Substrand leader : Prof L Wood ​ 

Substrand Members: Prof A Oduaran

The focus of this strand is the generation of knowledge about different genres of action research for personal, professional, organizational and community transformation. Based on the understanding that social change should be facilitated from within, rather than imposed by external ‘experts’, academic research should create an awareness of the complexity of social problems and facilitate innovative responses that draw on existing local knowledge and potential. This strand thus focuses on developing theory about collaborative and participatory forms of research that aim to empower communities (defined as: any group of people who are characterised by one or more of the following: specific goals in common/linked by social ties/share common perspectives/engage in joint action) to identify and work towards attaining educational goals that will result in sustainable improvement in their quality of life.





  • Exploring Narratives of HIV and AIDS through Creative and Expressive Arts Abstract

    L Wood,  F Khanare (UFS) A Brown (UJ) NRF funded 2018-2020

    Although there has been substantial research conducted on equipping teachers to develop pedagogical content and strategies to address HIV and AIDS in the curriculum, the voices of children, for whom the pedagogy has been developed, have seldom been included in these studies. The danger of basing pedagogical interventions on the understandings of teachers, rather than of the children it is aimed at, is that the curriculum and teaching processes may not be deemed relevant by learners, resulting in lack of engagement in the learning experience. To be able to mediate appropriate HIV and AIDS education, teachers must also be enabled to explore their own narratives around HIV. The starting point of this project is thus grounded in the imaginations, experiences, creativity, expressive potential, perspectives and conceptual frameworks of HIV and AIDS as expressed by both student teachers and high school learners. The project is envisioned as research as social change - not only will there be tangible development in the research and life skills of the participants, but the knowledge gained will enable them to make a contribution to changing the stigmatized, racialized and oppressive views of HIV so prevalent in our communities. An emancipatory and participatory action research design, using visual methods to construct knowledge, is used to help participants explore their understandings of the pandemic from an intersectional and socio-historical perspective. It is important to enable prospective teachers to encourage open dialogue around HIV and AIDS and related issues such as race, sexual orientation and other forms of diversity that are typically silenced in the classroom and school environment to enable the development of the "responsible citizens" described in education policy.



    L Wood and 6 other universities

    Project Abstract Community-based educational research is defined as a partnership of students, and/or faculty and community members who collaboratively engage in research with the purpose of solving a pressing community problem or affecting social change with the aim of generating knowledge, skills and processes that will enhance sustainable learning and development. Community-based research is thus a vital activity in socially responsive universities, yet it is an under-theorised field. Three concerns emerge from a review of current literature in the field: i) a lack of capacity among academics to conduct CBR that is true to its democratic, participatory and emancipatory principles; ii) absence of a set of ethical processes that align with the principles of authentic CBR; and, iii) while the university benefits in terms of research outputs, the learning of the community tends to go unrecognized, which, apart from raising ethical concerns, also diminishes the sustainability of the learning. Through a collaboration between five universities in South Africa, this action research project aims to address these issues, and others which may emerge to develop a framework for improved university-community research partnerships. The outcomes of this study will contribute to a better understanding of the philosophical and conceptual challenges associated with the dynamics of community -based research in higher education.

    BACHA TSHWELOPELE (Youth taking the lead)

    Lesley Wood COMBER funded 2019

    In sub-Saharan Africa, half of the population is aged under 25 years. In Khuma, the site for this project, the percentage of youth not in education, training or employment (NEET) is estimated to be around 50%. The global data on wellbeing, education and employment as signifiers of opportunities for young adults reveal that many are being pushed into the margins of society, especially for those in poor communities where there is increased competition for fewer resources and opportunities. The research project departs from the severe unemployment, poverty and inequality issues of young people who are not participating in the labour market, although the majority can and want to work. This situation of long-term exclusion strongly affects the financial position, capability, resilience and wellbeing of the persons involved and their families, as well as trust in society, politics and the government. The perspectives of the excluded groups are bleak. Both the likelihood to find and keep a job are alarming. At the same time, employers face labour scarcity, and formal labour markets and organisations only cater to a limited degree to the wider needs and demands in society. There exists a great many social problems and deficits that are not adequately addressed and not linked to the talents and potential of the excluded groups and neither to the costs of their non-inclusion. These costs put a heavy burden on government, which have increasingly been made responsible for social assistance and participation policies. Where activation and reintegration fail, communities are facing a risk of segmentation and polarization among citizens. The main research question is: How can a participatory action learning and action research approach strengthen the inclusion and resilience of young men and women with a distance to the labour market through social and technological innovation? The research aims to investigate how a participatory action learning and action research approach can strengthen the inclusion and resilience of young men and women with a distance to the labour market through social and technological innovation.

