Milieu Deprivation and Its Implications for Education in the Republic of South Africa

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INTRODUCTION

Sociologists, criminologists, psychologists and educators have shown heightened interest in the influence of poverty on family life. Since families constitute the building blocks of society, no nation can afford the disintegration of its families (Meintjes, 1990). In all developing and affluent countries, there are vulnerable, low-socioeconomic-status groups: the milieu deprived or socioculturally underprivileged of the world. The present paper specifically addresses milieu deprivation and its implications for education in the Republic of South Africa.

Milieu-deprived social groups have the following characteristics in common: low economic and social status, low educational level, employment in "inferior" jobs or joblessness, limited community involvement, and limited potential for upward social mobility. Due to their milieu deficiencies and psychosocial handicaps, these groups are caught in a spiral of poverty and deprivation and experience serious obstruction to optimal self-actualization and to the achievement of a satisfactory quality of life.

Since the end of the Second World War, a number of economic, political, and social factors have combined to focus attention on the developmental needs of the milieu deprived; worldwide economic and social disparities; the underutilization of human resources; inadequate education of children; and the negative effects of these factors on quality of life. An international spirit arose, directed at helping the disadvantaged. In particular, education has been advocated as a means not only of meeting the demands of industrialization, but of breaking the vicious circle of milieu deprivation as well.

The Republic of South Africa (RSA) urgently needs a trained workforce to succeed in an increasingly complex technological world. The technological revolution has been accompanied by a social revolution - in which the less privileged groups in this prosperous country clamor for the opportunity to improve their quality of life - that makes educational renewal a necessity. The availability of equal educational opportunities is also regarded as a critical factor in achieving human rights. Thus, the RSA is confronted with the need to provide effective pedagogic approaches that are suitable for a variety of milieu-deprived students who have not benefited from the more traditional educational system.

MILIEU DEPRIVATION AND THE CULTURE OF POVERTY

Milieu deprivation is mainly the result of poverty. In this regard, Lauer (1978) offers the following consequences of poverty:

The poor do not merely get less of everything that we consider important and even necessary for a decent life - less money, less food, clothing and shelter - the deprivation of the poor is pervasive. Compared to the non-poor, their infants are more likely to die. Their children are more likely to fail in school even when they are intelligent. Their children are more likely to drop out of school. They are more likely to become mentally ill. They are more likely to lose their jobs and to drop out of the labor force. They are more likely to experience hostility and distrust rather than neighborliness with those around them. They are less likely to participate in meaningful groups and associations. They are more likely to get chronic illnesses. And in the face of more health problems, they are less likely to own health insurance. Again, as the ultimate deprivation, they are likely to die at a younger age. In other words, poverty diminishes the quality of a person's life in many obvious and in many not so obvious ways. (p. 280)

The life situation of milieu-deprived individuals is characterized by unstable interpersonal relationships, low cultural-educational level, overcrowding, crime, and dysfunctional child-rearing practices. This leads to various handicaps, involving such domains as language, learning style, cognitive ability, and self-concept. …