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Resilience research began in North America and Western Europe but there is a growing call for exploration of what resilience might mean in specific cultural contexts. Placed within the context of Africentrism and resilience perspectives, this study explores academic experiences of Ghanaian youth in three universities. Semistructured and focus group interviews were used to explore the academic resilience of 30 college freshmen in Ghana. Using narrative inquiry, the study examined the schooling experiences of young people in Ghana who have made it to college despite a myriad of adversities. Academic and socioeconomic adversity stemming from spatial inequality and negative cultural practices emerged as risk factors that negatively influence academic outcomes. Similarly, social support systems in the form of collective family/kinship values, future orientation, and individual characteristic of “not giving up” emerged as protective factors that tend to support academic resilience. Implications of the findings for social work education, practice, and policy are discussed. Keywords resilience, Africentric, academic achievement, Ghana, qualitative research, culture The phenomenon of resilience in high-risk youth has been school, which contribute to students’ academic achievement widely studied in Western societies to understand protective (Abukari, 2010; Abukari & Laser, 2013; Chowa, Masa, traits that propel disadvantaged youth to succeed in school Ramos, & Ansong, 2015). and other spheres of life in the face of adversity. Such stud- A plethora of literature on risk and resilience among ies, from a cultural standpoint, are still limited in sub-Saharan young people in the Western world has increased current Africa and Ghana in particular; they have also failed to understanding of the deleterious effects of stress and other acknowledge the cultural embedded definitions and manifes- risk factors associated with environments characterized by tations of resilient traits and protective factors among mar- high incidence of poverty and violence similar to condi- ginalized individuals and social groups in the continent. For tions in sub-Saharan Africa (e.g., Brooks-Gunn & Duncan, this reason, resilience among Ghanaian students, many of 1997; Cauce, Steward, Rodriguez, Cochran, & Ginzler, them the first in their families to have a formal education, 2003; Dearing, Berry, & Zaslow, 2006; Jenson, Anthony, goes unnoticed or gets lost in what Akbar (1984) refers to as & Howard, 2010). Some studies focusing on youth resil- “our preoccupation with deviance, deficiency, and an exces- ience suggest that some children and adolescents, despite sive involvement in victim analysis” (p. 398). Female stu- the adversities they encounter, adapt successfully and are dents in particular, given the patriarchal nature of African described as resilient or stress-resistant (Garmezy, 1983, societies and the pattern of gender discrimination in educa- 1985; Masten & Powell, 2003; Werner & Smith, 1992). tion in sub-Saharan Africa, have been considered the most Despite the extensive studies on youth resilience, there is vulnerable youth group (e.g., Amponsah, Ametefa, & still limited research on the extent to which the phenomenon Mensah, 2012). In addition, poor and marginalized students of resilience is manifested in non-Western societies that are from low-income families and communities are often char- not only poorer in economic resources but also are based on acterized as vulnerable without considering the intangible collectivistic values compared with the individualistic values assets and resources that serve as protective factors that may propel them toward resilience. However, a few recent studies Westfield State University, MA, USA on academic achievement of Ghanaian youth have identified Corresponding Author: protective factors consisting of both personal and familial Ziblim Abukari, Associate Professor, Westfield State University, 577 characteristics, such as optimism, strong kinship bonds, col- Western Ave., Westfield, MA 01086, USA. lective values, self-efficacy beliefs, and commitment to Email: email@example.com Creative Commons CC BY: This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License (http://www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/) which permits any use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access pages (https://us.sagepub.com/en-us/nam/open-access-at-sage). 2 SAGE Open in Western societies. Drawing from Africentrism and resil- in collectivist societies by noting that in sub-Saharan Africa ience perspectives, this study highlights academic experiences where there are no well-functioning welfare systems, with of Ghanaian youth in three disadvantaged universities. The high rates of poverty, social capital becomes a critical safety study aims to explore the African perspectives and manifesta- net for survival and coping with adversity. Laird (2008) also tions of resilience and how young people construct the mean- contends that reciprocal exchange of resources between ing of their schooling experiences. Recent studies on risk and households becomes the norm during difficult times to miti- resilience among young people in South Africa have shed gate the effects of problems such as illness and drought. some light on the cultural nuances of the concept similar to From a social constructionist perspective, young people conditions that exist in many places in Ghana (e.g., Theron, make meaning of themselves and their environment through 2015; Theron & Theron, 2013; Theron, Theron, & Malindi, their interactions with each other and the social environment 2013). These studies suggest that while there may be some in which they live, and a full understanding of human behav- overlap in risk conditions in the West, such as material depri- ior requires a focus on “how people construct meaning, a vation and exposure to violence, such conditions are mani- sense of self, and a social