    To investigate how a participatory action learning and action research approach can enable unemployed youth to take action to improve their employability and those of their peers.

    i)             To develop the employability skills of participants

    ii)            To research the perceptions of youth in Khuma about unemployment

    iii)           To use this information to develop some actions to address the issue

    iv)           To implement the actions decided on.

    v)            To evaluate the actions taken and decide on the way forward

    vi)           To partner with Gatelepele Youth Development Consultancy to ensure the sustainability of the project.

    vii)          To create opportunity for participants to have their learning certified by the Global University of Lifelong Learning.

    Teacher well-being: Coping mechanisms to deal with the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. The College of Humanities hosted a public webinar series on the topic of Teacher well-being coping mechanisms to deal with the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on Tuesday, 14 July from 15h30 to 17h30. It featured academics Professor Lesley Wood (North West University), Mrs Miriam Arnold (Leibniz Institute for Resilience Research, Germany), Dr Rebecca Collie (University of New South Wales, Australia), Mr Ndabenhle Terry Mdluli (School Principal) and Ms Nompumelelo Nzimande (Primary School Teacher), and was chaired by Professor Anja Philipp (UKZN). In this webinar, experiences of teachers and principals from South African schools as well as the expertise of national and international researchers are brought together to discuss new challenges for teachers under COVID-19 and how this affects teacher well-being. ‘Teacher well-being has been the focus of attention in research for decades, and several factors have been identified to have an influence on teacher well-being. Under conditions of COVID-19, teachers suddenly faced a novel set of challenges. The work of teachers has changed tremendously to accommodate remote teaching while gradually moving back to contact teaching,’ said Philipp.


Future projects

  • SETA funding application
  • GULL – in partnership with Training for Transformation – exploring possibilities
  • Knowledge for Change Hub (UNESCO chairs/NWU/UFS

Capacity development 2020

  • Appreciative Inquiry (April, Karen Venter)
  • Dance + Music (possibility for April)
  • SLP – CBR
  • PALAR (March)
  • Proposal writing (March)


A link to the presentations:


Substrand leader : Prof J Hay

Substrand Members: Prof P Engelbrecht, Dr C Joubert, Dr T Makhalemele, Dr I Payne-van staden, Ms A Masunungure


  • Teacher efficacy within inclusive education
  • District-based Support Teams 
    • Social work
    • Psychology
    • Learner support teachers
    • Inclusive specialists
  • School-based Support Teams 
  • Lay counselling + Registered counsellor training 

Book on inclusive education

  • Reconceptualizing ESS in SA


  • Perspectives on the psychosocial lay counselling and educational contribution and role of NWU BEd Hons Learner Support alumni in their school communities – and possible intervention strategies to extend this contribution.

What are the perspectives on the psychosocial lay counselling and educational contribution and role of NWU BEd Hons Learner Support alumni in their school communities – and possible intervention strategies to extend this contribution?

