CHAPTER THREE THE PROFILE OF THE EDUCATIONALLY DISADVANTAGED LEARNER
In this chapter, the profile of the educationally disadvantaged learner will be examined as an important factor influencing cognitive development, as it is generally accepted that the human being is to a large degree a product of his or her environment. Our circumstances and experiences influence whom we become. In other words, how we experience our home environment and relationships and interaction with others will influence how we approach problems in our environment (McCall 1984: 1317; Dunn and Dunn in Cohen 1997: 153, 155). The disadvantaged learner has a particular profile, which includes personality, emotional and mental aspects, self-concept and behaviour. Because of the diversity of the population and the fact that most educationally disadvantaged learners come from the African population, the danger lies in equating educational disadvantage with African people. Educational disadvantage permeates throughout South African society.
Throughout this chapter, Educationally Disadvantaged Learners will be referred to as EDLs.
THE EDUCATIONALLY DISADVANTAGED LEARNER
Identifying the Educationally Disadvantaged Learner
Several researchers such as those mentioned below, have attempted to define the educationally disadvantaged learner as anyone who may come from any geographical and socio-economic environment and who is prevented from realising his/her potential.
According to Passon (1970) in Natriello (1990:6), learners who because of negative social or cultural situations, such as “lower social class, race, ethnic origin, poverty, sex, geographical location”, enter school with “knowledge, skills and attitudes which impede learning and contribute to a cumulative academic deficit”, can be regarded as disadvantaged.
Bates et al in Nurcombe (1976:64), describes educationally disadvantaged children as children lagging behind in language development, having poor self images, being experientially deprived, having poor school orientation and who come from a poor family structure. Haywood in Haywood (1982:275) describes lower Socio-Economic Status (SES) children as having increased “manifest anxiety; relatively lower levels of curiosity and exploratory behaviour, an orientation towards failure avoidance rather than toward success striving, task-extrinsic rather than task-intrinsic motivational orientation, negative self-concept with low value of themselves; little long-range planning for their lives and a strongly external locus of control”.
Feuerstein (Hundeide 1991:20) defines educationally disadvantaged learners as culturally deprived in that they have been deprived of some basic human experiences, e.g. knowledge of the culture into which the child had been born, which are regarded as essential for normal human adaptability and development. Feuerstein (Hundeide 1991:20) adds that the basic experiences of cultural knowledge that are assumed to be universal should be transmitted by another representative of the culture, usually the parent or guardian.
The National Commission on Education (1996:3) describes educational disadvantage as the denial of equal access to educational opportunities, the tendency to leave education at the first opportunity and the hindrance to achievement by social and environmental factors.
Researchers (Dicker, Ferreira & Pretorius 1996:139, 140; van Niekerk & Meier 1995:77; Manfredi/Petitt 1994:72; Vance 1997:32) are of the opinion, therefore, that educational experience stems from formal schooling as well as family and community and that students who have not had adequate exposure to one or more of these structures, are educationally disadvantaged.
Characteristics of Educationally Disadvantaged Children
Hundeide (1991: 18) has outlined several characteristics of educationally disadvantaged children:
Theirs is a world of immediacy. Planning for the future is not a priority. In fact, the child’s physical environment does not really lend itself to planning for the future. Providing for basic necessities of life, such as food on a daily basis, is of paramount importance.
They do not have the ability to think critically and they accept “whatever is presented”.
They do not have the skills to weigh up the odds and to “form a link between a cause and effect, between past present and future experiences”.
The inability to plan has as a consequence, impulsive erratic behaviour, demands for instant gratification and a lack of goal directedness.
Their egocentric behaviour is often objectionable to others but they are unaware of it.
They live within their immediate environment and do not attempt to acquire information further afield.
Educationally disadvantaged children believe that they are incapable of achievement and therefore are not motivated to do so.
External factors determine their behaviour. Intrinsic motivation is absent and they are resigned to failure.
Obstacles in the Progress of the EDL
Harmse (1996:2) lists learning handicaps which may hamper the progress of the environmentally deprived child as: 1) limited vocabulary, poor reading and spelling; 2) inadequate learning patterns; 3) tendency towards the concrete rather than abstract reality; 4) auditory and visual perceptual impairment; 5) needs external motivation; 6) does not perform well in tests which have time limitations; 7) slow execution of cognitive tasks; 8) may come across as anti-intellectual and pragmatic; 9) blames others for failures; 10) low self-image and lack of self-confidence; 11) short attention span; 12) often rejects authority; 13) is not concerned with long term goals, plans and consequences; 14) underachieves.
