Research Explores South African Expatriate Teachers and Their Leadership in the Gulf Countries
PhD graduate in Education studies Dr Ashkelon Govender.

Dr Ashkelon Govender, who lives and works in Ras-al-Khaimah in the United Arab Emirates, was inspired by his late grandmother to pursue his studies, finally graduating with his PhD in Education from UKZN.

His research, funded by the National Research Foundation (NRF), focused on South African expatriate teachers and their leadership in the Gulf Countries.

Reflecting on his academic trajectory, Govender said, ‘When I registered for my honours degree, I was unemployed. I sold clothes to make money so that I could support myself and pay for my university fees. Fortunately, I received a scholarship from the University. I completed my honours degree cum laude and developed a passion for research, moving on to my master’s and PhD through the efforts of my mentor and supervisor, Professor Inba Naicker.’

While reading for his PhD, Govender noticed that many of his family members and close friends were migrating to the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) country schools for better opportunities. He realised there were no studies done to capture the teacher leadership experiences of South African teachers who migrate to the GCC country schools. Govender, who also works in a GCC country school, knew that South African expatriate teachers had a story to tell.

‘Over the past two decades, teacher migration has become popular among South African teachers who are leaving their home country for GCC country schools because of better job opportunities and salaries. There are six GCC countries in which South African teachers are being recruited into,’ he explained.

Govender’s study makes the identities of the South African expatriate teachers visible, exploring how their personal and professional lives shape their enactment of teacher leadership while simultaneously spotlighting the enablements and constraints within the GCC country schools in influencing the actualising of teacher leadership.

‘Some of my participants expressed that they miss home and their families, which was emotional for both the participants and myself. Hearing their narratives was life-changing. My research impacted me in such a way that I was motivated to begin a talk show on Facebook. The show makes school leadership and management relatable. It brings school leadership and management theories to the forefront of 21st century organisational practices and aims to share leadership and management experiences that help champion teaching and learning. Mr Tyran David, a fellow PhD student co-hosts the show with me,’ he added.

Govender believes that ‘his research will assist teachers intending to work in the GCC country schools to get a first-hand experience of what South African teachers are facing abroad. My study also reveals how the personal and professional identity of South African teachers make them assets in the GCC country schools. Other teachers may read this and mobilise their lived experiences in enhancing their teacher and teaching practices. South African teachers can apply their teacher agency and become influential social actors in their respective schools. This study should benefit other teachers by sowing the seeds that teacher agency is a core ingredient for the growth of teacher professional capital.’

Govender is grateful for the support from his family, friends and supervisor Professor Inba Naicker who said, ‘Ashkelon was indeed a resilient student. Given that the entire supervision of his PhD project took place online, his commitment to time on task as well as being technologically savvy helped immensely in negotiating some of the obstacles of online supervision. He was never afraid to take risks and try out innovative research methods, analytical tools, and forms of presentation in a discipline known for its conventionality.’

Govender’s wife, Yashmika added, ‘His dedication, enthusiasm and insight during this journey has made him successful. He never wavered from being a husband and a father. He continues to amaze and inspire our sons, Ezra and Isaiah, and I.’

Govender intends to use his PhD as an avenue to do further research on South African teachers in the GCC country schools.

Words: Melissa Mungroo

Photograph: Sethu Dlamini