Adolescent identity formation in the context of vocationally oriented special needs schools
CITATION: Jacobs, C. & Collair, L. 2017. Adolescent identity formation in the context of vocationally oriented special needs schools. South African Journal of Education, 37(3):Art. #1249, doi:10.15700/saje.v37n3a1249.
The original publication is available at http://www.sajournalofeducation.co.za
Adolescence is a phase that is associated with important identity-relevant issues. Shaping a clear sense of identity is an important step in developing a healthy psychosocial disposition, and the school is an important context where this can happen. In this article, we explore how adolescents who had attended a special needs school of skills in the Western Cape, South Africa, perceived the role that their school experiences played in shaping their sense of identity. These were learners who entered the school of skills with a poor sense of self, due to years of academic difficulties and exclusion in mainstream primary schools. Using a qualitative research design, data was collected through interviews, and analysed by means of the inductive process of thematic content analysis. The findings showed that participants’ school experiences shaped their sense of identity in a more positive way. The participants’ narratives speak to the complexity in the individual, the school and the community in contributing to a sense of identity with both positive and negative aspects. Though the participants experienced a sense of belonging and felt accepted by their teachers and peers, the school did not deliver on its implicit promise of a job-related skill, and this in turn negatively affected their thinking about future life paths and careers, which is important for identity formation.