Barriers to Learning in Higher Education: What We Can Learn From a South African Case Study

By Miemsie Steyn.

Published by The Learner Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

South Africa underwent political reform in 1994 from an Apartheid government to a democratic state. This shift impacted on all population groups and resulted in a shift in the social orientation of black youth (Tyson & Stones, 2002; Everatt, 2002; Möller, 2005; Ganagakis, 2004). These authors consistently report that black adolescents value academic qualifications as a means of escaping traditional black working-class work and the constraints deriving from a heritage of oppression. Therefore, former white universities, known for their high standards and academic excellence experienced an influx of black students who previously were excluded from these institutions. The only admission criterion for universities in the current dispensation is the m-score, which is a rating scale where points are allocated according to marks obtained in each Senior Certificate subject passed. The sum of these points determines a person’s m-score. Although black students comply with the prescribed m-score, there still remain remnants of a past characterized by social deprivation and mediocrity in the provision of education. These barriers, such as lack of finances to purchase study material, language barriers and being exposed to inner-city conditions, hamper achievement on tertiary level, thus continuing the social inequity and educational imbalances from the past. This paper will report on a study, which investigated the extent of learning barriers that black students at the University of Pretoria experience, and endeavors to determine the learning support they need in order to succeed academically. A qualitative approach was followed and data were gathered by means of focus group interviews and participants’ photo portfolios. The data were interpreted with reference to recent perceptions on adult learning, particularly in the African context. Implications for higher education in general will be indicated.

Keywords: Black Students, Barriers to Learning, Higher Education

The International Journal of Learning, Volume 16, Issue 10, pp.607-622. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 2.033MB).

Dr. Miemsie Steyn

Lecturer, Department of Early Childhood Education, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, Gauteng, South Africa

I have been teaching at universities for the past 22 years, and holds a doctorate in Educational Psychology from Unisa. Currently I am responsible for the undergraduate module Life Orientation, and also for the BEd Honours in Learning Support. I teach student teachers, and strive to structure the content of the curricula in such a way as to prepare would be teachers for the diverse realities of South African classrooms. My research interests entail a project on future expectations of adolescents from different population groups in South Africa, and focuses on the improvement of accessibility to former disadvantaged students in tertiary institutions. Addressing learning barriers of all learners and students is the aim of my research and teaching.


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