Schools as Enabling Spaces to Improve Learning and Health-Related Quality of Life for Primary School Children in Rural Communities in South Africa

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Learning and Leadership

Abstract

Inequalities in education and health are deeply rooted in social and economic disadvantage. In South Africa, 38% of children live in rural communities and are significantly more likely to be deprived of opportunities for quality education and health-related quality of life than those less disadvantaged. This research aims to address this persistent structural challenge and establish how schools can beat the odds and enable children to achieve and thrive despite their location in high-poverty communities.

This project is grounded in an ethic of social justice and led by a UK and South Africa interdisciplinary team from Education, Health, Psychology, Sociology, and Health Economics. This mixed methods research will establish a comprehensive, empirically grounded theory of practice - i.e. organising schools as enabling spaces for improvement in learning and health. It will focus on the Foundation Phase of primary schooling (children aged 6-9) because: i) this is a critical period of transition from early childhood to middle childhood when early interventions can make a significant impact on long-term outcomes; and ii) this is also a key transition phase when children begin developing a sense of belonging to quality schools that can provide protective environments for those who are 'at risk' because of their dysfunctional early childhood experience.

The project will begin with a rapid evidence assessment (REA) and participatory focus group and individual interviews with purposefully selected policy officials, school and community leaders, and other stakeholders (including parents) to scope and assess the research evidence and policy reports over the last decade. The REA will identify new evidence in the key education, health and policy areas where intervention programmes have shown the potential of being most effective in enhancing children's achievement and health-related quality of life in the short, medium and long term; and the range of factors that influence these.

The results of the REA and interviews will inform the development of a systems-oriented, multi-layered intervention to strengthen the organisational and professional capacities of schools as enabling spaces for children's learning and development in socioeconomically disadvantaged rural communities. Multi-stakeholder, participatory and collaborative child (family)-school-community partnerships will be used to enhance the design and evaluation of the feasibility, applicability and sustainability of the interventions throughout the project.

A six-month pilot will be carried out in 18 rural primary schools in the province of Mpumalanga. Surveys and participatory ethnographic methods will be used with children and adults in schools and their communities to explore how variation in intervention tasks, organisational factors (especially school leadership, professional capacity of the staff, learning culture), and school and community contexts combines to create variability in outcomes (i.e. what seems to work, for whom, under what circumstance). The refined interventions will then be scaled up in an efficacy investigation in 58 rural primary schools (with 4,600+ children, 230+ teachers/school leaders) and their communities in Mpumalanga, North West and Limpopo. Similar evaluation methods will be used to assess the extent of change in schools' organisational and professional capacities and how such change has impacted on children's learning and health outcomes.

By examining how schools may be(come) enabling spaces to promote whole-child quality education (SDG4), and through this, transform the health-related quality of life for children and adults (SDG3) in rural communities in South Africa, the research will make a timely contribution to understandings of how different sectors may work more effectively with schools to unlock the transformative power of education for the achievement of the other SDGs.

Planned Impact

We aim to generate new understandings about how systems-oriented actions strengthen rural primary schools as enabling spaces of learning and healthy development for pupils aged 6-9 years. Improving teachers' capacity and turning schools into quality environments for teaching and learning will be a key outcome which will have powerful positive impacts on pupils' academic and health outcomes. Additionally, the project will have positive benefits for end users in policy and practice communities in SA and many other countries where reducing inequalities in education and health remains a persistent challenge. The project's key beneficiary groups include:

1) For CHILDREN aged 6-9 years: improved foundation phase learning outcomes (indicated by change in literacy and numeracy outcomes), and objective and subjective health and wellbeing outcomes (such as growth status, BMI, QALY) - thus setting strong foundations for their future development;
2) For Foundation Phase TEACHERS: increased knowledge and capacity to participate in school processes that promote interaction between different levels in the child-school-community system and improved pedagogical practice for more effective provision of the whole-child curriculum;
3) For SCHOOL LEADERS: increased capacity and capabilities to engage stakeholder participation across the child-school-community system to bolster the learning and wellbeing environments for children in the Foundation Phase;
4) For FAMILIES AND RURAL COMMUNITIES: increased participation by families of children in school functioning and improved learning mechanisms and social connections in communities that foster families' collective knowledge and capacity to tackle the roots of social, education and health inequalities;
5) For GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS (Department of Basic Education (SA); DIFD (UK)) benefiting from systematic evidence on what effective and healthy schools and their larger communities can offer to transform children's learning, health and wellbeing over time;
6) The research methodologies and findings as well as the intervention outcomes will be of value to INTERGOVERNMENTAL AGENCIES and NGOs (OECD, UNESCO) who may use them to inform their cross-country initiatives that foster the transformative power that schools and their communities can offer to advance the sustainable development agenda internationally.

