Moving beyond English as a requirement to 'fit in': considering refugee and migrant education in South Australia.

Author:Due, Clemence


This paper presents findings from research conducted in two primary schools in South Australia with New Arrivals Programs (NAPs). The paper draws upon two forms of data: questionnaires administered to teachers and ethnographic observations of children at play in the schoolyard. These data are used to examine two aspects of education for refugees and other migrants: (1) the assumption that English language acquisition is central to the "integration" of refugees and other newly arrived migrants (and both that integration is of key importance and that the work of integration must primarily be undertaken by refugees and other migrants, not the broader community); and (2) the impact of power differentials between NAP and non-NAP students in the use of playground spaces. We argue that the education provided to refugee and newly arrived migrant students in NAPs needs to move beyond treating English language acquisition as a requirement to "fit in," and we call for schools with high populations of refugee and migrant students to consider how spatial relations in their schools may be negatively impacting these student populations. Finally, the paper calls for an approach to education that is situated in global contexts of colonization and power relations, and in which the terms for inclusion of NAP students are mutually negotiated, rather than predetermined.


Cet article presente les resultats de la recherche menee dans deux ecoles primaires en Australie-Meridionale offrant des programmes pour nouveaux arrivants (New Arrivals Programs). La recherche s'appuie sur deux types de donnees : questionnaires administres aux enseignants et observations ethnographiques des enfants au jeu dans la cour d'ecole. Ces donnees sont utilisees pour examiner deux aspects de l'education pour refugies et autres migrants: 1) l'hypothese voulant que l'acquisition de la langue anglaise est au coeur de > des refugies et autres nouveaux arrivants (et a la fois que l'integration est d'une importance capitale et que le travail d'integration doit se faire prioritairement par les refugies et autres migrants, et non l'ensemble de la communaute); 2) l'impact des ecarts de pouvoir entre les nouveaux arrivants et les autres ecoliers dans l'utilisation des espaces de jeux. Les auteurs soutiennent que l'enseignement dispense aux ecoliers refugies et nouvellement arrives dans le cadre des programmes pour nouveaux arrivants doit aller au-dela du traitement de l'acquisition de la langue anglaise comme necessaire a l' >, et demandent aux ecoles ayant de fortes populations d'ecoliers refugies et migrants d'examiner comment les relations spatiales au sein de l'ecole peuvent avoir un impact negatif sur ces populations. Enfin, les auteurs favorisent une approche educative situee dans les contextes mondiaux de la colonisation et des relations de pouvoir dans laquelle les conditions d'integration des ecoliers nouvellement arrives sont mutuellement negociees, plutot que predeterminees.


In Australia in 2009 there was a significant increase in the number of asylum seekers arriving within Australian waters attempting to claim refuge. Whilst this increased movement of people across borders was thought to primarily be the result of much greater numbers of people being displaced from their countries of origin than in previous years, I the Australian media and government suggested instead that people were arriving due to a softening of Australia's border security policies, (2) despite the fact that Australia spends millions of dollars per year on strategies to prevent asylum seekers arriving unexpectedly by boat (even though the number of people arriving this way usually only amounts to several hundred per year). (3) Indeed, largely as a result of government and media rhetoric relating to

Given the above context facing people seeking asylum in Australia, it is fair to state that experiences of forced migration to the country are as much shaped by the experience of borders enforced within Australia as they are by the effects of displacement. (6) In other words, and as Cole argues, the history of immigration (and specifically forced migration) has been one of "institutionalized racism at the border," (7) which is fundamentally in opposition to liberal political theories, in that restrictive border control effectively penalizes people for circumstances beyond their control. By contrast, advocates for a No Borders approach, as elaborated throughout this issue of Refuge, argue that embracing movements of people in the same way that the globalized world currently embraces the free movement of goods would help to eliminate such persecution and racism. (8) At present in Australia, however, it is precisely debates about "losing control" of the border that function to engender fears of invasion by "hordes" of refugees, (9) thus reinforcing negative sentiment towards refugees as being Other to Australia.

As stated above, the negative sentiment pervasively seen in the Australian media and other institutions is primarily targeted towards those arriving in Australia "unexpectedly," outside

Yet despite this negative reality faced by refugees and other newly arrived migrants, Australia is still widely conceptualized as "generous" in its approach to "inclusion." (14) Such a paternalistic understanding allows Australia to ignore both its own colonial history (and the status of nonindigenous people as ourselves migrants in illegal possession of land), and also the location of Australia within a global colonial history that continues to produce the disparities we see between developed and "Third-Wodd" nations. (15) Focusing on procedural, rather than relational, understandings of forced migration thus allows Australia to be positioned largely outside the complex colonial histories of which it is an active part, and through which it may be suggested the process of forced migration is produced. (16) Indeed, in order to fully understand a politics of No Borders it is essential to adopt a relational understanding of migration which considers the responsibilities Australia has as an industrialized country. For example, as a member state within the Commonwealth, Australia is complicit in colonizing practices that have affected large areas of Africa. Such responsibilities may become even more evident as the effects of this industrialization bear upon developing countries, for example through the effects of climate change.

Of course not all Australian citizens will take up unquestioningly the negative messages about refugees and migration we outline above. However it is likely to be the case that many will, particularly given the unease often expressed in Australia regarding the fact that refugee protection is established by international law, and thus may impact upon desired national laws, particularly those regarding closed and tightly regulated borders for human migration purposes. (17) Thus it is important for us to consider the implications of these pervasive negative representations for both refugees (and other migrants) themselves, and for those who may work with these populations in situations not necessarily of their choosing. One such instance where this can be examined, and as is our focus within this paper, is in schools that include a New Arrivals Program (NAP) into which both immigrants, and those refugees recognized as "genuine" and correspondingly granted a visa, enter once they arrive in Australia. More specifically, this paper considers research undertaken in two South Australian primary schools with NAPs and examines two major elements identified in both the project being presented here, and in previous literature relating to refugee education. These are: the widespread assumption of the impact of low levels of English language skills on refugee and migrant "integration," and the ways in which the uses of space within schools effect NAP students and their ability to claim spaces as their own.

Importantly, it must be noted that whilst much of our emphasis thus far has been upon depictions and treatment of refugees in Australia, not all NAP students are refugees. At the two schools in which we conducted research, refugees accounted for approximately 30 per cent of the NAP student population. However, and as we noted above, negative sentiment about "illegal" refugees and the expectation of adherence to "Australian values" extends to all migrants from non-English-speaking background countries, especially those who are not identified as white.

The Study

The study took place in two primary schools located in South Australia over a period of eight weeks. These schools represent two of the sixteen South Australian schools that include a New Arrivals Program. In order to preserve the anonymity of the schools, they are referred to throughout as Hills Primary School (HPS) and Plains Primary School (PPS). HPS had a total of 222 students at the time the research took place, with 75 NAP students spread across six NAP classes. As such, NAP students accounted for 34 per cent of the student body at the school. of the NAP students 29 (39 per cent) were refugees. HPS was rated as a category 6 school on the Department of Education and Children's Services (DECS) Index of Educational Disadvantage, where a category 1 school serves students from the most disadvantaged families, and a category 7 school serves students from the least disadvantaged families.

PPS, in contrast, is a category 3 school. PPS had a larger number of students (294), but is situated on a smaller amount of land, with a smaller playground space. The school has almost the same number of NAP students (70), spread over five different classes. NAP students comprise around 24 per cent of the student population. Of the NAP students enrolled in the school at the rime the research took place, 18 were refugees (25 per cent).

Data Collection

Initially, ethics approval was granted by both the...

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