Migrant Labor in South Africa: A Comparative Analysis of the Academic Achievement of Father-Present and Father-Absent Adolescents

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ABSTRACT

This study was designed to determine whether there are significant differences in academic achievement between father-present and father-absent (due to migrant labor) adolescents. Data were collected from 276 high school students in South Africa. Academic achievement was measured by the Human Sciences Research Council's (HSRC) Scholastic Achievement Test, covering biology, English (second language), and mathematics. Father-present students were found to score significantly higher than father-absent students. The findings suggest that a father's absence due to work conditions has deleterious effects on the scholastic performance of young people.

Migrant labor is common in South Africa. Nattrass (1983) has indicated that the average absentee rate among adult working men in rural areas of African homelands exceeds 50%. Because so many fathers have had to leave their families to seek work in urban areas, educators and school psychologists have expressed concern about the repercussions for academic achievement among South African children. Consequently, the present study was designed to compare the school performance of father-present and father-absent adolescents.

A number of studies have shown that developmental deficits occur in children whose fathers are absent from home for a variety of reasons (e.g., imprisonment, military service, hospitalization, desertion, divorce). These include deficiency in sex-role identification (Gershansky, Hailine, & Goldstein, 1978; Hetherington, 1973; Hunt & Hunt, 1975; Shill, 1981; Wohlford & Hunt, 1971), juvenile delinquency (Castellano & Dembo, 1981; Goldstein, 1972; Koller, 1971; Montare & Boone, 1980; Newman & Denaman, 1971), psychiatric problems (Bunch & Barraclough, 1971; Gershansky, Hailine, & Goldstein, 1980; Kagel, White, & Coyne, 1978; Kogelschartz & Buras, 1972; Oshman, 1975; Parish & Nunn, 1981), and academic problems (Chapman, 1977; Deutsch, 1960; Douglas, Ross, & Simpson, 1968; Pederson, Anderson, & Cain, 1980; Peterson, de Bord, Peterson, & Livingstone, 1966; Rees & Palmer, 1970; Sciara, 1975; Shelton, 1968; Webb, 1970). In this study, the following hypotheses were tested: (1) there will be a significant difference in Scholastic Achievement Test Total Battery (SATT) scores between father-present and father-absent high school students; (2) there will be a significant difference in Scholastic Achievement Test Biology (SATB) scores between father-present and father-absent high school students; (3) there will be a significant difference in Scholastic Achievement Test English--Second Language (SATE) scores between father-present and father-absent high school students; and (4) there will be a significant difference in Scholastic Achievement Test Mathematics (SATM) scores between father-present and father-absent high school students.

METHOD

Sample

A nonrandom sample of 276 standard ten (grade 12) students (138 females and 138 males) was obtained from 29 schools in Northern Province, South Africa. The selection of students was based on the following criteria: (a) father's absence was due to migrant labor; (b) these fathers had continually migrated for work for a period of more than ten years; (c) father-absent and father-present students were matched according to school and gender; (d) all students had completed courses in biology, English as a second language, and mathematics.

Instrumentation

School performance was measured using the Human Sciences Research Council's (HSRC) Scholastic Achievement Test (SAT), which is designed to gauge academic achievement in the areas of biology, English (second language), and mathematics (there is also a total score). Reliability (using the Kuder-Richardson formula) for standard ten (grade 12) students was .81 for biology, .90 for English (second language), and .80 for mathematics.

Procedure

To minimize disruption of the school routine on the day of data collection, students assembled in one classroom in each school. …