Exploring first-year, rural students computer acquisition experiences at an urban university in South Africa

Master Thesis


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Higher Education in South Africa still reflects its apartheid past. Historically white institutions of higher learning remaining well resourced, most of their students are white and these institutions still retain their colonial activities. Black students who attend these Higher Education Institutions do not perform as well as their white counterparts as a result of the inequalities that still exist in South Africa. In South Africa, tertiary institutions are tasked with delivering skilled and computer proficient graduates as required by industry. These graduates are key to South Africa's participation in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which will ensure the country's economic growth. Gaining entry to higher education institutions has improved for black students. However, there are differentiated divides which exist within each aspect of these institutions that limit black students' engagement and full participation at previously white higher education institutions. Information and Communication Technology (ICT), especially at historically white institutions, has become a key component of their teaching and learning practice. However, the digital divide is most evident amongst black, rural students who often come into this learning environment with little or no computer experience. Their often, white privileged peers are mostly computer proficient. The study explored how underprivileged students experience the process of acquiring computer skills. It unpacks their perceptions of themselves in relation to their peers, the implications that this has on students' current journey at the University of Cape Town and their future computer use within a learning environment. The case study, focused on first year, rural, black students, involved the use of a mixed method approach. Data were collected using a questionnaire, an observation and interviews. Critical Discourse Analysis is used to understand the data. Foucault's view of Critical Discourse, namely, the concepts of Power/Knowledge, Subject/Trust are used to understand how the structures and waysin which society createslevels of power and being within society are viewed. Credence is given to the opinions of some people in society and not to others through these Power/Knowledge and Subject/Trust discourse. Critical Discourse seeks to explore the social injustices inherent in society and to encourage it to be more equitable. The research shows that the acquisition of computer skills for first year, rural, black students at a historically white university is not easy, especially for those who come with no computer knowledge. They lose their self-worth and may initially become computer averse even though they realise the value of computers. The gap between students who come in without computer skills and the computer proficient students grows as they progress. The lack of computer skills limits students without computer experience from fully benefiting from the array of opportunities computers bring to the learning environment. They only acquire the skills taught at the university, which limits their further acquisition of computer skills. Further research in this area is required to fully understand the rural students' experience.