world through their interactions fested differently in sub-Saharan Africa and the coping and with each other” (Hutchison, Charlesworth, & Cummings, adaptation mechanisms are distinctly contextualized, where 2015, p. 52). According to the authors, the interactions peo- African youth tend to rely more on familial and kinship net- ple have with each other and their social environment are works for adaptation. based on shared meanings or understandings about the world and themselves. These shared understandings emphasize the diversity of social and cultural realities and the significant Theoretical Perspectives role the sociopolitical environment and history play in under- Resilience is often understood within the risk and resilience standing human behavior, which shapes meaning over time framework. From this perspective, risk factors are defined as (Hutchison et al., 2015). Geldenhuys (2015), in his study of attributes or factors that increase the likelihood that people industrial psychology in South Africa also underscores the with similar characteristics will develop a problem (Lucio, significance of social construction, adding that the ways in Rapp-Paglicci, & Rowe, 2011). Risk factors can be specific which the world is traditionally understood is not derived such as parental substance abuse or generic such as poverty from the world as an entity, but from the shared or relational and conflict. Lucio et al. (2011) also defined protective fac- construction of the world by people who are in agreement as tors as countervailing factors that tend to modify the risk fac- to what that world constitutes. These arguments reaffirm tors and mitigate potential risks and negative behavior social constructionists’ view that there is no such thing as outcomes. This can also be manifested at the individual and independent or objective reality but the existence of multiple system levels. Finally, from a Western perspective, resilience realities based on a specific culture and one’s social has been defined as an individual characteristic that contrib- location. utes to positive adaption in the presence of adversity (Luthar, In a similar vein, Ungar (2001) challenges practitioners Cicchetti, & Becker, 2000; Wright & Masten, 2005), or abil- and researchers to deconstruct the elitist and adult-centric ity to withstand extraordinary circumstances to achieve posi- notions of risk and resilience that are often based on a tive behavior outcomes despite the presence of adversity biased perception of the risks facing disadvantaged youth. (Masten & Coatsworth, 1998; Rutter, 2006). Ungar further notes that the pathologizing labels assigned Resilience has also been defined from a cross-cultural per- to less privileged youth make it difficult to describe resil- spective that acknowledges the influence of the larger envi- ience objectively because it is based on the nature of adver- ronment in more collectivistic societies such as Ghana. For sity facing youth and their coping mechanisms. In his example, in their study of resilience across cultures, Ungar extensive review of literature about social construction of et al. (2007) define resilience as “both an outcome of interac- resilience among different at-risk youth populations, tions between individuals and their environments, and the Beardslee (1989), as cited in Ungar (2001), suggested that processes which contribute to these outcomes” (p. 288). the best way to understand resilient individuals is to pay These authors further explain that behavior outcomes are attention to how they themselves describe their own life influenced by context-specific interweaving factors such as stories, and the coping mechanisms that have sustained the well-being of the community in which they reside, ability them. In other words, researchers should pay attention to of social institutions such as schools and health facilities to the contextual construction of positive outcomes of margin- meet their needs, and the larger culture that prescribe values, alized and high-risk youth. Creswell (2013) added that beliefs, and daily mechanisms of coping. Using a transac- social constructivism recognizes the existence of multiple tional-ecological perspective, Ungar (2011) conceptualizes realities constructed and shaped by our lived experiences resilience as a reciprocal process that is embedded in a spe- and interactions with others. This qualitative study was cific society and culture that relies on culturally appropriate therefore designed to explore how Ghanaian youth describe interaction between young people and their social ecologies. their own contextual means of sustenance and achievement Laird (2008) further underscores the principle of reciprocity in the presence of adversity. Abukari 3 though poorer economically, have rich interpersonal relation- A Brief Review of Literature ships, a protective factor. Notwithstanding, adolescents in African Perspectives on Resilience both countries also identified their strengths with caring and There is a growing understanding that although children and loving adults in their lives such as teachers, parents, and other adolescents worldwide experience a variety of adversities role models. These findings also mirror Laser, Luster, and that have the potential to disrupt typical development, these Oshio’s (2007) study of Japanese youth who exhibit the pro- experiences are diverse in their sources, intensity, and mani- tective factors identified in the Ghanaian youth. festations (Noltemeyer & Bush, 2013). It has also been Focusing specifically on African perspectives on resil- observed that despite the similarities in resilience-promoting ience, some early advocates of Africentrism, such as Akbar transactions that might be informed by similar resources (1984) and Asante (1988), related the Africentrism philoso- across contexts, these resources would likely not be identical phy to nature, that is, the unique order of human nature. and would most likely reflect cultural and contextual influ- Akbar (1984) observed that although this may sound vague ences (Noltemeyer & Bush, 2013; Ungar, 2011). From this and unscientific in Western epistemology, the naturalistic growing understanding has emerged new conceptualizations model is to a large degree consistent with the philosophical, of resilience viewed through the lens of an African perspec- religious, and symbolic traditions of most human societies. tive described interchangeably as Africentrism or Akbar (1984) added that one characteristic of this model is Afrocentrism (Akbar, 1984; Asante, 1988; Gilbert, Harvey, the tendency to preserve itself through survival, or what he & Belgrave, 2009; Theron et al., 2013). Gilbert et al. (2009) called the principle of collective survival or simply “survival describe the Africentric model as African-centered based on of the tribe” (p. 406). Akbar argues that human behavior can African worldview that emerged in response to theoretical be understood as normal or abnormal to the degree that it approaches that failed to consider the worldview of histori- adheres to this principle, and behaviors that maintain, cally oppressed populations. According to this philosophy, enhance, or secure this “survival of the tribe” are normal Africentrism embodies the traditional African values of (emphasis added). Asante (2009) echoed a similar argument interdependence, collectivism, transformation, and spiritual- by noting that Afrocentricity as a paradigm is based on the ity (Akbar, 1984; Gilbert et al., 2009). A more recent study idea that African people should reassert a sense of agency to by Theron et al. (2013) enunciates the Africentric paradigm achieve sanity. To Asante, Africentrism is both reflexive and as an African way of being where “individuals are integrally introspective; Africentrism asks the question “What would part of a larger community, and it is the community that facil- African people do if there were no White people?” (p. 3). itates individual self-realization” (p. 66). According to According to Asante (2009), Africentrism addresses this Mokwena (2007), as cited in Theron et al. (2013), some question by putting the Africans in charge of their own his- African cultures call this collective way of being Ubuntu; a tory, not the European or the American as the center of philosophy that “teaches esteem for the inherent dignity and African reality. In this sense, Afrocentrism becomes a revo- goodness of all human beings and reverence for human inter- lutionary approach to understanding social phenomena in dependence” (p. 66). Within this collectivistic system Africa including behavior and academic outcomes. (Nukunya, 1992; Triandis, 1995), individual and group goals Gilbert et al. (2009) extended the discussion of are closely aligned and decisions are usually made based on Africentrism to include Africentric models of evidence- the needs of the collective group. Thus, in this system of based practice. They describe the concept as a paradigm shift social arrangement, family members including young people whose values are based on the premise that Africans have for are protected from hardship and isolation as it provides social the most part, survived historically because of the principle and economic support in times of need for all members. of living or, to put it in Akbar’s (1984) words, the “survival Furthermore, given that the existing Eurocentric theories of the tribe” as a natural order. Akbar (1984) identified on resilience reflect only the experiences of youth in North another important characteristic of Afrocentricity. To him, America and Europe, the resilience of many marginalized the Africentric approach to social science is to conceptualize youths in non-Western countries such as Ghana is not well the self (emphasis added) as a collective phenomenon. Akbar understood and social institutions struggle to facilitate resil- does not dismiss or deny the uniqueness of the individual, ience in ways that respect the insights of underprivileged but rather the isolated notion of individualism; that is, the youth and their cultural and contextual positioning (Theron, notion that the person can be understood independent of 2015). In a cross-cultural study of adolescents in the United other persons. This collective experience of the self is sym- States and Ghana, Hunter (2001) suggested that there is a pos- bolized by the African adage, “I am because we are and sible relationship among resilience, anger, violence, sadness, because we are, therefore I am” (Mbiti, 1970, cited in Akbar, distrust, poor ego development, and low coping ability. 1984, p. 407). According to Hunter (2001), what distinguishes the American With regard to youth resilience studies in Africa, some of teens from their Ghanaian counterparts was the presence of a the most comprehensive recent studies in South Africa have sense of collectiveness among the Ghanaian adolescents who, increased our understanding of youth resilience in the African 4 SAGE Open context. In her study on culturally sensitive understanding of education, and the meaning they attach to these experiences. resilience among Black South African youth, Theron (2015) Discussions about educational inequality in the country has observes that marginalized youth cope with hardship and been largely based on the North–South divide on socioeco- related risks using instrumental resources such as material nomic indicators (e.g., Ghana Statistical Service, 2014), and resources, relational supports, and adherence to cultural val- general risks and protectives factors for academic outcomes ues. She further underscores the important role of kinship in (e.g., Abukari, 2010; Abukari & Laser, 2013; Chowa et al., supporting the resilient processes of young people, including 2015; Dunne et al., 2005; Fentiman, Hall, & Bundy, 2001; the role of mothers, grandmothers, sisters, and aunts. Glewwe & Ilias, 1996; Hunter, 2001; White, 2004). However, Education was also found to be a means of upward social data on students’ own accounts