LUCAS seminar: Researching with migrant learners in primary schools in South Africa

The Leeds University Centre for African Studies is hosting an online research seminar about the theme of:

Researching with migrant learners in primary schools in South Africa:

Silences, absences, ‘Afrophobia’ and the continued pervasiveness of ‘race’

The seminar takes place on  Thursday 24th February, 4.00-5.30 pm (GMT), and our speaker is Dr Helen Hanna (The Education University of Hong Kong). The seminar will take place on MS Teams. Please click here to join the meeting.


This presentation will consider findings gathered from a number of qualitative projects between 2016-2019 that explored the school experiences of new migrant children in Western Cape, South Africa. In South Africa, there are estimated to be 2.5 million residents who were not born in the country, and the state regularly has to grapple with the reality of xenophobic and ‘Afrophobic’ attacks against migrants – particularly those from other African nations. In its continued efforts to hold on to the idea of the “rainbow nation” of equality, respect for diversity and the addressing of educational inequities, the state has emphasised national unity, and schools are targeted as sites where shared identity should be instilled. At the same time, schools are also compelled to develop an inclusive approach to all children, in line with the international drive towards inclusive education for all. While children are often at the forefront of working out what it means to be a new arrival in a different country – adapting to new rules, making new friends, and possibly learning a new language – little research is focused on their own perspectives as migrants, learners and children. Recognising this gap in knowledge, this presentation will draw on primary school migrant learners’ responses within research that used a variety of creative methods. It will highlight the silences and absences that emerged when researching with migrant children, ‘Afrophobia’ and the continued pervasiveness of ‘race’ in the South African context which may hinder full inclusion of migrant children in South African society. It will close on a more positive note, however, by sharing some guidelines to help migrant children feel included in school.


Dr Helen Hanna is an Assistant Professor at The Education University of Hong Kong. She is passionate about educational inclusion, particularly of migrant learners and those from racial, ethnic and cultural minorities, as well as using creative visual methods. Helen has completed funded research in England, South Africa, Northern Ireland, Israel, Canada and Kenya. She has also acted as an academic writing consultant for British Council Thailand and the London Institute of Social Studies. She regularly presents at international conferences and has written and peer reviewed for publications including Children’s Geographies, Literacy and BERA Research Intelligence. She also enjoys reaching out to non-academic audiences through co-designing films with learners and teachers.