Understanding diversity as a framework for improving student throughput

18 Nov 2009

INTRODUCTION: Literature suggests that a diverse body of healthcare graduates could extend health service delivery. However, the literature also indicates that the throughput of minority, working class, and historically disadvantaged students is problematic. Poor throughput is attributed to the way that university environments alienate some students. This brief communication highlights lessons learned from exploratory interviews with four first-year oral hygiene students at a university in South Africa. It provides insight into the issues that contribute to academic success and failure. METHODS: Semi-structured, individual interviews, to gain information regarding students’ university academic experiences were conducted. Enablers and barriers to learning identified in the literature were used to capture themes. FINDINGS: The following three themes emerged: educational identity, language and finances. The analysis showed how a white middle class student recognized practices that are rewarded at university and how three, working-class, black students experienced tension between their expectations and experiences and the university culture. However, far from being victims, these students provided suggestions on how their transition might be facilitated. CONCLUSION: Evidence suggests that these students wanted both to be apprenticed into the new way of doing things while having their differences acknowledged. A model for education that initiates learners and also challenges the culture of power is suggested.