Geographies of career aspirations: narratives of rural teen parents.
Kheswa, Nana Joyce.
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The rights of pregnant and parenting learners have recently taken centre stage, with the recent provisions in the South African Schools Act (Act 84 of 1996) and court judgments outlawing practices that discriminate against pregnant and parenting learners. These developments have been significant in that they have allowed space for teen parents to return to schools after pregnancy to pursue their career aspirations. This study sought to understand career aspirations of teen parents, the contextual factors that enabled and/or restricted the realisation of such aspirations and how teen parents navigated and negotiated these contextual factors in their efforts to pursue their career aspirations. The research questions were explored using in-depth semi-structured interviews, focus group discussions and photovoice. The participants in the study were seven (7) teen parents (i.e. two teen fathers and five teen mothers), aged between 17 and 23, who were currently doing Grade 12 in a secondary school in Ingwe Municipality, Harry Gwala District, KwaZulu-Natal. This study was guided by and framed within the theory of New Childhood Studies, which is a sub-field of Children’s Geographies and critical theory. The rationale for deploying this framework was to position teen parents as active social actors in the construction of their own lives. The findings of the study revealed that all the teen parents who participated in the study had some form of career aspirations, even though they were sometimes uncertain about their ultimate choice. Their career choices had largely been influenced by their experiences of socio-economic deprivation in their communities. This included poor service delivery in both schooling and community spaces, which prevented teen parents from exploring available career opportunities outside of their context. The construction of teenage pregnancy as moral deviance gave rise to a catalogue of challenges for teen parents’ pursuance of their career aspirations. However, three factors, namely, understanding the importance of obtaining an education; a supportive family; and personal experience of the difficulties facing their own community, stood out as sources of inspiration for teen parents to return to school and to continue with their studies. The findings point to the fact that the inclusion of pregnant and parenting teenagers is a significant step towards the protection of the uninhibited enjoyment of the right to a basic education. Given the disadvantaged educational, social, economic and employment background of rural teen parents, career development skills should be incorporated in education to enable them to pursue careers that will assist them to achieve economic independence and become full participants in society.