Adult migrant English language education policy in Aotearoa New Zealand, 2002-2014

Khan, Yulia
Harvey, Sharon
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Master of Arts in Applied Language Studies
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Auckland University of Technology

English language education is an important policy issue for New Zealand. According to the 2013 Census, more than 87,000 people are unable to speak English (Statistics New Zealand, 2014). This figure may not include people whose limited proficiency prevents them from adequately functioning and participating in society. New Zealand’s relatively open immigration policy and an on-going commitment to refugee resettlement continue to generate demand for quality English language education appropriate to migrants’ needs.

This thesis presents an analysis of adult migrant English language education (AMELE) policy in New Zealand from 2002 to 2014. It maps AMELE as a policy field, identifies key stakeholders, and reviews and analyses two key policy documents. Drawing on the methods of Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA), the thesis investigates assumptions and attitudes that underlie AMELE policy and considers whether migrants’ specific learning needs are recognised.

A number of interesting findings emerged from the analysis. AMELE is largely influenced by the policies emanating from the domains of immigration and tertiary education. Immigration New Zealand/Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and the Tertiary Education Commission enjoy significant institutional power, as manifested in the Operational Manual – Residence Section (Immigration New Zealand, 2014c) and the Tertiary Education Strategy (TES) 2010-2015 (Ministry of Education, 2009b) policy documents. The analysis indicated a lack of synergy between the immigration and tertiary education policies regarding English language proficiency expectations and the type of English language education which would meet the needs of migrant learners. While current immigration policy might be purposefully flexible around the entry English language requirements for certain migrants, no justification is given for such flexibility and it can be inequitable for certain groups. The current provision of English language education appears to be insufficient and limited in scope. Moreover, the demand for English language education that immigration policy continues to generate is not reflected in tertiary education policy.

As demonstrated in the CDA of TES 2010-2015 (Ministry of Education, 2009b), the tertiary education policy is too generic and AMELE-related policy provisions are silenced. The languages of migrants themselves are absent as English loses its specificity and becomes the unmarked, normative ‘language’. Furthermore, the policy does not distinguish between literacy in the first language and literacy in English, nor does it clearly articulate what ‘literacy’ entails. The thesis suggests that such gaps in immigration and tertiary education policy discourses create obstacles to facilitating acquisition of English language and literacy, which, in turn, may hinder migrants’ integration into New Zealand society.

To make AMELE more suitable to requirements, a holistic approach to policy is required. Particular attention should be paid to the immigration–tertiary education policy nexus. For policymakers, this approach will help improve decisions in both fields, and align policy aims and outcomes.

It is hoped that the findings of this study will be useful not only for policy makers, but also educators, migrants who have already settled in New Zealand and the prospective migrants who might call New Zealand home one day.

Language policy , Migrant Studies , Critical Discourse Analysis , English Language Education , AMELE , New Zealand
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