The learning practice formation of rural working class learners based on their funds of knowledge

Abstract

This article is a discussion of how five rural working-class learners use their funds of knowledge (FK) to establish their learning practices. With funds of knowledge we refer to the cultural practices and forms of knowledge and information found in households and communities that people utilise to survive and maintain viable lives (Moll 1992:21). The question that this article responds to is: How do learners in impoverished circumstances deploy their FK in and across their lived spaces in order to build and establish their learning practices?

We attempt to provide an insight into the ways in which the socio-economic dynamics in rural working-class neighbourhoods influence learners’ learning processes. The article illustrates how five learners utilise their experiences, networks, and agency towards acquiring their FK and how they use these to establish their learning practices in their lived spaces. The main argument that we posit is that understanding these learners’ learning practice formation requires that we concentrate on the complex and interwoven social-spatial practices and discourses that they use to establish their learning practices. We thus set out to illustrate how selected learners mobilise their FK in their spaces in order to form and establish their learning practices.

The theoretical grounding of the article is the funds of knowledge approach popularised by Moll and his colleagues (see Moll, Amanti, Neff and González 1992; 2005), and the work of Zipin, Sellar and Brennan (2013), who developed the FK concept for analytical application in poor schools in Australia. An FK approach places the analytical focus on the inherent capacities of people to productively exercise their agency in deeply impoverished circumstances. Challenging a deficit perspective, it emphasises the view that humans are creative cultural hybrids who mobilise their skills and knowledge to establish adaptive practices to sustain livelihoods. An FK perspective enables us to focus on the emergent learning practices of the selected school learners as they navigate and negotiate their community and domestic contexts. In the light of this, the article specifically discusses how they build their learning practices along the following dimensions: family-based FK, community-based FK, peer-based FK, and media- and IT-based FK.

The data for this article are drawn from a larger study on the social and educational experiences of rural working-class youth. This is based on ethnographic research in a small town 15 kilometres from Stellenbosch. Participant observation and in-depth semi-structured and unstructured interviews were used among purposively selected learners in order to access and understand aspects of their life experiences, cultural knowledge, and the complex ways in which they go about establishing their learning practices in their domestic and community contexts. We spent considerable time over an 18-month period in the town, which afforded us the opportunity to appreciate and develop an understanding of the complex life paths of these learners.

Our ethnographic approach enabled us to understand these paths in light of the context in which they were established. All the necessary ethical protocols were observed in respect of research on and with children. By utilising the conceptual categories of Moll et al. (2005) associated with their FK approach, we organised and analysed the data based on emergent themes related to the manner in which the learners went about developing their learning practices. The data allowed us to draw links between their relational activity in their lived spaces and the impact of these on their learning practices. The research illuminated the formative impact of their everyday practices on their emergent FK which, we argue, played a pivotal role in how they, as active progenitors of their own lived realities, formed their learning practices.

The findings were organised along four dimensions. First, with regard to their family-based FK, we concentrated on how their relationships and practices in their families contributed to their learning practice formation. We discovered that they were immersed in rich domestic literacy practices. For example, they love reading age-appropriate books, magazines and religious material. They learn from their parents’ and family members’ work-related knowledge, their family’s immersion in musical performance, the extant storytelling culture, and periodic road trips to visit family. What was clear was that although these families struggle to survive, they offer their children ample support for their schoolgoing, which contributes to a healthy domestic learning environment. The children, in turn, use this domestic support to establish appropriate literacy and learning practices in support of their educational aspirations.

Second, regarding their community-based FK, we concentrate on the relations and negotiations that the learners undertake in community context in their attempt to access the FK necessary for developing their learning practices. Establishing networks of engagement is central to these practices. These involve informal economic exchanges, interaction with their churches, and participation in sport and cultural activities in the community. The learners have a thorough understanding of their community. They use their own initiative to address the daily challenges that they encounter. They access resources to support their education. They succeed in developing strategic knowledge practices to leverage the community’s networks and social support. These are key for them as a basis for building their learning practices and staying on course in pursuit of their education.

The third aspect concentrates on their peer-based FK in respect of their learning practice formation. Here the focus is on how the selected learners consciously and unconsciously go about establishing their peer-based practices to acquire crucial FK. They utilise their peer-based FK instrumentally to secure academic and other social advantages in their community. Reaching out to friends for social support, the use of linguistic strategies for peer acceptance, and adopting sophisticated cultural codes are knowledge-informed strategies which they use to acquire competence for survival and staying on course educationally in their tough neighbourhood.

The final aspect is the use of media-based FK to develop their learning practices. Here the focus is on their use of the various ICT-based media sources such as Twitter, Facebook, SMS and WhatsApp messaging, satellite television and internet searches. These platforms provide them with a rich material resource base for their educational development, in addition to linking them daily into the global information-based culture. Their media-based FK is pivotal for their learning activities and youth identity becoming in this local township.

In sum, the article throws the spotlight on how learners in a rural working-class town have gone about accessing their FK in order to develop their learning practices. These community-based practices, in turn, have established them as young people who are committed to establishing an educational path. Their ability to establish strategic networks in their community and supportive friendships have secured them such a path. It is their ability to mobilise various knowledge and literacy sources in their families and communities that has played a crucial role in their learning practice formation. And their ICT- and media-related knowledge practices have been decisive in establishing them as viable learners. In other words, their media-based FK has been important in their learning practice formation.

Based on the research for this article we suggest that young people from impoverished backgrounds are productive and creative learners who deploy a range of social and knowledge-informed strategies to establish viable learning paths. It is this realisation that should inform the curriculum work of schools and teachers in their quest to engage these learners intellectually. And central to such engagement should be to develop curricular strategies that recognise and work with the learners’ active knowledge-making processes.

Keywords: agency; educational practices; ethnography; funds of knowledge; learning practice formations; networks; poor environments; rural

Lees die volledige artikel in Afrikaans: Die leerpraktykvorming van plattelandse werkersklasleerders gegrond op hulle fondse van kennis

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