The North-West University has been training post-graduate teaching students at BEd Hons level in various programmes. One being Learner Support (currently called Special Needs Education) with modules being taught to equip students to provide psychosocial and educational wellness to diverse communities. The following modules are provided in the first year and second year of this programme: CEPS (Community Educational Psychology); FLCE (Facilitation and Lay Counselling in Education); IELS (Inclusive Education) and APLS (Applied Learner Support). In the second year of study a research project must also be sucessfully completed to ensure graduation. CEPS and FLCE are aimed at providing knowledge and skills to students to enable them to support diverse communities on a psychosocial level, while IELS and APLS are focused on supporting learners with special needs and barriers to learning – and thus  focusing on supporting learners within an Inclusive Education Context and in collaboration with School Based Support team members. According to the Education White paper 6 (DoE, 2001), inclusive education aims to provide equal access to all learners irrespective of differences in regard to abilities or disabilities, gender, race or culture.  For post-graduate students in the South African school context the skills taught in modules such as the ones referred to above mean that teachers might have some capacity to provide special needs learners with basic supportive psychosocial lay counselling and educational guidance that includes, for example, help with study methods, qualitative and informal career guidance, overcoming barriers to learning, inter- and intra-personal skills, conflict and stress management. However teachers are also expected to work collaboratively within an ecosystemic approach to provide the necessary psychosocial and educational support to learners or to facilitate learners’ access to the applicable support needed. As such, I conclude that teachers who fulfill a learner support role in their school community are tasked with developing learners’ full educational, personal and social potential (Davis, 2010; DoDEA, 2006). Referral represents a large component of such support. According to the Professional Board of Psychology (2007), registered counsellors need to refer their clients to psychologists, social workers or any other professional when a problem is beyond the scope of their practice. The same applies to teachers fulfilling a learner support function, perhaps even more so than for registered counsellors, who have formal counselling training: teachers fulfilling a learner support role are thus duty bound to refer to applicable professionals when they are unable to deal with a particular problem (Professional Board of Psychology, 2007; Van Niekerk & Hay, 2009) and are specifically trained to understand and respect this imperative (Kitching, 2012). However, referral might prove to be difficult because of a lack of professionals such as registered counsellors, psychologists or social workers (Hay, 2018). Other reasons might be because of limited finance, poverty, HIV/AIDS, political agendas or a non-functional SBST and DBST (Pillay, 2007). Researching the different perspectives on the psychosocial lay counselling and educational contributions Learner Support alumni are currently making to school communities (and finding possible intervention strategies) could be valuable resources if teachers are working in a context that offers no or a very limited referral network (Visser, 2007). In such instances it is Learner Support almuni’s ethical duty to provide the best possible care, but without going beyond the scope of their training, much like the ethical duty of trained counsellors to provide quality care without going beyond what they are trained to do (Prilleltensky, 2002; Visser, 2007). In summary, offering psychosocial lay counselling and providing educational guidance are core learner support tasks that could be challenging. The challenges are likely to increase if Learner Support alumni are under-trained or without professional referral networks.


Substrand leader : Prof J Rens

Substrand Members: Dr L Botha, Dr D Kirtsen, Dr I Kok, Ms H Louw


  • Teacher's aweness of wellbeing
  • Personal wellbeing
  • Wellbeing of beginner teachers
  • Teachers wellbeing implinentation of special curriculum

Capacity development 2020

  • Workshop
  • Students
  • Guests lectures
  • Scheduled writing sessions


Substrand leader : Dr L de Sousa

Substrand Members: Prof B Richter, Dr A Hay, Dr I Muller, Dr S Raath, Dr C Dzerefos


  • Reflections on indigneous knowledge in PHSE 412  module 2020

To what extent does indigenous knowledge influence interpretation of scientific concepts in the PHSE 412 module? 

Curriculum developers at educational institutions tends to design curriculum according to the educational priorities of the country (Hoadley & Jansen, 2009).  The Curriculum Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS) of all school subjects promotes the infusion of indigenous knowledge (DBE, 2011). Despite this demand for inclusion, little evidence exists for proof of infusion of indigenous knowledge in Physical Science (Le Grange, 2007).    
Indigenous knowledge is regarded as local and context-specific knowledge, which is usually transmitted through words and demonstrations. The value of indigenous knowledge as a shared, social memory allows for adaption to change in communities (Mistry & Berardi, 2016).

