Epistemic access and success of historically disadvantaged students during the COVID-19 pandemic: A South African experience





Access, Success, COVID-19, Historically disadvantaged students, Higher education


The quest for access to higher education has increased rapidly in the past 25 years of democracy in South Africa. However, this increase has not been matched by student academic success. This lack of success may even be worse with the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has given rise to challenges that have affected student learning, especially for students who come from historically disadvantaged backgrounds. In response to these, many institutions of higher learning have resorted to online teaching and learning. Despite this aforementioned lack of success, there are some who have succeeded. This group of students is the focus of our study. Therefore, the question discussed here is: How do students of historically disadvantaged backgrounds have access to higher education and succeed in their studies, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic? We employed a qualitative methodological approach, where the case study research design was adopted. A purposive sampling strategy was used to select a total of 18 participants from the School of Education at the University of Limpopo in South Africa. The sample was divided into four categories. The first category was made up of 10 students. The second category comprised 2 administrative staff, the third category consisted of 4 academic staff and 2 support staff (residence and academic writing) formed the last category. Data was collected through interviews and document analysis. The findings showed that students from disadvantaged backgrounds encountered challenges with their academic and their social lives during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, we established that they developed coping skills (working in groups, moving around from one spot to the other in search of a strong connectivity) to navigate through their challenges. These findings imply that students from historically disadvantaged backgrounds can succeed if they leverage their studies on self-agency and social capital despite disruptions such as the COVID-19 pandemic.


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How to Cite

Themane, M. J., & Mabasa, L. T. (2022). Epistemic access and success of historically disadvantaged students during the COVID-19 pandemic: A South African experience. Perspectives in Education, 40(1), 18-38. https://doi.org/10.18820/2519593X/pie.v40.i1.2