Exploring barriers to the promotion of children's relational wellbeing in South African school communities
MetadataShow full item record
The importance of promoting the health and well-being of children in educational contexts are recognised in national and international policy developments. However, according to international and local research, many challenges regarding the promotion of relational well-being prevail, despite various efforts to improve relationships within school communities. The continuous media and research reports on the escalation of violence in schools suggest that there are certain vices that act as barriers to the promotion of relational well-being in school communities, restraining relationships between all those involved in the school community. However, challenges relating to relational well-being are often construed as a matter to be addressed by professionals either in the service of the government or in private practice, who are expected to work with individuals who experience relational problems. Limited attention is given to barriers that might arise within the everyday interactions between the members of the school communities. The need to understand what hinders the promotion of well-being in school communities as interactive spaces was therefore evident. The aim of this study, therefore, was to explore perceived barriers to the promotion of relational well-being of children in South African school communities. In order to explore such barriers to the promotion of relational well-being, a group of postgraduate students, enrolled for a master’s or doctoral programme in Psychology and who work in various school contexts, was involved in a World Café event with a focus on relational well-being in school contexts. A combination of theoretical perspectives was applied as a basis for understanding the educational context in which the study was situated. In order to secure the capturing of the complex nature of relationships and relational well-being, a qualitative, interpretive descriptive research design was applied. The application of the World Café method created a context suitable to the interpretive and descriptive nature of the research and granted participants the opportunity to render rich and vigorous descriptions of how they perceived the relational well-being of children in South African school communities. Twelve postgraduate students were selected through purposive and convenience sampling to take part in the World Café event, hosted in collaboration with a senior research professor on campus. The data gathered during the World Café event was used as the main data source. In addition, three semi-structured Skype interviews were conducted, following the thematic analysis of the data gathered during the World Café event. In order to ensure that the data was trustworthy, crystallization was applied throughout the data collection process. Thematic analysis was conducted and three main themes with sub-themes were identified. Firstly, the participants identified a predominant focus on academics. They perceived this uncontested focus on academic results within the school community as a barrier to the enhancement of relational well-being in their places of work. The main concern was that this unequivocal focus on academic results held certain consequences for both teachers and learners. One of the consequences of this focus on academics is the stress that it creates for teachers. The participants indicated that the most attention in their school environments was paid to delivering good academic results and that the development of other needs of learners, such as emotional needs, were not deemed important. In addition, the participants indicated that they were most often appraised and rewarded according to the academic performance of their learners and to the extent to which they reached predetermined departmental goals within their schools. In addition to academic pressures to perform, teachers are often over-burdened with additional duties which leave them emotionally drained. As a result of their tapped emotional energy, teachers felt that they could not invest in connecting and caring for learners as they would like to, due to the overwhelming amount of other responsibilities. Furthermore, the participants indicated that, in addition to too little time to connect and care for learners and develop healthy relationships, they also experienced little collegial support. The participants also indicated that, in addition to the stress caused by the predominant focus on academic achievement, the consequence of this stance created the following: limited capacity to develop learners’ social-emotional skills; situations where harm to learners’ self-concept was experienced; and a general problem-focused approach in addressing challenges experienced by learners. Secondly, adults seemed to have a limited capacity to promote relational well-being. The participants indicated that, in the contexts and places where they worked, adults, such as teachers and parents, who were mainly responsible to guide and equip learners to create, develop, and maintain healthy and meaningful relationships, were perceived to lack the necessary skills themselves in order to engage in meaningful relationships with one another. With regard to parents’ capacities, the participants argued that the lack of social skills displayed by children in their classrooms might be ascribed to the home environment and the specific contextual challenges that parents and caregivers have to face, in addition to a general limited ability of parents to equip their children with the necessary social and emotional skills to be able to establish healthy and meaningful relationships. Concerning teachers’ capacities, the participants indicated that some teachers were not equipped with adequate knowledge to develop healthy relationships with children and therefore lacked skills to promote relational well-being of children in general. In addition to inadequate knowledge, the participants felt that teachers’ attitudes about relationships also played a role in the lack of promoting healthy relationships. Although inadequate knowledge and negative attitudes by teachers were perceived to compromise the development of healthy relationships, participants indicated that, even if teachers had the desire to develop healthy relationships, there were few or no opportunities created for them by their schools to focus on developing healthy relationships; there was also little opportunity to be models of healthy relational beings, due to a lack of time or system-related support, as well as personal contextual restraints. Thirdly, the perception of the participants was that unresolved conflict between role-players often created a barrier to the promotion of healthy relationships. The participants indicated that the conflict between role-players in the school communities were often excessive and remained unresolved, and that the conflict existed on all levels of inter-relatedness. The unresolved conflict was perceived as a serious barrier to the promotion of relational well-being within their school environments; this conflict was mainly experienced between teachers and learners, teachers and staff, as well as between parents and teachers.
- Humanities