Empowering Rural Schools to Improve Learning and Health: A Collaborative Research Project

Posted on March 31, 2023

We are thrilled to share an exciting collaborative research project in which the Department of Physiology at the University of Pretoria is playing a significant role. This initiative, titled "Schools as Enabling Spaces to Improve Learning and Health-Related Quality of Life," is a groundbreaking exploration into the complex relationship between education, health, and social justice in South African rural communities.


Inequalities in education and health outcomes are often deeply entrenched in social and economic disparities. This research project, initiated in February 2020 and funded by the ESRC, focuses on primary school children in rural South African communities, aiming to address these disparities. The project is a collaboration between the University of Pretoria's Department of Physiology and the UCL Centre for Educational Leadership, uniting experts from various fields.

Project Objectives:

The central goal of this project is to create optimal practices, cultures, and conditions within rural schools, transforming them into enabling spaces for young children's improvement in both learning and health. The initiative employs a whole-school intervention strategy grounded in a holistic approach, nurturing the development of 6- to 9-year-old learners.

Key Focus Areas:

  • Addressing the persistent structural challenges in education and health in rural communities.
  • Creating a comprehensive, empirically grounded theory of practice.
  • Focusing on the Foundation Phase of primary schooling (children aged 6-9).
  • Viewing quality education as a health intervention, thus impacting children's quality of life.
  • Contributing to the achievement of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
  • Research Questions:

This project seeks to answer critical questions, such as:

  1. Are there education and health education models in rural primary schools sufficient to improve academic and health outcomes for all pupils, especially those socio-economically disadvantaged?
  2. What are the key structural, social, and cultural challenges rural schools face in improving learning and health-related quality of life for all children?
  3. How does a systems-oriented approach improve schools' capacities to address challenges effectively?
  4. What are the similarities and differences in implementing this approach in various schools and communities?
  5. How cost-effective, sustainable, and replicable is this approach in transforming schools' capacities and connections with communities?
  6. What are the policy and practice implications for sustainable development in resource-poor, socio-economically disadvantaged communities?

University of Pretoria Team:

We are proud to be part of this innovative endeavor, led by our very own Professor Liesel Ebersöhn, Director of the Centre for the Study of Resilience and Professor in the Department of Educational Psychology. Our esteemed co-investigators and researchers, including Professor Peet du Toit from the Department of Physiology, are contributing their expertise to make a meaningful impact.

This project represents a concerted effort to bridge the gaps in education, health, and social justice in rural South African communities, with the potential for broader applications beyond our borders. We look forward to the results of this research and the positive changes it can bring to the lives of young children in need.

For more information and updates about this project, please stay tuned to our departmental webpage. Together, we can transform education and health outcomes for the better in rural communities.


For more about this project you can visit: Schools as Enabling Spaces to Improve Learning and Health-Related Quality of Life | IOE - Faculty of Education and Society - UCL – University College London

- Author Department of Physiology

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