We will use the following dissemination approaches to increase beneficial impacts:
- By using the diverse policy and practitioner networks that the Advisory Committee represents: These will ensure that we have strong access to be engaged with a wide group of potential users nationally and internationally and increase potential uptake of knowledge.
- By co-constructing our intervention framework and materials with individuals across the groups identified above: This approach will ensure on-the-ground experience and local knowledge is embedded in creating the interventions and thus enable schools and their communities to provide better quality whole-child education for their pupils.
- By using our web-based Workspaces: This site will be a knowledge sharing forum where the team and participating schools will share findings and exchange updates from their interventions. This will be a key knowledge exchange avenue and a dissemination tool, allowing schools to share knowledge and practical tips on what works well and what doesn't. This forum will also be open to schools and other viewers outside the study to help them consider their own interventions.
- By hosting workshops in SA and UK: They will be specifically designed to attract interdisciplinary and cross-sectoral participants such as professionals from local and national government, NGOs, think-tanks, as well as from academia. This will enable us to share knowledge at an international level allowing attendees to learn from our project and to develop their own approach to their own regions/countries.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Title Creative artwork and storybooks produced by learners that are inspired by reading 
Description At the end of each reading cycle (6 in total in the Enabling Schools intervention), each class has produced drawings and artwork that were inspired by the stories that the class read together. A selection of these drawings are included in the storybook that is collectively produced by learners in the class. These drawings, artwork and storybooks represent young children's expressions of their awareness and understandings of the life skills (such as forming friendships) that they have learned through reading. These life skills are required in the National Curriculum in South Africa. 
Type Of Art Artwork 
Year Produced 2022 
Impact These drawings, artwork and storybooks represent young children's expressions of their awareness and understandings of the life skills (such as forming friendships) that they have learned through reading. These life skills are required in the National Curriculum in South Africa. The impact of creating these artwork and story books is both educational and emotional for these rural primary school children. They have a strong sense of pride of their achievement and enjoyed expressing their emotions and understandings through the drawings and the stories that they jointly wrote with other children in their class. 
 
Description Director, Board of Directors of Camden Learning
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
 
Description Member of the Research, Evidence and Impact Panel for the Leadership College for UK Government
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
 
Description African Research Universities Alliance partnerships 
Organisation London South Bank University
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution This partnership builds on our existing collaborations through the ESRC project and aims to strengthen a cross-disciplinary understanding of the links between poverty, family choices and child development. To this end, we will collect unique household data and strengthen ties between Wits (School of Economics and Finance), University of Pretoria (UP, Centre for the Study of Resilience) and UCL (Institute for Global Health and the Institute for Education) - as a springboard for future innovative work on poverty, family behaviour and child development. The activities to be carried out through this partnership complements the ongoing South African Enabling Schools Project (ESP) led by UCL and UP, and funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council. The ESP has developed a school-level intervention to improve education and health outcomes among primary school children in rural South Africa. Currently, the home environment is not examined as an input to study outcomes and Wits is an unfunded member of the ESP consortium. The following four activities will thus be conducted through the proposed ARUA-UCL-Wits project to significantly extend ESP work. The UCL research team will lead the design and execution of the household survey (May-June 2022): The development of a survey to be administered to 350-400 Enabling Schools Project (ESP) participants' households. This will contain items on: (1) multi-dimensional poverty, (2) child/adult time preferences, (3) child/adult time allocation, (4) vulnerability/resilience, (5) household expenditure, (6) child/adult mental and physical health. UCL researchers will participate in the first week of data collection and piloting to facilitate the three-way sharing of expertise. An ethics amendment will be submitted and Covid-19 protocols adhered to, similarly to ongoing ESP data collection activities. Additionally, the UCL research team will also lead the data collection from a sub-sample of children using photovoice methodology.
Collaborator Contribution Training and capacity-building (April-May 2022): A week-long workshop, jointly hosted by Wits, UCL and UP. This will cover fundamentals of statistics for research, survey data collection and concepts in behavourial health economics, educational leadership, resilience and vulnerability. The workshop will reflect on available local data and information gaps that necessitate primary data collection in South Africa. UP Partner will also facilitate the execution of the household survey and the data collection through photovoice methodology.
Impact This multi-disciplinary collaboration is new, funded by the UCL in January 2022. The collaborative activities are informed by knowledge and methodology from health economics, mental health, education, and educational psychology. The intended outcomes of this collaboration are as follows: 1. Build research capacity in the UK and South Africa to carry out this project and develop a future body of work on child development in complex settings. 2. Develop a household survey for use in this and future projects, focussing on the understudied aspects of time preferences, time poverty, vulnerability and resilience. 3. Collect household data to enable several high-impact analyses of household poverty, economic behaviour, vulnerability and resilience. 4. Academic and non-academic dissemination, with at least one high-impact journal article and conference presentation. 5. Build a new body of knowledge on the impact of time preferences, time poverty and resilience on child development in vulnerable communities.
Start Year 2022
 
