The growing number of challenges related to cumulative risk, such as poverty, unemployment, hunger and HIV/AIDS, has distressing consequences for communities, schools, families, as well as individuals. As a result, there is a mounting need for psycho-social support provision to vulnerable youth in the South African context. In this country, the focus has increasingly moved towards communities taking responsibility themselves to address the challenges they face. Community-based coping (Ferreira, 2006) inevitably implies a prominent role by schools and teachers, who are key figures in any community.
Against this background, the current study set out to explore school-based support initiatives that exist in South African primary schools in at-risk contexts. More specifically, this study aimed to gain insight into how primary schools (teachers) can support the physical, emotional and psychosocial wellbeing of children. The following research question guided the investigation: How do school-based initiatives support the wellbeing of at-risk learners in South African primary schools?
Research was undertaken in eight schools situated in the Eastern Cape province, which have been involved in the STAR (Supportive Teachers Assets and Resilience) and FIRST-GATE (Food Intake and Resilience Support: Gardens as Taught by Educators) projects over recent years. I utilised interpretivism as meta-theory and followed a qualitative methodological approach applying participatory reflection and action (PRA) principles. I implemented, a case study research design, and generated and documented data by means of PRA-based activities and discussions, observation-as-context-of-interaction, field notes, a research journal and audio-visual techniques.
Following thematic inductive data analysis, I identified four themes with related sub-themes. Firstly, participants indicated the aims of school-based support in terms of raising awareness and preventing social problems; addressing problems and the manifestation of challenges; and early the identification of problems, referrals and providing support for accessing external help. Secondly, participants identified broad strategies for providing support which relate to collaboration and networking; establishing structures and committees at school; identifying and perusing fundraising opportunities; and encouraging parent/caregiver involvement at school. The third theme discuss additional role-players in the provision of school-based support, namely national government; local organisations, community members and volunteers; and people in helping professions. Finally, participants indicated specific areas of school-based support which relate to addressing the needs of learners; providing academic support; encouraging cultural awareness and creating recreational opportunities; and maintaining school infrastructure in support of healthy functioning.
Based on the findings I obtained, I can conclude that schools in South Africa strive to support learners by, for example, forming partnerships with parents, the local community and government in order to mobilise available support. In so doing, schools seek to create awareness of problems, identify learners who are at risk, make referrals, employ fundraising initiatives, establish committees and structures and promote programmes to address, and possibly prevent, social problems.