The Interface of Orphan-hood and Schooling Experiences in Rural High Schools in the Republic of Zimbabwe.

Author:Itayi, Matarutse


Orphan-hood is one of the major social problems in contemporary society, particularly in developing countries like Zimbabwe. The effects of poverty tend to proliferate to schools thereby affecting educational experiences of students in that predicament. Most research studies have focused on the general socio-economic challenges faced by orphans within the home environment. This study will go a step further to investigate and unpack the interface of orphanhood and academic performance of orphans in the Zimbabwean Secondary Schools. The study focuses on Tsatse High School in Goromonzi District, Mashonaland East as a case study.

Parental death introduces a negative economic shock to the household that is likely to affect the living standards of its members. The extent of the impact depends, among certain other conditions, on whether the deceased parent was a main earner in the household, whether the household becomes eligible or receives transferences in response to the death, whether children are fostered out, and the economic conditions of the household where the children are fostered in (Case, Paxson & Ableidinger, 2004). There are some orphans who lost both parents and others living with a single parent. Orphans are usually left under the care of the extended family and in the worst cases; some are relegated to child-headed families due to poverty. It has become very difficult for the majority of orphans to meet basic needs and schooling costs. This has resulted in erratic school attendance and in worst cases to school drop-out. It is against this background that this study explores the impact of orphan-hood on students' educational experiences.

Statement of the problem

The sting of orphan-hood tends to be exacerbated by poverty which deprives children growing in such family contexts social capital as well as financial capital; resources critical for children are learning experiences. This tends to lead to long periods of absence from school or even school push-out due to child labour meant to generate funds to meet basic needs and schooling costs. Such challenges tend to interfere and militate against students' academic performance. It is against this backdrop that the study explores the impact of orphanhood on children's educational experiences

Research questions

The study intends to address the following research questions: what socio-economic challenges are faced by orphaned high school students in rural areas; how do socio-economic challenges faced by orphaned high school students in rural areas affect their academic achievement; what other challenges affect the academic achievement of orphaned students in rural high schools; and what intervention strategies can be implemented in high schools to deal with the challenges of orphan-hood in an effort to enhance students' academic achievement?

Conceptual Framework: The Social Capital Theory

According to Bourdieu Social Capital is the aggregate of actual or potential resources which are linked to a group like a family which provides each of its members with the backing of the group. By implication, orphans lack this backing which tends to affect their schooling experiences. Thus social capital is a relationship immanent in social groups that provides useful support when it is needed. Stable relationships create honour and reputation among its members and thus become most effective for building and maintaining trust (Bourdieu, 1984:204). Social capital can be transformed into economic or cultural capital. According to Bourdieu, disparities in the amount of cultural and economic capital of families lead to differential transfer of capital to children. In this regard some poverty stricken families possess very little social capital which can compromise the educational experiences of their children. It is argued here that with the demise of the extended family, orphans are likely to live in poverty which then can affect educational experiences of children growing in such contexts.

The reviewed related literature here focuses on the general causes of orphan-hood, some statistics of orphans in Zimbabwe and the region, the importance of parents, the African traditional philosophy of Ubuntu on children, child-headed families and the role of the extended family in caring for orphans, socio-economic and psychological challenges of orphan-hood. Since the studies by some authors on orphan-hood are silent on how it affects academic achievement, they formed the infrastructural base and premise for this study on the interface of orphan-hood and academic achievement.

HIV/AIDS and Orphan-Hood

There are many causes of parental death and as such children are left in the predicament of orphan-hood. The causes of death of parents range from AIDS and other diseases, armed conflict, natural disasters, forced displacement and extreme poverty (UNICEF, 2004). The scourge of HIV/AIDS is registering the highest number of deaths in Zimbabwe, hence the ever-rising statistics of orphans. From the research made by National Plan of Action for Orphans and Vulnerable Children (NPA for OVC) (2004) an estimated 761,000 children in Zimbabwe have lost one or both parents to HIV/AIDS and projections suggested that by the year 2005, there would be approximately 1.1 million children under the age of 15 who would have been orphaned due to AIDS. UNAIDS (2010) gathered that the estimated number of children orphaned by AIDS and living in the region by then was 11 million, highlighting the need for an urgent response to provide care and protection for this vulnerable group.. This problem has a negative impact on the socio-economic lifestyle of orphans and their care-givers in society which in turn affects their educational experiences.

Children in African Traditional Society

In the traditional African society, children belonged to everyone implying that following parental death, the extended family and the community at large made collaborative effort to take care of the children of the deceased. According to Tirivangana (2014)...

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