The researcher is involved in development of various Physical Science modules in the new B Ed programme (2017 and onwards) at the NWU.  Emphasise to identify and deal with mis - and alternative conceptions is an important and necessary part of Physical Science teaching in practice and the PHSE modules in the new B Ed programme. Misconceptions is defined as incorrect, novice ideas about scientific concepts.  Alternative conceptions aid to explain everyday scientific phenomena incorrect from a scientific view (Syaharudin, Daud, Karim, Hassan & Rahman, 2015).  Indigenous knowledge can be alternative conceptions of subject content and therefore need to be addressed as part of methodology in Physical Science teaching.   
Le Grange (2007) reasoned that the successful integration of western - and indigenous knowledge systems will allow for effective science education in our country. To enable integration of diverse knowledge systems student’s need to have necessary knowledge of theory and practice. egede (1995) proposed that teachers have to take into account the social-cultural background of learners and be aware that excellent scientists in educational setting can be traditionalists at home.egede (1995) proposed that teachers have to take into account the social-cultural background of learners and be aware that excellent scientists in educational setting can be traditionalists at home.

The existence of indigenous knowledge in classrooms requires teachers to accept an eco-cultural paradigm, as pedagogical paradigm. An eco-cultural paradigm acknowledges the growth and development of individual knowledge, as dependent on the social-cultural environment, in which learners live and operates (Jegede, 1995).    

  • Community Engagement Climate Change project is a local and International project
  • Sacred water project
  • WIL – Environment activity
  • Future project: Professional Development project with an International partner from Japan regarding the theme water and Lesson study

Capacity development 2020

  • Project writing retreat where all interested researchers bring their expertise to plan for a focused project for funding


Substrand leader : Prof M Koën

Substrand Members: Dr C du Toit, Dr S Esterhuizen, Dr M Neethling, Dr E Wessels, Ms A Schoonen, Ms B Taylor, Ms H Theron


Dr Marinda Neethling and Dr Elsabe Wessels

We formed a close relationship with in-service teachers from different schools in the Umzinyathi District in KZN.  Collaboratively we aim to make a difference in the authentic classroom, focusing on:

  • Relationship-centred strategies to improve discipline in secondary schools;
  • Supporting teachers at a Full-Service School to improve teaching skills in Mathematics; 
  • Address learning barriers in the Foundation Phase; and
  • Support Foundation Phase English second language educators to improve the teaching of phonological awareness
  • In-service teachers from different schools in the District act as members of our action learning set (ALS). By meeting face-to-face or virtually, we generate data employing informal discussion, reflective journals, photovoice, observations to mention a few. The data include different strategies, skills and reflections to address challenges in the day-to-day classroom, as mentioned above. The ALS members take the gained data back into the classroom and schools, by discussing it with other in-service teachers, willing to implement some of the strategies in their classroom to verify whether it can work in practice and that it is not only ideas in theory. The data from the teachers are again taken back to the ALS for reflections and adjustments and again tested in practice. When reaching a workable solution for the challenges, a practical document is compiled in the form of either a short learning programme or a future creating workshop for in-service teachers at their own and neighbouring schools.

Early Childhood Care and Education: building partnerships between teachers, caregivers and parents for the holistic development of young children

Members: Prof M Koen; Dr M Neethling; Dr S Esterhuizen;  and Ms Benita Taylor, gatekeeper, 3 teachers and 3 parents.


It is widely accepted that experiences and stimulating environments in the early years of a child’s life are critical for future personal and academic success (Amod & Heafield, 2013; Unicef, 2013). Excell (2016) supports this view by arguing that quality education is a key ingredient to improve the physical, social, emotional and cognitive development of young children. The rationale behind holistic development lies in the idea that young children who grow up with poverty and neglect are more at risk of health problems, poor adjustment and poor performance at school (Fourie & Kgalenga, 2014). It is argued that while millions of children in South Africa do not reach the expected milestones, this situation could be avoided if provision for early intervention programmes is made a priority (Molosiwa & Phasa, 2017). The question arises: How can partnerships to enhance the holistic development of young children between a university and ECCE centres be developed?

