South Africas Apartheid Past Has Shaped Virtually Education Essay

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South Africa's apartheid past has shaped virtually every institution in the country, and education is no exception. To a great extent the life prospects and educational paths of individuals were determined by the governments fixed and rigid racial policies and disparate educational systems (Bunting 2006). As a result the ongoing legacy of the inequalities that were created and perpetuated by this system, some scholars have argued that "many young people, who are talented, are not ready to enter a system catering for post-secondary education" (Ramdhani and Nkoane 2010, p. 471). Students from marginalised communities, that is, students who come from impoverished or low-income households and have limited resources to excel academically, face circumstances which make them less likely to realise their academic potential. The challenges and difficulties faced by high potential students from marginalised communities at pre-university levels (i.e., primary and high school) within the South African context include, but are not limited to, inadequate housing, water, and sanitation; poorly resourced educational facilities, receiving instruction in large classes and by poorly prepared teachers; and travelling long distances (often by foot) to and from school (Maree 2006). Young talented people who display high potential to succeed at the university level, but who face socioeconomic challenges and experience a significant lack of resources, thus present a significant constituency. To be sure, in the context of South Africa (as in many countries) class and race intersect with one another, and the chances of pursuing and completing a university education for high potential Black students who come from impoverished households are dismal. This is not to say that high-potential students from marginalised communities who enter the university do not possess valuable skill sets and cultural capital-indeed they do. However, critical race theorists have noted that the skills, knowledge, experiences, and abilities possessed by students from marginalised communities are rarely valued, recognised, 3 or acknowledged within educational institutions (see, for example, Yosso 2006; 2005; Lareau and McNamara Horvat 1999; Solórzano and Villalpando 1998). The recent Report of the Ministerial Committee on Transformation and Social Cohesion and the Elimination of

Discrimination in the Public Higher Education Institutions (also known as the Soudien

Report) found that racism and sexism are pervasive in public institutions of higher education (Department of Education, 2008). Moreover, during the High Potential Youth in Marginalised Communities symposium that was hosted by the University of the Witwatersrand in November 2010, Professor Soudien noted that daunting racially skewed throughput rates have raised questions and concerns surrounding academic and university culture. He argued that universities in South Africa are White hubs that have been shaped by the country's colonial history, and, maintain and propagate the marginalisation and exclusion

of students who have high potential, but whose cultural capital is not aligned with the

university culture.1 The proposed research will examine how high potential students from marginalised communities experience universities' organisational cultures. By virtue of having successfully gained access to the university, university students from marginalisedcommunities have demonstrated a high potential to succeed academically despite the socioeconomic difficulties they have faced. Many of these students have scored the highest marks within their respective high school cohorts and have demonstrated both the ability and desire to pursue advanced studies. If, as Soudien notes, the organisational cultures of universities are serving to marginalise and exclude high potential students from marginalised backgrounds,

then it is important to examine the specific ways in which these students experience, make sense of, and negotitate their universities' organisational cultures.

1 The discussion on Professor Soudien's concerns with respect to the university culture draws from Professor Jill

Bradbury's report of the High Potential Youth in Marginalised Communities symposium that took place in

November 2010.

4 Rationale

It is taken for granted that university students enter institutions that have (not uncommonly age-old) established organisational characteristics and cultures (Terenzini and Reason 2005). For instance the University of Cape Town, University of Stellenbosch, University of the Witwatersrand, and the University of Pretoria, to name just a few long-standing universities, were established between the 19th and early 20th centuries and boast strong institutional traditions. One cannot ignore that at some historically White universities "deep seated racism and racial divisions" continue to be apparent (Naidoo 2010, p. 120)-no doubt these characteristics are embedded in the universities' long-standing traditions and institutional cultures. A university's culture and long-standing traditions can be powerful forces that shape the experiences of its students (Clark 1972). However, the impact that organisational features have on students' experiences and outcomes are widely overlooked (Terenzini and Reason 2005). It is even more relevant to examine the impact that the university's organisational culture may have on students of colour who come from low-income backgrounds, as these students face elite, exclusionary, and at times intimidating features that are characteristic of universities (Ostrove and Long 2007; Read, Archer, and Leathwood 2003; Schick 2000; Loo and Rolison 1986). In light of educational government documents that have focused on equity and redress (see, for example, Department of Education 2000; 1997), social and economic imperatives (Winberg 2006), and distinct transformational and development aims (Eckel 2001), a pressing need exists to create conditions in which low-income and previously disadvantaged students have the opportunity to realise their academic potential and succeed at the university level. The particular focus on equity and redress has resulted in a lack of attention on institutional culture, and the ways that it may be alienating for marginalised students (and hence a source of difficulties for them, independent of issues of equity as measured primarily


