Gendering children's vulnerability and schooling in the Kingdom of Eswatini.
The thesis comprises of eight published articles, whose collective aim was to explore how vulnerable children as a social group in three rural primary schools in Eswatini experience school, and the ways in which they make meaning of gender. The aim was to understand the implication of these on their social welfare, gender equality, their quality of education and experiences of school. The study was informed by children’s geographies and the new sociology of childhood studies. Social constructionism was then adopted as a paradigm through which to comprehend the vulnerable children’s schooling experiences and gender constructions. The study adopted a qualitative narrative approach as its methodology and elicited narratives from the vulnerable children and their teachers. The study was conducted in three primary schools located in the rural areas of Eswatini. Purposive sampling was used to select the thirty children (ten from each participating school) who participated in the study and their ages ranged between 11- 16 years, and were in the 6th grade. To collect data from these participants, semi-structured questions in individual and focus group interviews were utilised. A participatory research method in which participants used photo-voice to explore their spaces and places in the school contexts was also used. Random sampling was then used in selecting the teachers who participated in the study. These were nine teachers, (three from each school) who were aged between 24 and 60 years. To generate data from the teachers, questionnaires and in-depth individual interviews were used. The study worked from the premise that the vulnerable boys’ and girls’ schooling experiences and meaning making of gender is socially constructed. Culture, societal discourses and the social relationships they had in the society and the schools not only form a basis for their way of constructing reality, but they also have an impact on the way they engage with reality. Indeed, the study found an intricate interchange of culture, tradition, and societal discourses in the way the vulnerable boys and girls constructed gender and also experienced school. This was in ways that presented the vulnerable children with negative schooling experiences and compromised efforts towards inclusivity and gender equitable school spaces. Poverty was found to act as a contextual site for the vulnerable boys’ and girls’ experience of school and gender constructions, in ways that aggravated the gendered inequalities against both the vulnerable boys and girls in these contexts. The study postulates that the vulnerable children of Eswatini have challenges that affect their experience of school. In the school contexts they are vii discriminated against by both insensitive teachers and learners. In the home contexts again, these children have greater responsibilities that compete with their study time. This study demonstrates that schools are also discursive sites for the enactment of troubling gender discourses and performances developed in the communities in ways that compromise efforts for inclusivity and gender equitable school spaces. The vulnerable children’s constructions of gender were found to be heavily reliant on the wider societal discourses as also socialised by teachers. Such discourses were imbedded in patriarchal structures and systems that upheld and re-inscribed inequalities between vulnerable boys and girls and by extension within the social groups- boys and girls. The boys’ vulnerability excluded them from hegemonic masculinities and this predisposed them to discrimination by other learners in the school contexts, and also in ways that emasculated them. The vulnerable girls also constructed their femininities in ways that re-affirmed the gendered inequalities against them. The vulnerable boys and girls were found to use their agency to navigate such gendered spaces but this was unfortunately in ways that further relegated them to subdual. For example, trying to affirm their masculinities the boys engaged in heterosexual relationships which proved to be challenging for them because they could not provide for the girls within these relationships. Similarly, by adopting powerful femininities the girls exposed themselves to gender based violence, STIs (Sexually Transmitted Infections) and teenage pregnancies.Despite these challenges and the apprehension that came with their future aspirations, the vulnerable boys and girls used their individual resilience to navigate the school spaces that sought to stifle their educational aspirations. These children had dreams for the future through education and their individual resilience proved inadequate to ensure that they attain to what they aspired. For example; some of the children aspired to be doctors, teachers and nurses. The support of the society therefore was found to be imperative in these children’s present and future welfare. The study argues that, schools can be the best intervention sites for the deconstruction of gender discourses from the wider societies. It recommends that the Ministry of Education and Training, the community and the schools should make a collaborative and coordinate effort to ensure that vulnerable children have positive schooling experiences. The Ministry of Education and Training also needs to equip teachers with skills on how to work with vulnerable children and to be inclusive in their pedagogic practices. Teachers, on the other hand, ought to change their perceptions and attitudes towards vulnerable children in favour of inclusivity and equality for all children.
Doctoral Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.