Human development in social and socio-cultural learning milieus

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Monash University seeks to improve the human condition by advancing knowledge and fostering creativity. It does so through research and education and a commitment to social justice, human rights and a sustainable environment (Monash University’s Statement of Purpose, Monash Directions 2025)


This chapter briefly refers to the trends in higher education worldwide, the increase in multinational and multicultural student bodies at higher education institutions in South Africa (Loots 2009) and the implications of this for MSA and the FP in particular. It describes the rationale for initiating support programmes, and the design and structure of tutoring and mentoring programmes in support of the MSAFP IT mathematics students specifically. Opinions are supported by the bricolage of theoretical perspectives discussed in the previous chapter, which are referred to but not discussed.

Multinationalism and multiculturalism in higher education

Multinationalism and multiculturalism at higher education institutions is a worldwide phenomenon (Chang 1999; Crosling & Web 2002; Pokorny & Pokorny 2005) and has been especially marked during recent years as opportunities became available for students from less developed countries to study overseas, or from areas within a country as is the case in South Africa. This phenomenon has implications for MSA and FP students in particular (Monash Directions 2025; MSA General Information 2008), especially with regard to academic outcomes. I argue that a support sustem that helps students cope with the academic, social and emotional difficulties they encounter is essential. Furthermore, I argue that such a support programme works best as a holistic enterprise within a community of practice of like-minded people sharing a common purpose. The following section discusses the academic and psychosocial implications of admitting English Additional Language (EAL) students to higher education institutions in South Africa which have English as the language of learning and teaching (LoLT). Since learning in a second language (L2) is considered by many researchers, such as Cummins (2000), Howie (2002) Lemmer (2009a in process) and Setati (2008) among others, as having a major impact on academic outcomes it is given considerable the following section. The impact of cultural diversity on students will be discussed later in this chapter.
Setati’s (2008) research shows a preference for English as the LoLT by most black South African parents and students/learners. She refers to the coveted social and linguistic capital of English-medium education institutions, and argues that not only do ‘most black parents want their children to be educated in English’ but ‘most children want to be educated in English’ (Setati 2008:104), and therefore, ‘teachers and learners who position themselves in relation to English are concerned with access to social goods and positioned by the social and economic power of English’. According to Setati (2008:103), teachers and learners with this point of view ‘do not focus on epistemological access but argue for English as the LoLT’. Howie (2003:1) suggests that the level of students’ proficiency in English is ‘a strong predictor of their success in mathematics’ and therefore ‘becomi ng proficient in English is a solution to improving L2 learners’ mathematics performance’. It is therefore understandable that parents and students place such importance on English as the LoLT, and the relationship of this to an increased number of EAL students into English higher education institutions According to Cummins (2000) Lemmer (2009a) EAL students Research by Bergh and Theron (2005), Chang (1999), Crosling and Web (2002), Gupta (2004), Howie (2003), Maitland and Manson (2006), Pokorny and Pokorny (2005), Setati (2008) and others all appear to support this argument. As greater numbers of EAL students register at higher education institutions institutions innovative support programmes have had to be introduced to deal with academic shortcomings and social concerns (Crosling & Webb 2002; Loots 2009; Powell 1997). These issues are dealt with in Chapters 4 and 5.
Britain and the United States of America have well-established mentoring and tutoring programmes which have been developed over many years in order to deal with issues relating to the influx of EAL learners into education institutions (Goodlad & Hirst 1989; Jaworski & Watson 1994; Powell 1997). South Africa, on the other hand, has only become an attractive destination for foreign students and Africans in particular, since the demise of the apartheid system in 1994 (Rutherford & Matlou 1998; Goodlad 1998). Higher education institutions have therefore only recently begun to develop their mentoring and tutoring programmes. The need for a post-matriculation, pre-university or academic development or foundation year has become more evident as higher education institutions have become more international and multicultural (Crosling & Web 2002; Loots 2009; Pokorny & Pokorny 2005). Even in countries where English is the primary language of learning and teaching (LoLT), such as in Nigeria and Botswana, many people speak English only at school and only in the classroom, conversing in the vernacular at all other times (focus group and informal interviews 2008). Consequently, when such students study at an institution such as MSA, where English is the LoLT, they can have difficulty in understanding and in expressing themselves fluently in academic English. This has an impact on learning, including mathematics (Maitland & Manson 2006) and the result of struggling with a subject such as mathematics (in which a student is competent) because of language issues, can affect self-esteem and possibly cause other psychosocial problems. A cycle is then established and perpetuated unless academic and psychosocial support is given.
LoLT places EAL students at a disadvantage and can set them back in their studies as they struggle to cope with language-related issues (Bergh & Theron 2005; Crosling & Web 2002; Getis, Getis & Felmann 2008; Gupta 2004; Howie 2002; Lucas et al 2006; Maitland & Manson 2006; Miller 2008; Setati 2008). Recent research supports the use of students’ home languages as the LoLT in the classroom as being preferable to learning in a second language (Adler 2001; Moschkovich 1996; Moschkovich 1999; Moschkovich 2007; Setati & Adler 2001; Setati 2008; Setati in Keitel, Adler & Vithal (Editors) 2005)). However, in the South African context, Setati (2008) and Howie (2002) argue that because English is viewed as a means of cultural assimilation and a unifying social factor, it is preferred as the LoLT by parents, teachers and learners. According to Reagan & Ntshoe (in Setati 2008:104), ‘(t)he political nature of language is not only at the macro-level of structure but also at the micro-level of classroom interactions’ and ‘can be used t o exclude or include people in conversations and decision-making processes’. Thus using the home languages of learners as a resource tends to be seen as a threat to the development of multilingual learners’ fluency in English and therefore a possible threat to a ‘common, unified society’ (Setati 2008).
The difficulties that EAL students face when learning in a second language such as English are widely recognised. Lack of fluency not only leads to academic shortcomings but also to psychological stress, and this can lead to social and emotional difficulties which further affects academic confidence and successful outcomes. This can become an on-going cycle of distress and failure (Bergh & Theron 2005; Crosling & Web 2002; Gupta in Alred et al 2003; Lucas et al 2006 and Maitland & Manson 2006). Recognising the need to deal with this problem has given impetus to investigating ways and means of supporting the educational needs of EAL students in many countries where English is the LoLT but where there is significant multilingualism amongst the students. This is the case in the United States (Moschovich 1999), England (Halliday in Monaghan 2006), Australia (Crosling & Web 2002), and more recently, South Africa (Setati 2008; Barwell, Barton & Setati 2007).
It has therefore become increasingly important to identify specifically what international students need in order to integrate or become acculturated in an unfamiliar environment (Crosling & Web 2002; Gupta in Alred et al 2003) so that the needs of EAL students can be met. This requires a fuller understanding of the impact of internationalisation of higher education institutions on education, and the need for more cross-cultural studies. The following section deals with the effect of cultural diversity on pedagogical practices at higher education institutions