in quantitative ways). It is simply not sufficient to admit marginalised students into the university; it is also imperative to provide these students with the tools, resources, and support necessary to successfully complete a university education within an organisational culture that in many ways may be unfamiliar to them. There is a need for equity to be discussed (and assessed) in the context of educational processes and experiences that extend beyond quantitative indicators (Beckmann 2008) and to thus examine the experiences of university students who come from households that are at the margins of society. It should also be noted that the South African higher education system has appalling throughput rates and that students from impoverished households are the likely victims of the systems' shortcomings. The Student Pathways Studies, a research project that is currently being conducted by the Human Sciences Research Council under the leadership of Michael Cosser, estimates that for every 100 students enrolled in the South African higher education system, only 15 attain a Bachelors degree within the stipulated time frame. Further data

indicate that 50 percent of students enrolled at South African higher education institutions drop out within the first three years-30 percent drop out in their first year (Letseka and Breier 2008). Low-income students are the hardest hit with approximately 70 percent of dropouts coming from low-income households (Letseka and Breier 2008). In their discussion of university dropouts, Letseka and Breier illustrate that class is conflated with race:

Black families were particularly poor (with parents or guardians earning as little as R1 600 or less a month in some cases) and the majority of Black parents fell into the

categories 'no formal education' and 'some secondary education'. Yet many of the

students coming from these families depended on their parents or guardians for

financial support to pay their fees and/or supplement what they got from NSFAS

[National Student Financial Aid Scheme] in order to provide for essential living

expenses. Many of the leavers indicated that they engaged in full-time, part-time or

6 odd jobs to augment their meagre financial resources, no doubt adding to their stress levels and distracting them from their studies (2008, p. 90).

It should therefore come as no surprise that some higher education scholars such as Ronald Miller have asserted that the higher education system is failing "bright students from marginalised communities."2 It is noteworthy that the focus of studies on university drop out rates tends to be on economic factors-less attention has been paid to examining the ways in which the university organisational culture, student alienation, or sense of belonging, may be important aspects of students' experiences, independent of economic concerns. Given that the impact that the university organisational culture has on students' experiences and outcomes has been widely overlooked, and given the recent focus on equity and redress, social and economic imperatives, and transformational and development aims, coupled with appalling dropout rates that disproportionately affect low-income and Black students, it is fitting to examine how marginalised students experience the organisational culture of the university. Conducting such research may shed light on how universities can better serve these students and assist them in successfully completing a university education.

Theoretical Framework

The proposed research is grounded in organisational theory and presumes that "over time, every organization develops distinct beliefs, values, and patterns" (Bolman and Deal 2003, p. 244). These beliefs, values and patterns can be taken for granted; apparent in myths, stories, rituals, and ceremonies; and manifested in symbolic forms (Bolman and Deal 2003). In conceptualising organisational culture, Schein (2010) argues that superficial models of culture should be avoided and asserts that the following events and underlying forces should

2 As noted by Professor Jill Bradbury's report of the High Potential Youth in Marginalised Communities

symposium that took place in November 2010.


be taken into consideration when examining organisational culture: observed behavioural regularities when people interact; group norms; espoused values; formal philosophy; rules of the game; climate; embedded skills; habits of thinking, mental models, and/or linguistic paradigms; shared meanings; root metaphors or integrating symbols; and formal rituals and celebrations.

