Academic journal article Perspectives in Education

Early School Leavers and Sustainable Learning Environments in Rural Contexts

Academic journal article Perspectives in Education

Early School Leavers and Sustainable Learning Environments in Rural Contexts

Article excerpt

The problem

One of the most serious problems in the South African education system currently is the high number of early school leavers (ESLs) (Dieltiens & Meny-Gibert, 2008; Department of Education [DoE], 2007; Development Bank of South Africa, 2008; Mahlomaholo, Mamiala, Hongwane, Ngcongwane, Itlhopheng, Fosu-Amoah, Mahlomaholo, Kies & Mokgotsi, 2010; Masitsa, 2006). For example, in the North-West Province where this study is focused, it is estimated that, in any one year, about 53 000 learners enrol for Grade 1 but that 12 years later such a cohort is decimated to around 20 000 learners sitting for the Grade 12 examinations (Mahlomaholo et al., 2010). This implies that about 33 000 learners will have fallen by the wayside, having left school before completing at least their 12th grade. Some studies use the stigmatising concept of the 'drop outs' to refer to the ESLs (see DoE, 2007; Jimerson, Egeland, Sroufe & Carlson, 2000). Such a concept tends to blame the victims of a system of education and schooling that does not provide adequate support for all learners and regard others, the majority, as expendable. ESLs are thus that category of learners who could have become productive citizens in a democracy but who, due to factors beyond their control, had to leave school before completing at least Grade 12.

This problem of ESLs seems to be compounded even further when the learners reside and attend schools in rural settings of the country. To illustrate this point, in the North-West Province over 70% of the learners who leave school early come from rural environments (Mahlomaholo et al., 2010; Statistics South Africa, 2007). While it is a fact that rurality as a setting may be exacerbating the issue of learner attrition, I wish to argue in this paper that rural learners do not enjoy the same privileges and resources as their urban counterparts. For example, schools in the rural settings are few and far from where the learners stay (Mahlomaholo & Hongwane, 2009). They also do not have easy access to services such as water and electricity. Teachers who work in these areas are less qualified and often have very low levels of motivation (Matlho, 2011). A closer look at the rural settings also shows that, unlike the urban areas, they are not the seats of power as they lie usually on the margins and fringes of social, educational, political and economic activity (Woodrum, 2011).

As a country we seem not to have a very clear understanding of what constitutes rural education. Our educational policies and practices of the curriculum use the urban learner as the norm and focus for educational provisioning (Matlho, 2011). This results in rural learners being ignored and thus located on the periphery of the national education agenda (Balfour & De Lange, 2011). Furthermore, there are many stereotypes about what rurality and education therein entail. There are even views expressed about the unsophisticated, inferior intellectual capacity and backward nature of rural learners and their lack of knowledge regarding technological gadgets, to name a few (Sherwood, 2000; Sibanda, 2004).

In this paper, I am thus advocating for rural education policy and curriculum practice to take rurality as their point of departure and continue to validate the community cultural wealth thereof because it has its own experiences, fears and aspirations just like its urban counterpart. When such an approach is adopted, rurality and rural learners are understood for who they really are. It is also under such conditions that we can talk about a sustainable learning environment being created for the rural learner because it privileges equity, social justice, freedom, peace and hope.

The lens

Such an approach is clearly articulated in Yosso's (2005) theorisation on community cultural wealth which differs significantly from Bourdieu's (2003) notion of cultural capital. The latter, when faced with the apparent disadvantage of rural learners as described by the dominant discourses, would argue that they have deficiencies with regard to the requisite cultural capital. …

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