Sense-of-belonging in high school : exploring the effects of satisfaction with social and structural aspects of school climate in three diverse schools.
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This study is conceptualized within the broad context of a national education system struggling to produce within learners either the academic outcomes required for economically productive adulthood or the social and moral outcomes required for active and responsible citizenship. Feeling a sense-of-belonging is a basic human need and crucial for successful communal living as it fosters solidarity. A complicating factor is the notion that diversity negatively affects solidarity. As the only remaining compulsory social institution, schools provide the ideal location for instilling the values required for solidarity. Additionally, since education occurs in a social setting, a sense-of-belonging facilitates the environments required for effective learning. The study adopts the position that both social (relationships) and non-social (structures and resources) components of the “school climate” (a term used to denote the whole-school context) affect the development of a sense-of-belonging in learners. The questions are posed: which aspects of school climate show the greatest effect on sense-of-belonging? What are the effects of diversity and minority group status? Adopting a structural model developed by Cemalcilar (2010), a quantitative methodology is used to measure various aspects of learners’ experiences in terms of their levels of subjective satisfaction and identifies the effects of the aspects on sense-of-belonging. Further, the relationships are examined in relation to the effects of components of the concept of diversity. Brofenbrenner’s ecological theory of human development (1979) and various normative functionalist theories of social control, primarily those of Hirschi (1969), are applied to explain variations in satisfaction and sense-of-belonging. Regression analysis indicates that the strongest determinants on learners’ satisfaction with the school climate are the relationships with peers and teachers, and the quality of the campus and resources. The need for emotional bonds characterised by trust and respect emerges as vital. An unexpected result is that social and structural satisfaction as conceptualized in the model do not significantly account for variations in sense-of-belonging. The learners do, however, report relatively high levels of sense-of-belonging, so alternate sources of the sensation not directly measured by the model are presented as possible explanations (e.g. extra-murals and gangs). The results do not support the hypothesis that diversity negatively affects sense-of-belonging and few significant effects were found for belonging to a minority group. Concluding remarks highlight the need for government to continue the improvement of the structural conditions of our schools and the greater need for an emphasis on respect - Ubuntu - in the hidden and visible curricula to foster improvements in both academic and civil outcomes.