UP leads project with prominent English institutions to promote learning development for children in rural SA

Posted on June 04, 2020

The University of Pretoria (UP) is leading a project to help children in poverty thrive in school and beyond.

UP is collaborating with the University College London’s (UCL) Institute of Education, the UCL Institute for Global Health, and London South Bank University on a project to improve learning and health-related quality of life for primary school children in South Africa’s rural communities, where about 38% of the country’s children live.

The project, which is being funded by the UK Research and Innovation’s Economic and Social Research Council, brings together experts in education, health, psychology, sociology, and health economics to investigate how schools can be organised as enabling spaces to improve children’s learning and health.

“Young children in high-need socio-economic spaces need support to develop,” said Professor Liesel Ebersöhn of the Education Faculty at UP and Professor Qing Gu of the UCL Institute of Education “In this study we will generate new knowledge on school-based interventions that promote early child learning and well-being development in highly unequal rural South Africa. The study will show which strategies need to be included in systems-oriented interventions that enable children to thrive, teachers to be confident, school leaders to be innovative and families to feel welcome at schools.”

By examining how schools may become enabling spaces to promote whole-child quality education – which meets Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 – and through this transform the health-related quality of life for children and adults (SDG 3) in rural communities in South Africa, this research will make a timely contribution to understanding how different sectors may work more effectively with schools to unlock the transformative power of education to achieve the other 2030 SDGs systemically and sustainably.

The project will focus on children between six and nine years old, as early intervention in this critical period of transition from early to middle childhood can make a significant impact on a child’s long-term outcomes. It is set to run from February 2020 until January 2023, and will be operating in communities in Mpumalanga, North West, Limpopo and elsewhere.

The study will start with a systematic review and interviews with officials from local and national government organisations and non-governmental public bodies to assess evidence and policy reports over the past three decades. This assessment will identify new evidence in key education, health and policy areas where intervention programmes have shown the potential of being most effective in improving children's achievement and health-related quality of life in the short, medium and long term.

The results will guide the team in developing a systems-oriented intervention that aims to strengthen the organisational and professional capacities of schools to enhance education and development in socio-economically disadvantaged rural communities.

An initial six-month pilot will involve 18 rural primary schools, and will analyse how various intervention tasks work and to what degree school and community contexts impact these. The interventions will then be refined and scaled up in 58 rural primary schools, with researchers continuing to examine the extent of change in the capacities and capabilities of schools, and how such change has impacted on children's learning and health outcomes.

- Author Masego Panyane

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