The Government in South Africa acknowledges the importance of holistic development and has embarked on a national reform to raise the quality of early childhood education (Rala & Salami, 2019). National policies, for example the National Early Learning and Development Standards (NELDS, 2015), National Curriculum Framework (NCF, 2015) and White Paper 5, represent the Governmental vision, plans and visible strategies for Early Childhood Development (ECD) and Early Childhood and Care Education (ECCE) to enhance the well-being in the early years. Globally school readiness is regarded as an acceptable strategy to close the learning gap and to develop the full potential of all young children (Unicef, 2013). Psychologists point out that school readiness involves a range of skills in multi-dimensional domains (Rimms-Kaufman & Sandilos, 2017). While there is no single indicator to predict academic success, the NCF (2015) policy highlights that integrated development in the following six critical areas (Early Learning and Development Areas (ELDA’s) is vital in preparing young children for formal education, namely wellbeing, identity and belonging, creativity, communication, mathematics, knowledge and understanding. While the parent is in the best position to teach learners the above skills, many parents in South Africa experience challenges to support their children (Selepe & Moll, 2016). As a result, this role is often deputised to teachers or caregivers in early childhood centres (Shertiel, 2018:16). Research acknowledges that outcomes for children in the early years will be enhanced when effective partnerships are developed to support the children (Rouse, 2012). The overarching aim of this partnership is to collaboratively develop educational interventions to enhance the holistic development of young children. Participatory action learning and action research (PALAR) will be employed as a collaborative process where iterating cycles of action and reflection by teachers, caregivers and university partners will be used as a basis for the development of interventions to develop young children holistically (Worall & Harris, 2013:116).


Strengthening the capacity for play-based learning in ECDE through a collaborative approach between stakeholders

Project leader: Dr Stef Esterhuizen

Members: Prof M Koen; Mrs Marita Miller (DHET), 1 teacher and 2 practitioners

The alarming high rate of Grade 1 learners failing their first year of formal schooling, can be attributed to their lack of school readiness and development of imperative skills necessary for the demands of successfully completing their Grade 1 year (Khumalo, 2020; Retief, 2020; Slatter, 2020). Quality Early Childhood Development and Education (ECDE) is of paramount importance to address poor academic performance in later years. Children in the age group 0 – 9 years learn best through first-hand experiences when they engage in real-life and imaginary activities (Burgemeester, 2019; UKEssays, 2018; UNICEF, 2018). Play-based learning motivates, stimulates and supports learners’ development of skills, concepts, language acquisition, communication and concentration (UKEssays, 2018; UNECEF, 2018). Research recognises positive and enhanced outcomes for children in their early years when collaboration between stakeholders are formed to develop young children holistically through play-based learning (Rouse, 2012). This project aims to answer the following research question: How can the capacity for play-based learning in ECDE between stakeholders be strengthened through a collaborative approach? The critical transformative learning theory will guide this research (Mezirow, 1991), because it plays a significant role in adult education and brings about change in what we know and how we teach. The critical learning theory takes place through critical reflection, innovative problem solving and interactive, participatory dialogue (Hoggan, 2016).

Participatory Action Learning and Action Research (PALAR) will be utilised. A collaborative approach of reiterating cycles of actions and reflection by practitioners, teachers and university partners will be used to strengthen the capacity for play-based learning in ECDE between stakeholders (Worall & Harris, 2013).

Future project

  • Habits of mind through play-based approach

External funding: has been secured by the Collaborative Action Research Network: Susan Noffke Action Research Foundation.

 Capacity development 2020

  • Supervision Workshop
  • Learning festival
  • Singakwenza workshop: The participants brought play to the classroom after attending a workshop with Singakwenza (which means “we can do it” in isiZulu). Singkawenza is a fun effective training programme for adults where the focus is on learning through play and to make educational toys from recycled material.


Substrand leader : Dr C botha

Substrand Members: Dr P Swarts, Dr M Meyer, Dr M Malebese


  • A collaborative action research to develop a socially inclusive place-based teaching strategy to enhance learner engagement in multigrade, under-resourced learning environments 

How can a collaborative action research approach be used to develop a socially inclusive place-based teaching strategy to enhance learner engagement in multigrade, under-resourced learning environments?

