South African Journal of Education

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At-risk students in selected schools in Zimbabwe: An ecological perspective

Lloyd Chaurika Mabhoyi, Johannes Seroto


This study investigates the impact of socio-economic conditions on at-risk students in 2 selected Chitungwiza secondary schools in Zimbabwe. At-risk students are characterised by irregular school attendance, high dropout rates, poor grade retention or sustained diminished academic achievement. At-riskness has increased in Zimbabwe’s school population since the adoption and subsequent failure of the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP), which has contributed to concomitant poor social conditions. A qualitative narrative enquiry on the impact of socio-economic factors on at-risk students explored the life stories of 3 male and 3 female students from each of the 2 selected Chitungwiza secondary schools. Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological System Theory, where the individual is viewed as developing within a complex system of relationships, informed the study. Semi-structured interviews with participants, based on the Dan McAdams Framework were used for rich data gathering. The findings confirm the notion that poor socio-economic conditions experienced by families in Zimbabwe make a major contribution to at-riskness in secondary schools. Based on the empirical inquiry, the study recommends family support to enhance the functioning of socio-economically stressed families for the improvement of parent-child relationships/intra-familial relationships towards regular school attendance (The Children’s Society, 2013). Further recommendations are presented for a more inclusive educational model to reduce school at-riskness in Zimbabwe.

Keywords: at-riskness; Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory; life story research; secondary schools; Zimbabwe

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