Inside the 'black box' : a critical interpretive perspective on the internal dynamics of schooling at Learn to Live and their impact on youths' at risk social-educational status

Master Thesis


Permanent link to this Item
Journal Title
Link to Journal
Journal ISSN
Volume Title

University of Cape Town

Participation in social and educational environments is crucial for young people’s development, well-being and opportunities for leading a fulfilling and successful life. Many South African youngsters – and particularly street children – are often excluded from meaningful participation in their communities. This involves participation in social, educational, cultural, political and economic life. The family and the school are two important arenas where such participation can take place. In addition, these youngsters are confronted with unpredictable future life chances. Thus, they often find themselves in a disadvantaged position within society. In light of this observation, the theme of youth at risk has been much discussed in South Africa for the past three decades. This study focuses on a group of especially disadvantaged adolescents, who do not live in safe and nurturing family environments and who are excluded from formal education. I investigate whether ‘theories and practices of education’, featured in non-formal educational interventions, have an impact on the reproduction of disadvantage and risk among its students. My research focuses on the case of Learn to Live, a non-formal educational intervention that tries to counteract the disadvantages that especially disadvantaged youth in Cape Town face.My findings show that educators and students try to find a balance between, on the one hand, emphasising the uniqueness of students’ extremely disadvantaged situation and the need for a particular kind of education that results from it, and on the other hand, the desire to conform to mainstream ideas and mainstream adolescent life. In their attempts to find this balance, nearly all participants acknowledge that Learn to Live is a necessary stepping stone in students’ lives towards success and happiness. The educators believe that the school itself can contribute a lot to the students’ situation and emphasise their role of victims of their circumstances. The students, however, state that Learn to Live is merely there to give them a second chance. They do consider their own role in the schooling process and the path to success to be paramount. This is also reflected quite clearly in the students’ aspirations, their feelings of hope, and their looking to the future. The implications of these findings for Learn to Live include: building on students’ strengths, talents and resiliency by offering them an empowerment-based intervention, creating more opportunities where students can experience feelings of success and pride, and making use of testimonies of successful students.

Includes abstract.|Includes bibliographical references.