The geographies of schooling and motherhood : narratives of teen mothers in KwaZulu-Natal.
Nkabinde, Rosemary Nobuhle.
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Teen motherhood, as a health and social problem, has raised great concerns in South Africa. Mokgalobone (1999) maintains that in South Africa, teen motherhood is one of the main causes of school disruption, particularly at secondary school level. Bhana et al. (2008) explain that with the promulgation of the South African Schools Act of 1996, it has become illegal to exclude teen mothers from school. This Act calls on schools to assist teen mothers to continue and complete their schooling. Despite this Act, research shows that teen mothers who return to school after the birth of their babies face various problems such as health, social exclusion, stigma and financial constraints, which makes it difficult for them to succeed academically. With this background, the aim of this study was to explore the experiences of teen mothers who return to school after giving birth. This study was informed by an interpretative approach and social constructionist theory. Positioned within these paradigms, I am interested in understanding the multiple identities of the teen mothers, for example, that of a mother and a learner; and how they navigate these identities. My study is sociological in nature and located within debates from a growing body of research referred to as children’s geographies and new sociology of childhood. I believe that children and teen mothers are capable individuals who can speak for themselves about their experiences of the social worlds in which they live (Holloway & Valentine, 2000). Eight (8) teen mothers between the ages of fourteen to nineteen years at a secondary school in KwaZulu-Natal were invited to narrate their life stories. Data generation tools were individual and focus group interviews, and a participatory research tool, photo-voice. The findings of this study revealed that teen mothers are indebted to people in their lives that have made it possible for them to return to school despite the stigmatisation and adversities they face due to dominant pathologising discourses that circulate within the school and the community. However, there is limited support from the school to enable them to navigate the barriers to accessing quality education and curriculum access that they experience. Schools have no structures to monitor and provide academic, emotional and counselling support to these learners. There are networks of support within extended families and community members but these appear to be rather fragile in a context of dire poverty and under-development. The study also illuminates the emotional geographies of the teen mothers and the multiple contextual influences that shape their emotional lives. Poverty and its effects are over-riding barriers to the wellbeing and quality of life of teen mothers and their babies. However, despite the adversities teen mothers face, there is evidence of resiliency and agency in the complex ways they negotiate their lives and commit to the goal of graduating from high school.
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