According to Haywood (1982:276) SES children lack the ability to differentiate parts and wholes, analyze components, gather information accurately, relate past experience to present problems, and project symbolic relationships. This is as a result of inadequate opportunities to learn. He believes that deficiencies manifest themselves as poor learning effectiveness Caplan (1964) in Nurcombe (1976:53) cites three ways in which a child may be disadvantaged. These include: 1) physical deprivation to varying degrees, which includes poor nutrition and excessive exposure to disease and trauma; 2) psychosocial deprivation, which includes parental loss, rejection or unavailability; 3) socio-cultural, which occurs when the primary social group, i.e. the family structure, fails to teach the child the values and skills necessary to function efficiently in his cultural group or the dominant cultural group.
Numerous investigators have shown that the home environment and the influence of parents also play a major role in whether the learner is going to succeed at school.
Dougherty (1996:48) supports the view that the parental relationship with the school influences academic achievement. Parents of a higher socio-economic group are more involved; more aware of their children’s activities at school; are more comfortable in their interaction with teachers; understand better how the school works and are more able to influence decision making in the school than are parents from a lower socio-economic strata of society.
Parents who are proactive in their approach to their children’s education, ‘encourage their verbalization of ideas, imagination and playfulness, children learn actively and the aim of education is learning how to learn’ (Schaeffer 1991: 241).
Kallaghan (1977:754) cites numerous studies, which confirm the claim that “measures of home are more closely related to measures of scholastic attainment – particularly in the basic school subjects than to measures of intelligence”. In other words, their studies have shown that the home environment has a significantly greater influence on scholastic achievement than has intelligence.
Van Heerden (1997:78) in her study to determine the cause of poor academic performance of disadvantaged black students at Unisa, describes the factors influencing this poor performance. Many of these students grew up in large extended households with semiliterate or illiterate parents who earned wages that were inadequate to provide for the needs of the household. Many of them grew up without “cultural objects such as reading matter, a radio, electricity, furniture, domestic utensils and toys” (van Heerden 1997:79).
Kalinowski & Sloane’s (1981:86) study also confirms the fact that the home significantly influences the child’s ability to achieve. They state that several variables in the home influence school achievement. These are: “the parental press for achievement; the quality of language used by the parents; the availability and quality of help provided by the home; the intellectual interests and activities of the family; the encouragement to explore and the structure and routine in home management”. It is significant that most of these variables are absent in the home environment of the disadvantaged child.
Educationally disadvantaged parents often regard education as the solution to all their problems. However, together with personal, familial and community problems, the education presented to their children is alien to their life world, and they barely if at all succeed at it.
THE LIFE-WORLD OF THE EDUCATIONALLY DISADVANTAGED LEARNER
The life world of the learner includes everything to which he/she attaches meaning in his/her physical environment as well as relationships with people, objects and self.
THE PHYSICAL ENVIRONMENT OF THE EDL
According to Binswanger in Van den Aardweg and Van den Aardweg (1988:85), the physical environment is the world of objects we orientate ourselves to and this is referred to as the Umwelt.
A great number of South Africans are living below the poverty line. In South Africa a significant number of people may be included under the World Bank’s (1984:19) definition in Gildenhuys and Le Roux (1993:33) of absolute poverty where the income is so low that a minimum standard of nutrition, education and basic human needs cannot be met.
According to Wilson & Ramphele (1989:17), a study done by them in 1980 indicated that 50% of the South African population lived below subsistence level.
Educationally disadvantaged children are often exposed to abject poverty and these children are to be found in the cities, e.g. Johannesburg, townships, e.g. Tembisa and rural areas, e.g. the vast Kwa-Zulu Natal region. These children experience extreme anxiety as they are faced with hunger, the harshness of the elements, going to school with only the most threadbare of clothing, and no shoes when it is bitterly cold. They are often threatened by poor health owing to malnutrition, unhygienic living conditions and neglect by parents who can’t or won’t care adequately for their children. They concentrate their energies on trying to warm themselves and trying to ignore the gnawing hunger, which is a constant companion.
The educationally disadvantaged child is often reared in a low socio-economic status residential area, i.e. an environment that is neglected because of a lack of economic empowerment. A significant number of children in South Africa could be regarded as coming from poverty-stricken communities. In these communities, the infrastructure is very poor, possibly absent. The dwellings are nothing more than shacks (McKendrick 1993:213), made with any material which can be found, for example, wood, cardboard, plastic etc. The lack of a permanent dwelling often means that the family moves around and these children never develop a sense of belonging and stability. Other more permanent dwellings in low SES neighbourhoods are neglected and often derelict. Shacks are often very close together and one or two roomed, making privacy extremely difficult. Streets are often just dust roads and not well planned or demarcated, (McKendrick 1993:217), with many potholes. During the rainy season it becomes extremely difficult to move around as the dirt roads become muddy and the makeshift dwellings let the rain in. Clothing and bedding become damp and breeding grounds for germs.
