Geographies of underperforming learners in the intermediate phase : a narrative inquiry.
Ngidi, Thokozani Auctavia.
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This is a qualitative study which set out to investigate the experiences of grade six learners who were regarded as academically underperforming at Isizwesokuthula Primary School, a combined semi-urban primary school under Pinetown District, North of Durban in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Using children’s geographies Holloway (2014) and new Sociology of Childhood Studies Wyness (2013) as its guiding theoretical frameworks, the study explored the places and spaces that these learners occupy within this schooling context. It also explored the factors affecting these learners’ schooling experiences and how the learners actively engaged with these dynamics. The aim of the study was to understand factors that impact on these learners’ social and academic lives, as well as what we can learn from these experiences in order to enhance their social and educational experiences. The study adopted a qualitative interpretive research design, within the tradition of a narrative inquiry as means of data generation. It utilised purposive sampling to select six (three girls and three boys) grade six learners aged between 11-14 years who according to the school records, were regarded as academically underperforming. Photo-voice and drawings were used as participatory techniques aimed at foregrounding the participants’ authentic voices and agency during data collection. The participant learners took photos and drawings that captured salient spaces and places of their schooling experiences related to the objectives of the study. These (photos and drawings) were used to stimulate discussions which helped elucidate the learners’ narratives during the individual and focus group interviews. The study adopted thematic and content analyses as its methods of data analysis. The findings revealed that underperforming learner were not just aware of their labeling, but also they were aware of the low social spaces that being categorised as underperforming occupied in the hierarchy of power relations in the school. Many of the stereotypes and myths that they were associated with were found to further hamper these learners’ achievement and progress and served as barriers to their learning, participation and development. Classrooms, home-school interface and school-based peer interactions were found to be major spaces and places that formed the intensity of the underperforming learners’ schooling experiences. Each of these spaces and places were found to presents its own dynamics and challenges which directly affected these learners. The study also revealed a number of creative strategies and ways in which these learners adopted to navigate and transcend their low social and academic standing in the school. Albeit, these creative navigational strategies indicated agency and self-determination on the part of these learners, these strategies were found to only aid survival at the social and peer-based interactions. Without the coordinated support from key stakeholders in the school, the study found that these learners were at high risk of being academically excluded from the school. Not only due to their low academic performance, but also as a result of some anti-social behaviour that these learners adopted as coping mechanisms in response to their unfavourable schooling experiences. The findings from this study could prove useful to all key stakeholders, including the Department of Education in their endeavor to meet the learners’ needs and so facilitate socially responsive and sensitive learning and teaching environments. Learners regarded as underperforming should be exposed to educational activities that would help in instilling assertiveness and independence to them, so that they would also make friends easily, but mostly to enhance their primary school academic achievement. Given the findings that some of the dynamics that negatively affected the learners’ performance at school emanated from home, there is need for stronger parental involvement in the education of their children.