23 SES 11 D, Refugee Education
Internationally, responses to refugees have fluctuated significantly in the past due to complex historical and political factors, there is a need to contextualise research into refugee education to better understand how and why schools and schooling systems have responded to students from refugee backgrounds in the ways they have. Consequently, an analysis of existing sources of knowledge and insight was undertaken to provide the ‘contextual clues that might help gain a better understanding of policy changes, conditions and results’ (Diem, et al., 2014, p. 1072) in relation to the education of students from refugee backgrounds in Australia. Of interest, were the policy directives and associated rationales (or ‘rhetorical devices’ as Diem, et al., 2014, p. 1072, describe them) that have framed the field of refugee education in Australia over the past 5 years.
Forming policies is a complex and inconsistent practice that belies its assumed rationality and straightforwardness. Some policy analysts like Ball, et al. (2012) have disrupted the presumed linear and logical conception of policy development by exposing the complexity and ‘messiness’ of the process. Other theorists have exposed as false, the notion that policy development is value free and simply directed towards making the task of government more efficient and effective. Policies are inherently political and serve the interests of powerful groups in society. From this perspective, policies are multidimensional, have many stakeholders, are value laden, are intricately tied to other policies and institutions, and never straightforward in implementation or enactment.
In this paper, we provide an overview of the refugee education policy terrain in Australia, then present a more detailed interrogation of several key policies using the following critical policy analysis rubric derived from the work of Diem, et al., (2014) and Bacchi (2012). The analysis addressed the following questions: 1. What is the history of the policy? How did it develop? 2. What problem does the policy intend to solve? What assumptions (explicit and implicit) helped shape the problem and underpin the policy solution? 3. What doesn’t the policy address? What’s missing? What are the silences that aren’t being addressed? 4. What policy tools and processes were used to institutionalise or embed the policy in practice? How were power, knowledge, and resources used to develop and ‘implement’ the policy? 5. Under the policy, who gets what, when and how? 6. In what ways does the policy affect inequality and privilege?
The analysis revealed that the policy terrain about the education of students from refugee backgrounds is mostly: - fragmented, uneven, reactive and problem focused; - dominated by psychological thinking that justifies therapeutic ‘interventions’ to ‘fix’ the problems of students from refugee backgrounds caused by exposure to trauma and torture, lack of literacy in a first language, unfamiliarity with English, and interrupted schooling; - lacking sophisticated analyses of the socio-political issues and processes which continue to racialize and exclude students from refugee backgrounds; - influenced by neo-liberal practices and ways of thinking that shift responsibility for refugee student resettlement and inclusion from governments to underfunded schools, and poorly resourced community groups, charities and religious groups; - influenced by other policies and organisations concerned with student mental health, wellbeing and safety; and - affected by dominant, negative public and political narratives about refugees and ‘illegal’ asylum seekers. Despite these deleterious features of the refugee education field in Australia, some schools and school districts have countered the negative policy environment by embracing and enacting school policies and practices which use an inclusive, whole school approach to refugee education, promote a refugee friendly, positive school ethos, use structured but flexible induction processes, provide practical, ongoing English language support, and actively promote anti-racist policies. In the next stage of this research, we will investigate how these local policy developments are ‘enacted in particular and distinct institutional contexts with their own histories’, and developed through ‘sophisticated interpretations and translations of policy texts into action’ at the local level (Ball, et al., 2012).
Bacchi, C. (2000): Policy as Discourse: What does it mean? Where does it get us?, Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 21(1), 45-57. Bacchi, C. (2012) Why Study Problematizations? Making Politics Visible. Open Journal of Political Science, 2(1), 1-8. Ball, S.J., Maguire, M. & Braun, A. (2012). How schools do policy: Policy enactments in secondary schools. London: Routledge. Diem, S., Young, M., Welton, A., Mansfield, K., & Lee, P. (2014) The intellectual landscape of critical policy analysis, International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 27:9, 1068-1090.
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