The lack of toys and other stimulating activities mean that the occupants of the dwelling spend this time confined to their small space without being constructively occupied.
Basic needs are not met. No running water and often no electricity makes everyday life very difficult. Water for drinking, washing and bathing needs to be fetched from communal points. According to McKendrick (1993:215;
Naval-Severino 1993:120), ablution facilities are more often than not inadequate and a potential health hazard. How can a child whose basic physical needs are not met, cope with an academic environment, which in addition does not fit into his frame of reference? How can a learner do homework in such an environment?
In the Ekhuruleni Metropolitan district, an area which houses many educationally disadvantaged learners, it is not uncommon to hear of learners going without a meal for two to three days at a time. Logically, malnutrition will have negative consequences for these children. Malnutrition may cause permanent physiological damage and damage to the brain and central nervous system. (Van den Aardweg & Van den Aardweg 1988:171)
Recreational Opportunities in Low Socio-Economic Communities
In these low SES communities, playgrounds and other recreational facilities are usually conspicuous in their absence or run-down and derelict where unsavoury characters or gangs congregate.
As pointed out by van Heerden (1997:79), educationally disadvantaged children are not exposed to reading material at home and seldom make use of library facilities that may exist in the community, as their parents do not encourage reading nor understand the importance of reading. Other recreation is not available or only found in bigger centres. There is no money for transport (McKendrick 1993:216). Children are left to while away
time, become bored and often resort to delinquent behaviour influenced by other deviants.
According to Halsey in Bagley & Verma (1983:67), “for many learners the major determinants of educational attainment are not schoolmasters, but social situations, not curriculum, but motivation, not formal access to the school, but support in the family and the community. Since for many disadvantaged children in South Africa the above-mentioned determinants are lacking, is it any wonder that so many of them do not make it to or successfully complete Grade 12?
Often the anxiety the EDL experiences extends to avoiding or trying to pacify aggressive parents or elders who may be physically or sexually abusive, or alcoholic.
At home the EDL is not exposed to books or conversation with adults. Any questions that they may have go unasked or unanswered. Often among educationally disadvantaged learners in South Africa, the transmission of cultural knowledge is grossly neglected as adults desperately attempt to provide even the basic needs for survival, having little time to consider any other aspect of child rearing. Many low socio-economic status (SES) parents are more concerned about sending their children to work in order to supplement their income.
The educationally disadvantaged learner often comes from a large family (van Heerden 1997:78), where the children are closely spaced or the children are unwanted. Older children are left to care for younger siblings or elderly grandparents (Wallace & Adams 1987:8), and do household chores. Very little time is therefore left for play or reading or studying.
Disadvantaged learners often do not experience order and regularity in their family’s life and are frequently exposed to their parents’ marital strife. Pretorius (1990) in Harmer (1995:76) adds that there is poor family unity as the various family activities tend to be diverse and separate.
Furthermore, parents or guardians are often absent or uninvolved in the lives of educationally disadvantaged learners in South Africa as the family unit has in many cases disintegrated.
Parents who have migrated from the rural to the urban areas have often not mastered the culture of urban life, which leaves them feeling helpless and bewildered. They are often unskilled or at most semi-skilled with the result that it is almost impossible to find employment. They join the ranks of the unemployed and just to survive becomes an everyday battle. Planning for the future is a luxury they cannot afford as they attempt to put food in their children’s mouths from day to day. As stated by Wilson & Ramphele (1989:267), the “primary occupation of poor people is actual daily survival.
Forward planning is a luxury they can’t afford”. Educationally disadvantaged children learn of necessity to live in a concrete world of immediacy.
A more recent influence on family dynamics is the AIDS epidemic, which has forced many learners to face frequent deaths and serious illness in their families. Many learners are left orphans in the care of older siblings, strangers or grandparents.
The child who is a victim of parental ignorance and unemployment, overpopulation, lack of regular balanced meals, overcrowding and inadequate housing, faces health risks and is already at a disadvantage, academically.
In the life of the EDL, a number of personal, familial and community problems show themselves. Natriello (1990:130) lists them as teenage pregnancy, alcohol and drug abuse, delinquent gang membership, single families, family violence which includes child abuse, and financial need.
Within the community, the youth encounter a number of problems. Van Niekerk & Meier (1995:68) describe them as socially disorganised communities, delinquent gangs, high rates of crime, violence and freely available drugs.