A socially inclusive teaching strategy is an appropriate strategy to use within a place-based learning approach for developing instructional practices that are culturally responsive, engaging, and sensitive to learners’ well-being (Gay, 2010; Hattam & Zipin, 2009; Malebese, 2016). A socially inclusive teaching strategy uses a step-by-step approach (Malebese, 2016), teaching in small segments, with much practice and repetition, reinforcing abstract concepts with concrete examples (Hattam & Sipin, 2009; Smyth, Down & Mclnerney, 2014). This strategy aims at bringing together different skills, knowledge, and expertise in a classroom environment in order to enhance learners’ subject competency (Boud, 2013; Cleovoulou, 2008). The strategies associated with a socially inclusive teaching and learning environment allow learners and all stakeholders to be equally trusted, respected and valued as they interact with one another (McCombs & Miller, 2007; Mclnerney, Smyth & Down, 2011), thereby bringing out the richness of such a strategy. This ensures that the learning expected from a student at a given time is closely aligned to the use of available resources and promotion of current learning skills. To this end, this project explores the possibilities and affordability of learning opportunities with and from the context where the school is placed.

The critical components and principles of place-based learning are similar to those of a socially inclusive teaching strategy (Gale, Mills & Cross, 2017; Malebese, 2016) in the sense that they both emphasise hands-on and real-life learning experiences, as well as encouraging critical thinking. Place-based learning refers to a pedagogical approach that uses local knowledge as a foundation for learning across disciplines (Goodlad & Leonard, 2018); thus, the focus is to integrate local knowledge into teaching. The community provides the context for learning, and community members serve as resources and partners in teaching and learning (Smith & Sobel, 2014). Using placed-based learning enables learners to connect learning to their real-life experiences. Place-based teaching and learning can address the isolation that teachers in rural schools face, and the lack of resources and facilities as they learn to use what is readily available (Smith, 2002; Smith & Sobel, 2014). This approach can create a conducive space for community members who possess expertise to be invited to share their knowledge and skills with learners. Place-based learning is “authentic and enhances learners’ commitment and ownership of learning as well as contributing to the growth of their community”, as it “connects learning to own environment such as stories, land marks of the place and many different things” (Sarkar & Frazier, 2008:29). 

These approaches to education increase academic achievement and help learners to develop stronger connections to their community (Sobel, 2004), especially those in the multigrade classrooms as learners of different age, grades and abilities in the same group are learning from one another. A multigrade classroom refers to a class that one teacher has to teach two or more grade levels of children in one classroom during one time-tabled period (Casserly & Padden, 2018). Multigrade classrooms are not new and are frequently used in less densely populated regions in both developed and underdeveloped countries, where there are not enough pupils enrolled for each grade level. Multigrade classes are traditionally associated with small rural schools where pupil numbers are too small to be taught as separate classes. The number of multigrade classes at primary school level is usually dependent on enrolment numbers, particularly in rural areas on an under-resourced learning environment. Under-resourced learning environments continue to frustrate learners and teachers, not only in South Africa but also internationally (Donohue & Bornman, 2014). Some of the consequences of poor quality education for learners include the inability to complete prescribed schoolwork, poor learner performance and lack of technical and computer literacy, so essential in the era of the 4th Industrial Revolution (Howley, Wood & Hough, 2011; Shahroom & Hussin, 2018). 

Yet, under-resourced schools are essentially situated in a context and community that potentially has multiple strengths, namely culturally responsive, appropriate, compatible and relevant (Yosso, 2005) and provide opportunities to learn; therefore, building on the conceptual and cultural knowledge that learners carry with them to the classroom. Herrington and Herrington (2007) are also of the opinion that the benefits of integrating the curriculum into learners’ authentic life experiences, facilitate comprehension of abstract aspects of learning matter and motivates learners to learn, identify and solve (social) problems (Vegas & Umansky, 2005). The challenge is that schools tend to ignore such strengths, mainly because of perceived difficulties that community collaboration brings. Rural 'farm' schools continue to experience multiple and interrelated challenges associated with dwindling learner enrolments, poor quality of education, and lack of accessibility to resources and facilities (Schwartzbeck, 2003). One possible solution to improve education in these contexts is place-based learning (Gruenewald & Smith, 2014). Place-based learning will be used to assist to integrate learners’ real life experiences into the curriculum to make learning more engaging and fun. 

