An enabling learning environment for international students in the context of HIV and AIDS.
Nwokedi, Peace Ginika.
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Ideally, providing an enabling learning environment for international students in the context of HIV and AIDS is seen as significant due to their increasing numbers in South African universities. This is because an enabling learning environment will help in enhancing their learning and general wellbeing. However, HIV and AIDS is regarded as everybody’s business within the South African society, of which international students are part. This implies that international students have a part to play in ensuring that the spread and impact of HIV and AIDS is reduced within their host society. Despite this, their voices in South African universities still remain silent and unheard, showing that their contribution might often be taken for granted on issues about them and on issues pertaining to HIV and AIDS. Meanwhile, DHET (2013) policy states that South African universities need to create an enabling learning environment for all their students in order to enable them to learn, grow and develop holistically. Consequently, recent studies have shown that international students studying in South African universities experience diverse factors within their learning environment that inhibit their learning, growth and development. Based on the above, this study proposes an enabling learning environment for international students in the context of HIV and AIDS and aims to seek ways in which the university could create an enabling learning environment for international students in the context of HIV and AIDS. This is a qualitative research study that is guided by an instrumental case study approach within the interpretive paradigm. I employed a multiple method approach for the generation of data which consists of photovoice (a participatory visual method), a self-reflective essay and a focus group discussion method to respond to the main research question and the three critical questions used to underpin this study. Consequently, I drew on the agentic capability theory of Albert Bandura to frame the study and the data were generated from twelve participants’ voices on their subjective experiences, views, ideas, values, knowledge and perspectives concerning how the university could create an enabling learning environment for them in the context of HIV and AIDS. The visual, textual and verbal data generated was then analysed using the thematic analysis of Tesch (1990). The twelve participants consist of six male and six female international postgraduate and undergraduate students who were purposively and conveniently selected, first because of their familiarity with the researcher. Secondly, based on the fact that they all reside at or close to the university environment, inside the Durban metropolis of the province of KwaZulu-Natal, and have being studying at this particular university for more than two years. Thirdly, they are members of the international students’ group who come from within and outside the continent of Africa and are doing their undergraduates and postgraduate degrees in the context of HIV and AIDS. I drew on the diverse perspectives, identities, knowledge, ideas, opinions and lived experiences of her participants to conduct the study. This indicates that the learning experiences of her participants in the context of HIV and AIDS were varied. However, the findings of the study revealed four themes. The first theme revealed international students’ multiple understandings of an enabling learning environment, such as the promotion of a healthy lifestyle, academic support, financial support and encouraging social integration. The second theme was that international students need an enabling learning environment in the context of HIV and AIDS to augment or improve on their wellbeing and to address the various challenges they are experiencing within their learning environment. In this second theme, the study identified several factors that inhibit the students’ learning within the context of HIV and AIDS. These include psychosocial issues, for example, lack of sense of belonging, feeling of alienation and xenophobia, lack of social support and language barriers; some socio-cultural issues like the exclusive university and immigration policies; difficulty in acquiring study visas to continue with their study in their host environment; and lastly socio-economic issues, such as lack of funding and scholarships and lack of job opportunities. Theme three in this study revealed diverse dynamic multidimensional strategies that could be used in creating an enabling learning environment for international students in the context of HIV and AIDS. These include a comprehensive HIV and AIDS programme; provision of food security; a culturally inclusive university policy; enhancing university security and safety measures; providing more recreational facilities; provision of grants and scholarship for international students; enhancing the teaching and learning resources as well as creating job opportunities for international students. However, the findings also highlight the diverse roles of different enablers such as international students, local students and the university management within the context of HIV and AIDS in enhancing the diverse dynamic strategies that could be used in creating an enabling learning environment in the context of HIV and AIDS. Notwithstanding, in the last theme, the findings in the study showed that employing the photovoice method in this study enabled agency in the lives of the international students by exposing them to visual skills; enabled them to acquire creative skill; enhanced their critical thinking; was seen as an unconventional way of learning; enabled active engagement; connected them to other people; developed awareness of self and the university environment and lastly helped to empower the disempowered, The findings of the study have implication for research, teaching, training and infrastructure. This implies that the findings could be used by the university as a way of developing an enabling learning environment in the South African higher educational institutions in order for their students to become socially and culturally integrated as well as help develop inclusive policies in which international students will be considered. The study concludes by contending that an enabling learning environment for international students in the context of HIV and AIDS should be socially and culturally embedded. Hence, the study has shown that a responsiveness to international students’ voices, based on their diverse perspectives, ideas, experiences, identities and knowledge, which have been disregarded, is needed to address their needs in relation to creating an enabling learning environment for them.