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Lost in transition: the barriers to educational access for school-age Zimbabwe migrant children in South Africa and the influences of institutional and social networks on overcoming them

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posted on 2023-06-07, 16:17 authored by Stephanie Helen Buckland
This thesis aims to deepen our understanding of the barriers that migrant children face in accessing quality education in their host country. It has identified gaps in the research on education of cross-border migrant children in a setting which promotes integration into the host community, and which does not use camps. The research is based in a small border town in northern South Africa and focuses on the recent influx of Zimbabwean migrants into South Africa as a result of political crisis and economic collapse in their homeland. This community was chosen because it is believed to be illustrative of the broader problems faced by cross-border migrant children. The thesis is structured around three central questions, focusing on (i) understanding who these migrant children are and their reasons for migration, (ii) the barriers they face in accessing quality basic education and (iii) the social and institutional networks that influence these children and the role the networks play in overcoming these barriers. The research examines the role of the state and the international community in the provision of support for this marginalised group. It further assesses the influence of social and institutional networks on migrants and the tactics they employ to overcome the barriers to educational success. The study used both quantitative and qualitative research methods, with the majority of data collected through an in-depth survey of 100 migrant children, between the ages of 6 and 17, and 35 parent/guardians. In addition, focus group discussions with teachers and interviews with 12 school principals were conducted. The views of members of the local Municipality involved with migrant children were also sought. The literature review revealed that, while there has been some research on barriers to education in camp settings, there is very limited research on educational access for migrant children integrating into host communities. This study has been able to contribute to this thin body of knowledge by demonstrating that as well as facing the traditional educational access barriers (lack of infrastructure, educational costs, enrolment requirements and social exclusion), integrating migrant children are faced with additional access barriers largely linked to their legal status (civil status, residence, status of guardians). The research identified the difficulties of obtaining the necessary legal status and some important shortcomings of the current migrant classification system. Getting the right documentation to obtain legal status often placed unreasonable burdens on the children and forced them into a catch 22 situation where they needed to return to their homeland to procure documents required for admission to school but doing so automatically invalidated the claims to refugee status. This particular study also highlighted the difficulty in classifying migrants who have fled from a country (Zimbabwe) that is not officially recognised as a conflict zone despite the characteristics of the Zimbabwean migrant situation being largely indistinguishable from classical conflict driven migration. The thesis concludes by recommending steps to change the definition and typology of migrants and points to the policy changes, with regard to support of migrant children that are required. The definitions should be changed to cater for the individual needs of the children so that legal and bureaucratic requirements do not present such an impediment to education. The thesis identified the large role of both the social and institutional networks of the migrant children in overcoming access barriers. This points to an area of valuable further research, which could provide a foundation for better policy development and implementation strategies that recognise the social and institutional dynamics that influence the decisions and choices made by migrant children and their parents.


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