Description African Research Universities Alliance partnerships 
Organisation University College London
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution This partnership builds on our existing collaborations through the ESRC project and aims to strengthen a cross-disciplinary understanding of the links between poverty, family choices and child development. To this end, we will collect unique household data and strengthen ties between Wits (School of Economics and Finance), University of Pretoria (UP, Centre for the Study of Resilience) and UCL (Institute for Global Health and the Institute for Education) - as a springboard for future innovative work on poverty, family behaviour and child development. The activities to be carried out through this partnership complements the ongoing South African Enabling Schools Project (ESP) led by UCL and UP, and funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council. The ESP has developed a school-level intervention to improve education and health outcomes among primary school children in rural South Africa. Currently, the home environment is not examined as an input to study outcomes and Wits is an unfunded member of the ESP consortium. The following four activities will thus be conducted through the proposed ARUA-UCL-Wits project to significantly extend ESP work. The UCL research team will lead the design and execution of the household survey (May-June 2022): The development of a survey to be administered to 350-400 Enabling Schools Project (ESP) participants' households. This will contain items on: (1) multi-dimensional poverty, (2) child/adult time preferences, (3) child/adult time allocation, (4) vulnerability/resilience, (5) household expenditure, (6) child/adult mental and physical health. UCL researchers will participate in the first week of data collection and piloting to facilitate the three-way sharing of expertise. An ethics amendment will be submitted and Covid-19 protocols adhered to, similarly to ongoing ESP data collection activities. Additionally, the UCL research team will also lead the data collection from a sub-sample of children using photovoice methodology.
Collaborator Contribution Training and capacity-building (April-May 2022): A week-long workshop, jointly hosted by Wits, UCL and UP. This will cover fundamentals of statistics for research, survey data collection and concepts in behavourial health economics, educational leadership, resilience and vulnerability. The workshop will reflect on available local data and information gaps that necessitate primary data collection in South Africa. UP Partner will also facilitate the execution of the household survey and the data collection through photovoice methodology.
Impact This multi-disciplinary collaboration is new, funded by the UCL in January 2022. The collaborative activities are informed by knowledge and methodology from health economics, mental health, education, and educational psychology. The intended outcomes of this collaboration are as follows: 1. Build research capacity in the UK and South Africa to carry out this project and develop a future body of work on child development in complex settings. 2. Develop a household survey for use in this and future projects, focussing on the understudied aspects of time preferences, time poverty, vulnerability and resilience. 3. Collect household data to enable several high-impact analyses of household poverty, economic behaviour, vulnerability and resilience. 4. Academic and non-academic dissemination, with at least one high-impact journal article and conference presentation. 5. Build a new body of knowledge on the impact of time preferences, time poverty and resilience on child development in vulnerable communities.
Start Year 2022
 
