Positive grade 1 transition despite disadvantage: children and their resilience supporting social ecologies
Children attend formal schooling as part of their expected developmental trajectory. South African formal, compulsory schooling starts with the first grade1 in the year children turn seven years old. Schooling experiences in South Africa often occur in the context of disparities and marginalisation for children living in disadvantaged communities (interpreted as living in a rural, isolated community challenged by poverty, a lack of resources and opportunities). Transitioning to school is a considerable milestone with associated difficulties that children have to navigate in the process of adjusting to their new (often unfamiliar) school environment. School transitions are increasingly demanding in the context of co-occurring risks. Some communities are challenged by disadvantage and associated scarce resources that affect children directly and indirectly, but also the key role players from children’s social ecologies who are similarly impaired. Accordingly, children are embedded in systems (ecologies) that affect them directly (micro-level) and indirectly (macro-level). When children adjust well to school despite disadvantage, resilience is inferred. In this study, resilience was defined as a bidirectional, person↔environment iterative process where children accessed and relied on their social ecologies (people and resources from their home and school) to facilitate and enable their positive transition to school (a social ecology of resilience theory (SERT) perspective). This study aimed to explore, explain and understand children’s resilience processes when starting the first grade in risk-filled contexts: who and what supports children’s resilience processes, and why do some children transition well to school despite adversities? The subaims included (i) a comprehensive scoping review of extant literature on first-graders’ school 1 Note that South African texts refer to Grade 1 where international texts refer to first grade. Throughout the text the authors refer to first grade. transitions despite vulnerable contexts through a critical SERT lens; (ii) a multiple-embedded case study to understand why five children from a disadvantaged community in South Africa transitioned well to the first grade; and (iii) a critical reflection on methodological insights by comparing extant studies to the current study, which offers alternative research strategies to the embedded assumptions of how research had been conducted with (or on) children to date. The scoping review illustrated a paucity of rural, qualitative understandings explaining children’s resilient school adjustment supported by their social ecologies within and across settings and positioned extant findings within the SERT perspective. Prevailing findings also lacked child-directed explanations, adding to the gap in research for the current study. The qualitative case study exemplified how multiple visual methodologies accessed complex explanations from different social-ecological role players where children directed the research as primary informants while adults (parents, teachers and school staff) provided secondary inputs that substantiated children’s explanations. Key findings demonstrate active partnerships between children and their social ecologies from home (family) and school (teachers, peers and a resourced school) that facilitate and enable children’s resilience processes through facilitated safety; nurturing spaces and prioritisation of education through co-ownership of adjustment to the first grade. Methodological contributions highlight the importance of well-designed, multilevel research that includes child- and adult perspectives as collaborative sources of information within and across research settings (ecologies).
- Health Sciences