The role of schooling for refugees in protracted situations in Malaysia: protection, identity maintenance and acculuturation

Williams, Simon John (2021) The role of schooling for refugees in protracted situations in Malaysia: protection, identity maintenance and acculuturation. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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This dissertation investigates the under-researched area of refugee schools in Malaysia that cater to children in protracted positions. With very few scholarly studies on the subject, the researcher sought to explore the role and function of these places of education for the communities they serve. Of specific interest to the study was an understanding of the rationale for communities from the same country (Myanmar) to educate children within separate schools. A literature review outlined a number of research gaps in relation to these schools, which included how protection is defined and managed, the salience of language, faith and culture, and the impact of living in a foreign country for many years.

Adopting an interpretivist stance, the dissertation positions itself in the worldview of the participants; however, given their refugee status, the study remained vigilant to the notion that legal and social structures could impede or influence decision-making within the social world the research participants inhabit. Theoretically, Stryker’s (2008) structural interactionism was incorporated into the study as a way to explore how the individual interprets the world, but the theory acknowledges that structures such as schools can shape the individual. The research design is based on a multi-sited ethnography of three separate refugee schools in Malaysia. To ensure a divergent and broad sample range, each school served communities from Myanmar but catered to three ethnic groups (Rvwang, Mon, and Rohingya) that are separated along ethnic, geographic, linguistic, and religious lines. Data were collected via participant observation, field notes, and semi-structured interviews with students, teachers, community and religious leaders, and parents, while an ongoing process of iterative consent and reflexivity ensured that ethnical challenges could be met and managed. Data were managed and uploaded to NVivo for analysis whereby a two-layer approach was designed to examine the data inductively with grounded theory techniques and deductively based on themes generated from the literature review.

The three main areas that emerged from the two-layer analysis were protection, identity, and acculturation, and to further scrutinise the data and findings, analytical lenses were used as a tool through which to explore the findings in greater depth. First, using the integrated threat theory of prejudice (Stephan & Stephan, 2013), the researcher found that the schools in the study function as ethnic safe spaces where aside from the assurance of physical safety, children were free to assert their ethnicity which in turn created a sense of familiarity and security. Second, and significantly, areas related to identities such as language, faith, and culture emerged throughout the analysis and were found to influence how Imagined Communities (ICs) (Anderson, 1983; Kanno, 2003; Norton, 2001) were envisioned by each centre. The ICs functioned across transnational and temporal boundaries as they worked to influence language usage and prepare children for uncertain futures. Due to the protracted situations of the participants, the refugee schools played an important role in managing acculturation (Berry, 1997), with each school developing responses based on the relationship favoured with the host nation. Underpinning the function of the refugee schools and the relationship with the social world were the core values (Smolicz, 1981) that were safeguarded and passed on in the form of language, faith, and culture. Ultimately, this dissertation demonstrates that the schools are complex ethnospheres that are the nexus of the community and encapsulate the specific culture of the communities they serve. This finding has important implications for research into refugee schools in Malaysia but also may help nations in other contexts understand why some communities disconnect from the wider society and forge educational solutions that more accurately reflect their values.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Subramaniam, Ganakumaran
Baliey, Lucy
Keywords: refugee education, ethnography, acculturation, protection, imagined communities
Subjects: L Education > LB Theory and practice of education
Faculties/Schools: University of Nottingham, Malaysia > Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences > School of Education
Item ID: 63374
Depositing User: Williams, Simon
Date Deposited: 24 Feb 2021 04:40
Last Modified: 10 Mar 2023 07:26

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