS), and the sub-field of Children’s Geographies framed the study. The study was qualitative in nature and the research tradition was narrative inquiry. Data generation involved semi-structured interviews and an innovative participatory research method known as photo voice. The findings of the study revealed the agency of the young participants as they navigate schooling in South Africa. It was apparent that they take on a positive stance despite the challenges they have experienced viz. language and cultural barriers, social isolation and exclusion, bullying and discrimination as well as vulnerability and emotionality in the face of xenophobia. The study revealed their strong sense of self-efficacy, responsibility and self-discipline, determination to succeed, commitment to their studies and to make the best of valued opportunities in South Africa. They displayed a strong sense of pride in their culture, language, and ethnic background. They are proud of their multi-lingual competencies and view this capability as an asset despite being aware of the political stigma attached to their home languages by peers in school. Participants showed that they are intrinsically motivated to perform well academically, and have clear goals and aspirations. An important finding in my study related to social capital in the learners’ everyday lives, an aspect that shaped their schooling experiences. The study illuminated the networks and social groups that support the high functioning learners socially, emotionally, and academically, for example, religious institutions, immigrant social groups; friendship groups, caring teachers, the family and extended family; other immigrant families in the country. The family is a central site of social capital and this is evident in the relationships between the participants and significant adults. The study illuminated the agency and resourcefulness of the learners as they access the various networks of social capital in their everyday lives. The study also highlights strong evidence of caring as a social process in learners’ lives, and how this contributes to the educational resilience of these high functioning immigrant learners. The findings of this study have important implications for future research, teacher professional development, and whole school development.