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Early childhood children and families in transition: a cultural–historical study of international schools in Malaysia

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posted on 02.03.2017, 00:49 by Adams, Megan
Expatriates with young families who work for multinational companies are an expanding population (Finaccord, 2014). These families move countries frequently due to one or both parents’ unique skillsets, which are in demand internationally. Multinational companies who require these skillsets across countries frequently transfer employees and their families with little notice. Much of the literature surrounding this population is influenced by the seminal work of sociologists Useem and Downie (1976). In alignment with this, this thesis draws on and extends Useem’s body of work by presenting a contemporary, theoretical perspective of young children in the family and school context who experience multiple international moves during their early childhood years. This study looks at families moving to reside in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. For young children, these international moves necessitate transitions between countries, cultures, international schools and social situations. These transitions are explored through Vygotsky’s (1987a, 1994, 1997a,b, 1998) cultural–historical theory as the children enter new environments and situations in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The focus of this study is the unity of affect and intellect, including the learning and developmental conditions created by significant adults and peers who support the transitioning child (Vygotsky, 1994). This thesis presents an in-depth qualitative study of young expatriate children’s everyday life across institutions. The participants included five mothers, seven focus children (aged between 3.9 and 7.9 years, with a mean of 5.4 years), seven teachers and three principals of international schools. The data generated included video data, video and iPhone recordings of interviews, still images and field notes in the home and school settings. The mothers, educators and principals were interviewed using semi-structured interview techniques (Hviid, 2008a). Ninety hours of video data were collected; however, due to the scope of this thesis, not all findings could be reported in this study. The data analysis began with Hedegaard, Fleer, Bang and Hviid’s (2008) dialectic–interactive approach, consisting of common-sense interpretation, situated-practice interpretation and thematic interpretation. Due to the large volume of data, further methods were used to complement this analysis, including horizontal and vertical analysis for individuals, which was then implemented across the data sets, where themes and outliers were tagged and analysed (Li, 2012, 2014; Miles & Huberman, 1994; Yin, 2004, 2012). This thesis is presented in the format of a thesis that includes published works. New understandings and findings are presented in the original publication formats (see Chapters 4, 5, 7 and 9), which support the existing literature that highlights the importance of reciprocity and communication between the home and school. Further, the findings offer new understandings during the processes of transition: • the heightened emotions experienced individually and collectively as a consequence of the initial absence of routines (Publication 1, Chapter 4) • entering a school midway through the semester during an assessment period, and the effects this has on inclusion and exclusion for the new child, existing children in the class and teacher (Publication 2, Chapter 5) • reuniting with belongings and the affective relations between the international shift and the micro-movements of everyday life (Publication 3, Chapter 7) • the importance of temporality when forming a new friendship, and the effect this has on a child’s developing identity (Publication 4, Chapter 9). Through its empirical findings, this thesis contributes to the under-researched area of young expatriate children and their experience of learning and developmental processes during a transition, adding to existing knowledge by using Vygotsky’s cultural–historical theory, in which cultural transmission through institutions (from social to individual understanding) is considered the foundation for learning and development. This thesis proposes theorisation of young expatriate children’s experiences, which is a new area of research in learning and development. Methodologically, this thesis adds to the existing literature by using Vygotsky’s concept of perezhivanie as the unit of analysis, employed alongside empirical data, which adds to the limited studies that use this method of analysis in early childhood education. Further, the use of perezhivanie as the unit of analysis is extended through using González Rey’s (2004) work on subjective sense and subjective configuration, and advancing this theory with the term ‘future subjective sense’. Pedagogically, this thesis adds to the limited existing literature to support current understandings of home and school pedagogy, and advances this knowledge through analysis across and between the home and school settings as the child in a family settles into everyday life in institutions in a new country. These findings lead to various recommendations for parents, educators, children and policymakers that may provide support for young expatriate children and families undergoing learning and developmental processes as they enter everyday life in a new country.


Campus location


Principal supervisor

Marilyn Fleer

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre


Degree Type



Faculty of Education