Academic journal article Educational Research for Social Change

Collaborated Understandings of Context-Specific Psychosocial Challenges Facing South African School Learners: A Participatory Approach

Academic journal article Educational Research for Social Change

Collaborated Understandings of Context-Specific Psychosocial Challenges Facing South African School Learners: A Participatory Approach

Article excerpt

Introduction

Learners at under-resourced schools in South Africa face significant psychosocial challenges (Spaull, 2013) that negatively affect both their own wellness and that of the teachers, ultimately resulting in a lower quality of teaching and learning (Modisaotsile, 2012). The transition from a segregated apartheid education system, where resources were inequitably allocated according to race (Modisaotsile, 2012), to an inclusive education system has been fraught with challenges. Inequitable access to resources (Bruce, 2014; Spaull, 2013) and sectored poverty (Donald, Lazarus, & Lolwana, 2010) continue to play a role in contributing to the psychosocial challenges faced in South African under-resourced communities, which consequently affect the wellness of members of the school community in that context (Donald et al., 2010). Contextual challenges relevant to this article include poor living conditions in informal settlements with little access to basic amenities (Donald et al., 2010), poor parenting (Ward et al., 2014), poverty-related HIV/AIDS issues (Theron, 2009), socioeconomic influences on teenage sexuality (Miller et al., 2014), substance abuse (Tlale & Dreyer, 2013), school violence (Mampane, Ebersöhn, Cherrington, & Moen, 2014), and poor parent participation within school structures (Joubert, Ebersöhn, Ferreira, du Plessis, & Moen 2014; Khanare, 2012; Mncube, 2009). South African school teachers are inadequately prepared to support learners within such contexts (Masitsa, 2011; Motshekga, 2010), having only received very basic concepts of educational psychology and community development as part of their preservice training (Donald et al., 2010). This situation negatively impacts on the wellness of the individual teacher and on the larger school system. While workshops are conducted sporadically to improve the support skills of in-service teachers, these are inadequate for capacitating teachers to support learners in under-resourced urban black communities (Motshekga, 2010), commonly known in South Africa as townships.

Inadequately prepared teachers are understandably anxious and overwhelmed by the complex challenges experienced by their learners (Masitsa, 2011; Modisaotsile, 2012), making it difficult for them to mobilise their potential agency (Freire, 1970/2005). An asset-based paradigm (McKnight & Kretzmann, 1993; Pillay, 2012) suggests that teachers possess the potential and willingness to support vulnerable learners if they are equipped with the knowledge and skills to do this (Hoadley, 2007; Malindi & Machenjedze, 2012; Mampane & Bouwer, 2006; Theron, 2009). In this article, the authors suggest that a participatory action learning and action research (PALAR, Zuber-Skerritt, 2012) process would be suitable to improve the capacity of participating teachers to support learners and thereby feel less overwhelmed and anxious. PALAR (Zuber-Skerritt, 2011) aims to improve professional practice and involves an iterative and collaborative process that allows professionals to iteratively and collaboratively reflect on their actions throughout the cyclic PALAR process (Zuber-Skerritt, 2012). By following the PALAR process as expanded on in the section on PALAR as a theoretical paradigm, teacher participants collaborated with each other to come to a better understanding of the psychosocial challenges faced by learners. The aim of this PALAR project was not merely for identifying contextual wellness challenges at school level, but also to add to existing indigenous knowledge (Kearney & ZuberSkerritt, 2012) with regard to how such contextual issues could be addressed (Zuber-Skerritt & Teare, 2013) to enhance wellness. Indigenous knowledge refers to existing systems or strategies "generated in a communal way and based on the experiences of a specific group of people" (Fasokun, Katahoire, & Oduaran, 2005, p. 61), which communities follow when identifying and addressing contextual challenges as a collective (Teare & Zuber-Skerritt, 2013). …

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