Within the family, the EDL is often exposed to family violence and disruption. The learner experiences that his/her basic needs are not being met. EDLs often do not know the experience of an adult reading stories, or the gentle interaction between child and parent. Positive role models do not exist in their world. Their language skills are hampered by the poor quality of communication that takes place in the home.
As explained by Vorster & van der Spuy (1995:62), educationally disadvantaged learners aggressively act out what has become a reality for them, i.e. they have a very low tolerance and motivational level.
‘In this demoralising environment, they are often exposed to murder, assault, rape, arson and beatings, which blunt their emotions’ (van Niekerk 1995:73).
Poor Authority Figures and Parental Supervision
Absence of one or both parents is common for a variety of reasons including divorce, desertion, or parents working away.
Often the EDL’s guardians are not stable, moving from one area to another. These children never have a chance at stability in their lives. The odds are stacked against them.
As explained by van Niekerk & Meier (1995:72), children are frequently left in the care of grandparents who quickly lose control over the child. Grandparents and their grandchildren often do not share the same cultural norms and values. Grandparents may have more traditional cultural norms, which they try to enforce on their grandchildren. This frequently results in a challenge of authority. Younger children are often supervised by slightly older siblings who themselves have not been exposed to a nurturing, stimulating environment. Sufficient research exists to indicate that the quality of interaction between caregiver and child affects the development of higher order thinking skills.
Communication, according to Van den Aardweg and Van den Aardweg (1988), is a sharing verbally and non-verbally of experiences, happenings, knowledge, opinions, ideas and it is affectively coloured.
Parents of educationally disadvantaged children do not discuss matters of any kind with them. No critical thinking is required from these children. In fact, it is suppressed and discouraged. Raven (1987:21) found in his evaluation of a pre-school home-visiting programme, that many parents, especially among low socio-economic status groups devalued curiosity, inquisitiveness, an interest in ideas and bookishness.
Adams & Adams (1991:43) confirms this by citing an example from Zulu culture, from which many South African disadvantaged children come. They explain that traditional Zulu culture demands deep respect for senior members of the community. Younger people are discouraged from questioning their elders.
According to Wallace & Adams (1987:7), in Kwa-Zulu Natal many learners are educationally disadvantaged and find themselves in unsatisfactory home and school environments. There is very little opportunity for them to develop critical thinking skills.
Low SES parents tend to see to the very basic needs of the child and neglect becoming personally involved with the child by, for example, providing guidance on moral, behavioural and cultural issues.
Praise is seldom forthcoming although negative criticism abounds. Language development lags as a result of a lack of informative conversation and brief, abrupt exchanges.
Parents communicate with their children mostly when they give commands, criticise or reprimand them. Punishment is usually harsh and physical. According to Van den Aardweg & Van den Aardweg (1988:171), lower class mothers are more likely to use food as a reward or withhold it as a
punishment. This way of communication often stems from the parents’ feeling of inadequacy and lack of control over their children.
1. MODES OF THINKING AND LEARNING OF EDUCATIONALLY DISADVANTAGED LEARNERS
1.2. ANALYSIS OF THE PROBLEM
1.3. AREAS OF INVESTIGATION
1.4. RESEARCH QUESTIONS
1.5. AIM OF THE INVESTIGATION
1.6. RESEARCH METHODOLOGY
1.7. PROGRAMME OF INVESTIGATION
2. MODES OF THINKING AND LEARNING WITH THE EMPHASIS ON DISADVANTAGED LEARNERS
2.2. DISCUSSION OF CONCEPTS
2.3. THEORIES OF COGNITIVE DEVELOPMENT AND COGNITIVE STYLE
2.4. VARIABLES INFLUENCING COGNITIVE STYLE
2.5 THE DEVELOPMENT OF COGNITIVE AND LEARNING STYLES
2.6 MODES OF THINKING AND INSTRUCTIONAL STRATEGIES
3 THE PROFILE OF THE EDUCATIONALLY DISADVANTAGED LEARNER
3.2 THE EDUCATIONALLY DISADVANTAGED LEARNER
3.3 THE LIFE-WORLD OF THE EDUCATIONALLY DISADVANTAGED LEARNER
3.4 THE SCHOOL ENVIRONMENT
4 DESIGN OF EMPIRICAL INVESTIGATION
4.2 THE RATIONALE FOR AN EMPIRICAL INVESTIGATION
4.3 RESEARCH DESIGN
5 INTERPRETATION OF THE RESULTS OF THE EMPIRICAL INVESTIGATION
5.2 LEARNER QUESTIONNAIRE
5.3 TEACHER QUESTIONNAIRE
6 SYNOPSIS OF FINDINGS, CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
6.2 SYNOPSIS OF FINDINGS
6.4 LIMITATIONS OF THIS STUDY
6.6 FINAL REMARKS
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