The influence of differences in social and cultural capital on students' expectations of achievement, on their performance, and on their learning practices in the first year at university
International Journal of Learning
University of the Witwatersrand, Gauteng, South Africa
Even in post-Apartheid South Africa a legacy of inequality persists, since members of the wealthier sector, who generally have parents with a University education, are able to attend well resourced schools, while the majority of the population is forced (through economic circumstances) to attend under-resourced schools. Since access to tertiary education has increased, many individuals, who have attended under-resourced schools, are now able to attend University as "first generation" students whose parents have had no University experience. First and second generation students thus enter University having different expectations, learning practices and experiences which have been influenced, to a large extent, by their high school experiences. In addition, first generation students lack social and cultural capital which also influences their learning practices. This study compares the learning practices and academic performance of first and second generation students in a first year Biology course at Wits University. The influence of social and cultural capital on student academic performance is investigated. Students' expectations and experiences of their academic performance become more realistic as they go through first year but they experience great difficulty in trying to adjust their study methods to meet the expectations of the academic environment. As much as first generation students who have sibling experience of University have access to social capital, and therefore more realistic views on the academic requirements at University, they still do not perform any better than first generation students who have no sibling experience of University. In order for educational redress within South African democracy to be effective, it is important to understand the supportive measures that students may require in order to succeed at University. Furthermore, first generation students who have siblings that attended University have access to social capital, unlike those without this experience. This study examines the importance of social capital and cultural capital in the context of a Biology course at Wits University. © Common Ground, Shalini Dukhan, Ann Cameron, Elisabeth A. Brenner. .