The effect of cultural diversity on pedagogical practices

‘Cultural diversity’ is a commonly used term and on e with which many people are familiar. It is descriptive of a heterogeneous community of people consisting of many different social groups. Within such communities, there are multiplicities of national and cultural traditions and languages. At the same time, recognition and acknowledgment is given to the right of individuals to establish their own cultural and personal identities within the cultural group.
People are cultural beings and are shaped by their environment through processes of socialisation (Berger & Luckmann in Alred et al 2003:2-3; Astin 1993). Educationists therefore need to be aware of the development of cultural identities within their learners. However, because people are social beings they develop through interaction with others within a social community. As has been pointed out in Chapter 2, this is the view of, among others, Vygotsky, Alvin, and Lave and Wenger. Among other requirements, learners need security in order to function cognitively and psychosocially at their best. Acceptance by the group and being part of the group are important because groups tend to favour ‘insider members of their groups over outsider members of other groups’ (Tajfel in Alred et al 2003:3). However, people socialised in a specific group tend to believe that the mores and values of the group are natural and normal, and this can make for problems when they move away from their group. According to Alred et al (2003:3), it is when people step outside of their own narrow life experiences and begin to question the authenticity of their group’s beliefs and behaviours, without necessarily discarding them, and begin to experience and reflect on other conventions, values, belief systems and behaviours that they begin to become intercultural. Social identities are developed on many levels, and identification with in-groups as well as out-groups ‘offers different forms of security and different opportunities for experiencing “otherness”’ (Alred et al 2003:3). The opportunity to experience new relationships and the ability to reflect and analyse the experiences and to act on insights into oneself is to learn, and this is the true value of the intercultural phenomenon. However, should the student not be accepted into the new community he or she may feel ostracised and unable to cope with problems that may arise. Feelings of isolation and inadequacy may lead to cognitive and psychosocial dysfunction and the need for some kind of academic or psychosocial intervention.
It is, however, difficult if not impossible to focus on the individual in a mass higher education situation where classes are large and lecturers do not always know students individually (Ingram 2010). Nevertheless, it is important that the learning environment is structured so that it nurtures the individual and leads to independent learning (Hunt 2009; Pokorny & Pokorny 2005). Carefully designed and correctly structured and monitored peer tutor-mentor programmes should be considered as a pedagogically sound support system that is part of the social world of learning (Braxton in Loots 2009).
Pokorny and Pokorny (2005) point out that increased student numbers brings with it changes in the nature of student populations and with it the need to realise and acknowledge that students’ skills and knowledge base may not be adequate or up to the required standard. According to Pokorny and Pokorny (2005) and Crosling and Web (2002), massive increases in student numbers has a serious impact on student progression, resulting in a significant drop in throughput rates and a decrease in retention rates. Many reasons are proffered for this, such as extremely large class sizes and a loss of personal identity, but one of the most significant is that of language. Many EAL students struggle with English while at the same time trying to cope with normal first year issues which often leads to feelings of hopelessness and an inability to cope academically and psychosocially (Astin 1993; Crosling & Web 2002; Gupta in Alred et al 2003; Lucas et al 2005; Pokorny & Pokorny 2005). The results of stressers caused by academic and psychosocial factors may lead to long-term as well as short-term academic consequences for the student, the institution and the country. Other studies produce contradictory findings. For example, in the opinion of Chang (1999) cross-cultural education has mainly positive outcomes. He (1999:377) does however, recognise that:
Simply mixing students from different racial groups does not necessarily result in positive outcomes. Instead, the potential educational benefits of racial diversity [and cultural diversity: author’s note] may very well be mediated by specific experiences that are significantly associated with having a diverse student body.
