Bureaucratic Encounters and the Quest for Educational Access among Colombian Refugees in Ecuador
Ecuador’s innovative approach to social policy and human mobility is reflected in its education policies, specifically those pertaining to access to school. Under Ecuador’s constitutional notion of universal citizenship, youth are not required to have previous academic records to enter the equivalent of K-12 education, regardless of their migratory status. Grade placement is based on a free test, and any identification documents a future student provides are officially deemed valid and sufficient for school registration. Despite these constitutional guarantees, refugee youth still have great difficulty enrolling in school in Ecuador. Drawing from semi-structured interviews with civil employees, NGO staffers, and Colombian refugees conducted in Quito, Ecuador, in 2013 and 2014, I analyze how access to school for Colombian refugee youth is shaped by the official and unofficial rules that regulate the formal education system. Situating policy as practice relative to the daily workings of the state bureaucracy, I analyze how public servants and refugees interpret and enact policy within the state’s administrative structure. I argue that, in this context, the appropriation of education policy and, therefore, access to education are mediated by the workings of bureaucracy. This implies that universal definitions of access to school obscure the contingent and unpredictable character of educational access for refugees. By delving into the manifold interpretations of education policy, this analysis suggests that an inconsistent bureaucracy has the potential to amplify social inequalities among refugees.