Theses Doctoral

Thank You For Not Coming? Policy, Politics, and Polity: How Education Stakeholders Interpret Post-Apartheid Education Policy for Immigrants in South Africa-- The Case of Cape Town

Callender, Tricia

Though many studies address the issue of immigrants in schools, relatively little research attention has been given to the education experience of immigrants who have migrated from one developing country to another (or "South-South" migration), although this accounts for about half of all migration worldwide. The studies that do exist in this realm tend to focus on the classroom experience of immigrant students without due consideration of the policy context that influences the immigrant students' school experience. Consequently, although we are learning more about immigrant student experiences in classrooms in developing countries, to date, we lack information about the policy context in which educational stakeholders in developing countries find themselves when attempting to incorporate immigrant students into an education system that, more often than not, is struggling with issues of poverty and lack of resources. This is especially true in the African context where continental migration rates continue to increase yet immigration education policies tend to be unclear, if not altogether absent. Using the case of South Africa, an African country beset by xenophobia--most notably, the infamous xenophobic riots of 2008, this exploratory baseline sociological study sought to document how the social context of a developing country nfluences educational policy implementation and interpretation with regard to access for immigrant students. This qualitative study, which took place from December 2010 to November 2011, employed semi-structured interviews with 17 educational stakeholders at both the meso and the micro organizational levels of the educational bureaucracy as well as NGOs to better understand how policy was interpreted and implemented for immigrant students. Additionally, this study employed a reviewof existing policy documents as well as a qualitative case study using tenets of ethnographic observation. Data analysis for this study employed methods of themed coding and frequency identification. The data analysis revealed little consensus on how education policy regarding access for immigrant students should be applied, leading to disparate understandings and lack of access for some immigrant students depending on country of origin. The data also revealed that immigrant education policy interpretation was heavily influenced not only by organizational type and role, but personal experience of the actor as well. Additionally, the findings indicated that the role of the principal was paramount in how education policy was applied in schools, and because of the policy confusion, principals in some cases were able to employ innovative methods to obtain resources that aided the immigrant learners in their school. The findings also revealed that although xenophobia does exist in the South African socio-cultural fabric, it was not the primary determinant used to grant or deny access to immigrant students. The institution of South African schooling, centered around success on a final qualifying exam, emerged as the driver of educational stakeholder policy interpretation and implementation regarding immigrant student access. Overall, the data revealed that the education situation in Cape Town was the result of a combination of which policies actors used as their interpretive framework, the specialized demographics of the Western Cape polity, and the interactions and politics between the organizations of the educational institutions and immigrant service organizations in Cape Town. Study findings are discussed in detail with reference to agenda for future research and actionable recommendations for policymakers.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Comparative and International Education
Thesis Advisors
Jensen Leichter, Hope
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
March 8, 2013