  • WILWorks - Exploring the role of the Apprenticeship of Observation in the professional identity of student teachers
  • Arts-based education under the bigger HIV project of Prof Wood
  • Corona vs HIV: Dismantling virus stigmitization through art-based practices in higher education


Substrand leader : Prof M Malindi


  • Schools as nodes of care for psychosocially vulnerable learners

The education system still bears the hallmarks of the structural inequalities that characterised South Africa before the advent of democracy. Many schools function within contexts that negate the normal, holistic development of children. This calls for academia to collaborate with schools and stakeholders in communities to make schools nodes of care and thus ameliorate the plight of at-risk learners. The central research question for this project is: How can schools serve as nodes of care for psychosocially vulnerable learners?

There is anecdotal evidence that South Africa is yet to win the war against poverty and underdevelopment. Many learners in South Africa grow up and learn in contexts that negate normative development. In these contexts, risk and adversity abound and the resilience and wellbeing of learners are thus at risk. Resilience risks are regarded as individual and ecological processes that are antecedent to poor developmental outcomes (Barter, 2005). In other words, risk processes can be described as those circumstances or processes that combine in complex ways and increase the likelihood of maladaptive or problem behaviour in youth (Armstrong, Stroul & Boothroyd, 2005). Risks originate from multiple stressors rather than from single individual or environmental processes (Tusaie & Dyer, 2004). Personal and/or environmental risks may have a cumulative effect on an individual and this cumulative effect is associated with non-resilient outcomes (Masten, 2001). Learners who are unable to resile because of the risk and adversity that they experience are said to be psychosocially vulnerable.

The construct, vulnerability, is highly contested, nevertheless, researchers such as Eloff, Ebersöhn and Viljoen (2007) cite Kelly (2001) who broadly defined vulnerable children as:

“… children who have been exposed to trauma (such as violence, abuse, and death), children living in compromising and adverse socioeconomic circumstances, girls, children from rural areas, street children, children with disabilities, children from urban slums or high-density areas, abandoned children, children in high-risk homes (especially those run by single parents), and social offenders (p. 79).” The above definition of a vulnerable child is less than exhaustive; however, it does present a genuine description of a typically vulnerable South African child, whose resilience is at risk.

Personal and ecological resilience resources uniquely combine to moderate the effects of risk and adversity. Protective resources operate at different levels and through different mechanisms (Ebersöhn & Eloff, 2004; Ungar, 2004). Protective resources can be located in the individual or in a person’s ecology (family, school and wider community) and they have the potential to mitigate the impact of risks (Boyden & Mann, 2005). Protective processes modify the effects of risk, rather than eliminate the risk itself (Schoon, 2006). These protective processes bring together different coping mechanisms that operate before, during and after the adverse encounter (Rutter, 1999).

Research shows that schools can enhance the resilience of learners through a myriad of protective factors. A study by Alivernini, Manganelli and Lucidi (2016) shows that schools that promoted self-efficacy in mathematics and cognitive activation in Italy enabled learners to cope resiliently. A similar study conducted in Greece to identify protective factors that enhanced academic resilience in learners showed that personal learner resources such as locus of control and self-efficacy beliefs and family resources such as parental school involvement, family support, father and mother education enhanced academic resilience among learners (Anagnostaki, Pavlopoulos, Obradović, Masten & Motti-Stefanidi, 2016).

South African researchers such as Theron (2016) argue that schools have a responsibility towards supporting children’s resilience since teachers can champion resilience. Malindi and Machenjedze (2012) report that school engagement and teachers who deliberately support youth at risk such as street-involved youth enhanced their resilience. Learners in schools located within economically disadvantaged communities lack the socioemotional, cognitive and behavioural skills needed for successful early school adjustment (Tatlow-Golden, O’Farrelly, Booth, O’Rourke & Doyle, 2016). Children who subsist in poor socioeconomic backgrounds where health-promoting resources lack experience poorer health and sometimes drop out of school (Sznitman, Reisel & Khurana, 2017). However, teachers who are skilled and experienced are in a better position to promote resilience among vulnerable learners and prevent school dropout (Malindi & Machenjedze, 2012; Silyvier & Nyandusi, 2015). The findings of the aforementioned studies magnify the need for schools to become nodes of care. This is more pronounced in South Africa where the policy of inclusivity calls for school-based support for vulnerable learners.




    "Community-based educational research to improve the quality of life of people engaged in contexts of learning and development"