For the purposes of the proposed study, organisational culture refers to "deeply embedded and enduring patterns of behavior, perceptions, assumptions, beliefs, attitudes, ideologies, and values about the nature of the organization and its functioning" (Berger and Milem 2000, p. 274). It is important to make a distinction between organisational culture and climate. Organisational culture is relatively enduring, whereas, organisational climate focuses on current organisational patterns and is more transitory and malleable (Berger and Milem 2000). The proposed study is concerned with organisational culture, not climate. Moreover, the proposed theoretical framework assumes that the university's organisational culture has

an impact on the experiences of members of the university community, including students from marginalised communities. The usually taken for granted and often unnoticed aspects of the university culture (at least for those familiar with it), may be unfamiliar to, and problematic for, students from marginalised communities.

Research Questions Primary Research Question:

How do students from marginalised communities experience their university's organisational



Secondary Research Questions:

1. How do marginalised students make sense of and negotiate the university organisational


2. To what extent, and in what ways, do marginalised students feel that they belong at the

university and that they are a part of the university community?

3. In what ways are particular university systems, structures, and practices experienced by

marginalised students as being helpful or unhelpful with respect to assisting them in

succeeding at the university?



The study will employ a qualitative methodology grounded in the interpretive paradigm. The ontological premise of the interpretive paradigm is that reality consists of people's subjective experiences, feelings, and meanings, while its epistemological assumption is that researchers can learn about people's experiences and interpretations through deep engagement with them (Terre Blanche, Durrheim, and Painter 2006). The interpretive paradigm is thus well suited for the proposed study as the focus of the research is to understand and examine the subjective experiences of marginalised students within the specific context of the university. In-depth engagement with participants is afforded by interviews (as opposed to surveys or questionnaires), and thus semi-structured individual interviews will be conducted with marginalised students in an effort to allow them to produce in-depth accounts of their experiences of their university's organisational culture.


Sample and data collection

The research site will comprise three universities, which have been selected by virtue of being in relatively close geographical proximity to one another (thus providing for the feasibility of collecting data from all three), in combination with a purposive, maximum variation sampling strategy designed to ensure that a range of different organisational cultures

are represented in the sample. The first, the University of the Witwatersrand, is a historically White, English-speaking university that has retained its name and, in large part, its institutional identity in the wake of the post-apartheid reorganisation of higher education that resulted in mergers and name changes of many other institutions. The second, the University of Pretoria, is a historically White, Afrikaans language university that has also retained its name and institutional identity and still offers Afrikaans language instruction. The third, the

University of Johannesburg, was formed as a result of a merger between a historically White, Afrikaans language university (Rand Afrikaans University, or RAU), the Technikon Witwatersrand, and the Visa University. This merger thus resulted in a new institution (with a

new name), and in a change (on the former RAU campuses) from Afrikaans to English language instruction. Thus, while all three of the selected universities are historically the kind of White hubs that Soudien describes, they represent a range of different historical and contemporary conditions that may be expected to be associated with a range of differing facets of organisational culture. Interviews will be conducted with approximately five students from each university. Participants in programmes that are designed to assist students from socio-economically

disadvantaged backgrounds, such as the Targeting Talent Programme (at the University of the Witwatersrand); the Extended Programmes and Foundation Year Programme (at the University of Pretoria); and the Foundation Programmes and Extended Academic Programmes (at the University of Johannesburg), will be recruited to participate in the study.

10 Participants from these programmes will be selected by utilising a purposive, maximum variation sampling procedure, to ensure a wide range of experiences are represented in the sample. For instance, participants from different stages in their university career (i.e. first, second, and third year students) and from a range of fields and disciplines will be recruited. In conducting semi-structured individual interviews I intend to guide the discussion, lead it through stages, ask specific questions, and encourage participating students to answer questions in-depth and at length (Rubin & Rubin, 1995). In addition, participants will be encouraged to share extended stories about their experiences.

Data analysis

The interviews will be transcribed, an inductive approach will guide the data analysis process, and themes will be constructed from the assessment and careful examination of the data (Braun and Clarke 2006). In utilising an inductive approach, he data analysis will not stem from theories or predetermined hypothesis, but instead from the data themselves (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). Emerging categories that are derived from the data will allow for the generation of overarching themes (Braun and Clarke 2006; Lincoln & Guba, 1985). In addition, insights from narrative analysis (Andrews, Squire, and Tamboukou 2008; Riessman, 2008) will be used in the analysis of the data, particularly in analysing the stories told by students during the course of the interviews.