The differences in the points of view may perhaps stem from differences in belief systems and the cultures in which the studies took place, viz. Chang (the United States), Crosling and Web (Australia), Gupta (the United States), Pokorny and Pokorny (the United Kingdom), Howie (South Africa) and Rutherford and Matlou (South Africa
Many attempts have been, and are being, made to deal with the issues mentioned above and all appear to have had some measure of success (Barwell et al 2007; Crosling & Web 2002; Goodlad 1998; Goodlad & Hirst 1989; Maitland & Manson 2006; Moschovich 1999; Pokorny Pokorny 2005; Powell 1997; Setati 2008). One of the main challenges of increased access for higher education is to understand the differences in the pedagogical practices world-wide and to be able to integrate foreign students into the life and culture of the university without altering its pedagogy, tradition and culture. This is a difficult problem to solve because the purpose of higher education is that of learning which includes learning from other societies and cultures.
One of the key influences on education and pedagogical practices is that of religious beliefs and customs (Block 2007). These are deeply embedded in a person’s psyche and inform her or his world-view. This may affect a student’s ability to cope with different cultural mores and values especially when studying in a foreign country that has different ideas about the part that religion plays in education compared with what he or she is used to. A student’s cultural and religious background will, therefore, have a profound effect on his or her level of psychosocial comfort and may affect learning and academic performance.
Cultural practices affect the language of learning and teaching (LoLT) and pedagogical practices at higher education institutions, especially in relation to higher education institutions’ goals of incorporating internationalisation, cross-culturalism and inter-culturalism into their education philosophies. This applies especially to EAL students. Acculturation is a slow process and is not always accepted by the individual, and may not always be successful (Gupta in Alred et al 2003). Careful attention therefore needs to be paid to the kind of support given and the way in which it is offered so as not to offend cultural norms and values, yet at the same time hold to the norms and values of the institution. An additional factor is that acculturation may not be what the student desires. He or she may want to remain wholly within his or her own culture. However, if learning is to take place and the student is to be comfortable in the new context, then an element of acculturation must occur.
To enable EAL students to make the most of their educational opportunities, higher education institutions must therefore overcome the challenges mentioned above, through well-organised, properly functioning peer tutor-mentor programmes where students support students in all areas of their lives: social, emotional and academic. A pedagogical approach such as this will assist higher education institutions to put into practice the principles and values embedded in the ideals of inter-, multi- and cross-culturalism while remaining considerate of the embedded and encultured mores and values of individual students and the university’s own educational philosophy. At the same time, such a support system should encourage acculturation to a degree that is acceptable to EAL students and, while satisfying their emotional and social needs, enables them to realize their academic potential


1.1. Introduction
1.2. Statement of the problem
1.3 Aims
1.4 Research design
1.5 Clarification of terms
1.6 Chapter division
1.7 Conclusion
2.1 Introduction
2.2 Justification for a multi–theoretical approach
2.3 Theoretical perspectives
2.4 A bricolage of developmental and learning theories
2.5 Pedagogical pragmatism
2.6 The impact of acquisition and participation metaphors on learning theories
2.7 Human development in social and socio-cultural learning milieus
2.9 Conclusion
3.1 Introduction
3.2 Multinationalism and multiculturalism in higher education
3.3 Monash South Africa
3.5 Needs of MSA and FP Students
3.6 Communities of practice within Monash South Africa
3.7 Aims and characteristics common to tutoring and mentoring programmes
3.8 Conclusion
4.1. Introduction
4.2. Research design
4.3 Background
4.4 Phase 1: The quantitative research design
4.5. Phase 2: The qualitative research design
4.6 Conclusion to Phase 1
4.7 Integration of the data
4.8 Conclusion
5.1. Introduction
5.2. Phase 1: quantitative findings
5.3. Phase 2: Qualitative findings
5.4 Integration of Phases 1 and 2
5.5 Discussion of integrated data
5.6 Fourth level abstraction towards a situation-producing theory of tutormentorship at MSA
5.7 Conclusion
6.1 Introduction
6.2 Summary of the literature research
6.3 Summary of the empirical investigation
6.4 Key findings
6.5 Recommendations for improvement of practice
6.6 Areas for future research
6.7 Limitations of the study
6.8 Reflection
6.9 Conclusion

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