Description African Research Universities Alliance partnerships 
Organisation University of Pretoria
Country South Africa 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution This partnership builds on our existing collaborations through the ESRC project and aims to strengthen a cross-disciplinary understanding of the links between poverty, family choices and child development. To this end, we will collect unique household data and strengthen ties between Wits (School of Economics and Finance), University of Pretoria (UP, Centre for the Study of Resilience) and UCL (Institute for Global Health and the Institute for Education) - as a springboard for future innovative work on poverty, family behaviour and child development. The activities to be carried out through this partnership complements the ongoing South African Enabling Schools Project (ESP) led by UCL and UP, and funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council. The ESP has developed a school-level intervention to improve education and health outcomes among primary school children in rural South Africa. Currently, the home environment is not examined as an input to study outcomes and Wits is an unfunded member of the ESP consortium. The following four activities will thus be conducted through the proposed ARUA-UCL-Wits project to significantly extend ESP work. The UCL research team will lead the design and execution of the household survey (May-June 2022): The development of a survey to be administered to 350-400 Enabling Schools Project (ESP) participants' households. This will contain items on: (1) multi-dimensional poverty, (2) child/adult time preferences, (3) child/adult time allocation, (4) vulnerability/resilience, (5) household expenditure, (6) child/adult mental and physical health. UCL researchers will participate in the first week of data collection and piloting to facilitate the three-way sharing of expertise. An ethics amendment will be submitted and Covid-19 protocols adhered to, similarly to ongoing ESP data collection activities. Additionally, the UCL research team will also lead the data collection from a sub-sample of children using photovoice methodology.
Collaborator Contribution Training and capacity-building (April-May 2022): A week-long workshop, jointly hosted by Wits, UCL and UP. This will cover fundamentals of statistics for research, survey data collection and concepts in behavourial health economics, educational leadership, resilience and vulnerability. The workshop will reflect on available local data and information gaps that necessitate primary data collection in South Africa. UP Partner will also facilitate the execution of the household survey and the data collection through photovoice methodology.
Impact This multi-disciplinary collaboration is new, funded by the UCL in January 2022. The collaborative activities are informed by knowledge and methodology from health economics, mental health, education, and educational psychology. The intended outcomes of this collaboration are as follows: 1. Build research capacity in the UK and South Africa to carry out this project and develop a future body of work on child development in complex settings. 2. Develop a household survey for use in this and future projects, focussing on the understudied aspects of time preferences, time poverty, vulnerability and resilience. 3. Collect household data to enable several high-impact analyses of household poverty, economic behaviour, vulnerability and resilience. 4. Academic and non-academic dissemination, with at least one high-impact journal article and conference presentation. 5. Build a new body of knowledge on the impact of time preferences, time poverty and resilience on child development in vulnerable communities.
Start Year 2022
 
Description African Research Universities Alliance partnerships 
Organisation University of the Witwatersrand
Country South Africa 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution This partnership builds on our existing collaborations through the ESRC project and aims to strengthen a cross-disciplinary understanding of the links between poverty, family choices and child development. To this end, we will collect unique household data and strengthen ties between Wits (School of Economics and Finance), University of Pretoria (UP, Centre for the Study of Resilience) and UCL (Institute for Global Health and the Institute for Education) - as a springboard for future innovative work on poverty, family behaviour and child development. The activities to be carried out through this partnership complements the ongoing South African Enabling Schools Project (ESP) led by UCL and UP, and funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council. The ESP has developed a school-level intervention to improve education and health outcomes among primary school children in rural South Africa. Currently, the home environment is not examined as an input to study outcomes and Wits is an unfunded member of the ESP consortium. The following four activities will thus be conducted through the proposed ARUA-UCL-Wits project to significantly extend ESP work. The UCL research team will lead the design and execution of the household survey (May-June 2022): The development of a survey to be administered to 350-400 Enabling Schools Project (ESP) participants' households. This will contain items on: (1) multi-dimensional poverty, (2) child/adult time preferences, (3) child/adult time allocation, (4) vulnerability/resilience, (5) household expenditure, (6) child/adult mental and physical health. UCL researchers will participate in the first week of data collection and piloting to facilitate the three-way sharing of expertise. An ethics amendment will be submitted and Covid-19 protocols adhered to, similarly to ongoing ESP data collection activities. Additionally, the UCL research team will also lead the data collection from a sub-sample of children using photovoice methodology.
Collaborator Contribution Training and capacity-building (April-May 2022): A week-long workshop, jointly hosted by Wits, UCL and UP. This will cover fundamentals of statistics for research, survey data collection and concepts in behavourial health economics, educational leadership, resilience and vulnerability. The workshop will reflect on available local data and information gaps that necessitate primary data collection in South Africa. UP Partner will also facilitate the execution of the household survey and the data collection through photovoice methodology.
Impact This multi-disciplinary collaboration is new, funded by the UCL in January 2022. The collaborative activities are informed by knowledge and methodology from health economics, mental health, education, and educational psychology. The intended outcomes of this collaboration are as follows: 1. Build research capacity in the UK and South Africa to carry out this project and develop a future body of work on child development in complex settings. 2. Develop a household survey for use in this and future projects, focussing on the understudied aspects of time preferences, time poverty, vulnerability and resilience. 3. Collect household data to enable several high-impact analyses of household poverty, economic behaviour, vulnerability and resilience. 4. Academic and non-academic dissemination, with at least one high-impact journal article and conference presentation. 5. Build a new body of knowledge on the impact of time preferences, time poverty and resilience on child development in vulnerable communities.
Start Year 2022
 
Description A policy conference hosted by the Department for Basic Education, South Africa 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact In collaboration with the research team, Dr Keikantsemang Mosepele, Education Specialist at the Farm and Rural Education of the North West Department of Education, has presented the progress of this research at a national policy conference organised by the Education Department for Basic Education in South Africa. The presentation focussed especially on the engagement of the school principals, teachers, communities reading champions and learners in our Enabling Schools Intervention in the ten case study schools. Around 50 policy makers, district officials and school principals from across the country attended the conference. The presentation sparked questions and strong interest in how the project uses existing capacities and instruction time to promote and embed a reading-for-joy culture in the Foundation Phase of these ten rural schools. The use of 'home' language in reading and learning was of particular interest to the audience. The DBE expressed continued strong support of this intervention at the national level.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
 
Description Focus group discussion with the advisory committee of the project 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This workshop (March 2021) will invite all members of the advisory committee of the project which involves key stakeholders from the Department of Basic Education in South Africa, NGOs and school leaders. The purpose is to seek advice and spark discussion on the complex interventions that the research team has developed to improve education and health outcomes in rural primary schools in South Africa.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description IOE leads project to improve the lives of children in poverty 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact The Institute of Education published this news release which attracted attention and discussions from colleagues in the UCL's Global Engagement Office and through them, a wider research and non-research community.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Presentation at the Camden Learning AGM 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Around 60 school leaders, teachers and local authority officials from Camden attended my keynote lecture on The Future of Education: Why Leadership Matters. This features Camden Learning's annual lecture in education. The feedback was extremely positive including: "You have made me understand what scholarship means!" I was then invited to give another keynote at Camden Learning's annual Headteacher Conference in March 2022 - with a specific focus on leadership and cultures of learning.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
 
Description Presentation at the UKRI's network and impact workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact This is the first meeting of the Education as a Driver of Development grants cohort organised by the UKRI. I gave a presentation on behalf of our project team which sparked some interesting discussions around methodology and impact of the project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description WERA invited two-part symposium at the WERA Annual Meeting 2021: Rurality as a global challenge: Schools as Enabling Spaces to Improve Learning and Health-related Quality of Life for Rural Primary School Children 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact This symposium attends to global knowledge on responses that enable positive education and wellbeing outcomes for young children despite challenges synonymous with rurality. The focus is on how schools work effectively with families and communities in rural areas to create the optimal practices, cultures and conditions to strengthen their organisational and professional capacities and become enabling spaces for young children's improvement in learning and health. It brings together the results of systematic reviews of empirical studies which aimed to inform the design and development of a systems-oriented, multi-layered complex intervention to strengthen the organisational and professional capacities of schools as enabling spaces for children's learning and development in socioeconomically disadvantaged rural communities.

Up 50 people attended this two-part symposium and generated debate about how schools and education can be used as a driver for better learning and health outcomes.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description Workshop with Department for Basic Education in South Africa 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact We presented the research plans of the project to directors of different divisions in the Department for Basic Education, SA. The presentation sparked detailed discussion on strategies to improve education outcomes in rural primary schools in SA.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020