of their experiences with the mobility and power. This finding is consistent with Theron educational system is lacking. Moreover, few studies focus et al.’s (2013) earlier study, which found that resilient Black on cultural and environmental influences on academic out- South African youth aspire for better education as a pathway comes, particularly on female students, given the patriarchal to a better future for themselves, their families, and commu- nature of the Ghanaian society. Many existing studies are nities given the history of racial segregation and the resultant also based on quantitative methods that do not capture the suffering of the Black people. The last point underscores personal stories of the students. To fill these gaps, our study Akbar’s (1984) Africentric principle of collective survival of sought to answer the following questions: the tribe and the self as the collective phenomenon: that per- sonal aspirations are connected to the collective whole. Research Question 1: What are Ghanaian students’ con- Similarly, Gilbert et al. (2009) on their application of structions of resilience in relation to educational Africentric model to African Americans underscored the outcome? need for Africans and Americans of African descent to res- Research Question 2: How do social support systems cue and reconstruct themselves in their own image and build contribute to or hinder youth resilience and academic and sustain an Africentric family, community, and culture. outcomes? In a similar study, Theron et al. (2013) explored an African Research Question 3: What sociocultural factors con- definition of resilience, which revealed that African youth’s tribute to low school achievement among Ghanaian definitions are markedly different from those reported in pre- youth? vious resilience studies in Europe and North America. For example, the resilient youth in their study made no mention To answer these questions, we conducted this constructiv- of a bond with a significant adult but emphasized the impor- ist study using narrative analysis (Bloom, 2002; Merriam, tance of supportive systems, which is consistent with the 2002) to explore the individual and collective stories of first- Africentric values of interdependence and community net- year Ghanaian college students. According to Merriam works. According to the authors, spirituality and kinship ties (2002), narrative analysis focuses on making sense of experi- also nurtured youth resilience and suggest that attention ence, constructing, and communicating meaning. should be paid to the role that African cultural values play in youth’s resilience. The central role of spirituality and inter- Method dependence in the Africentric paradigm was recognized in earlier writings by Akbar (1984) and Gilbert et al. (2009). Study Design Akbar argued that the essence of human being is spiritual, In qualitative research, the researcher is the primary instru- and that human behavior can only be understood through a ment for data collection and analysis (Creswell, 2013). We holistic model that includes the full dimension of human designed our study from social constructionist and Africentric makeup, including physical, mental, and metaphysical. perspectives that focus on how people learn, through their Gilbert et al. (2009) emphasize the core Africentric values of interactions, to classify the world and their place in it and, interdependence, collectivism, and spirituality as supporting through interdependence, find social support in times of need systems for survival and coping in the midst of adversity. (Akbar, 1984; Hutchison et al., 2015; Theron et al., 2013). As mentioned earlier, the Ghanaian culture is collectivistic in Study Context nature and social constructionism provides a framework to delve into the challenges our participants faced in their This study emerged from the researchers’ interest in explor- schooling experiences and the meanings they attribute to the ing the schooling experiences of Ghanaian youth based processes that help them to succeed in school. Marginalized partly on their own personal experiences with the Ghanaian and disadvantaged students and females were of particular education system of which they are products, and the limited interest to us because of the stark contrast between the number of studies on youth resilience in sub-Saharan Africa. schooling experiences of students from rural areas and those Particularly interesting to us was how some Ghanaian youth from urban areas and the unique challenges female students navigate the transition from poor marginalized backgrounds face in the educational system. To capture participants’ and low-performing schools to secondary and postsecondary Abukari 5 culturally situated views on schooling experiences in Ghana, and 15 females with age ranging from 19 to 24 with a mean we used narrative inquiry as an analytic approach to under- age of (M = 21). The interviews were intended to collect stand how the culture shapes their understanding and the information from the respondents about their schooling shared meanings of their experiences (Bloom, 2002). experiences prior to college and revealed varied experiences According to Merriam (1998), narrative analysis is the study including gender, spatial, cultural influences, as well as the of experience through stories and the emphasis is on the sto- nature and type of support they received. ries people tell, on how these stories are communicated, and the language used to tell the stories. Furthermore, Giovannoli Data Collection and Analysis (2006) describes narrative analysis as a suitable approach to study people in their natural setting because it enables them Using a semistructured interview format, we interviewed each to construct their own realities through their stories, and for group to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of their “capturing the detailed stories or life experiences of a single schooling experiences, particularly from cross-cultural and life or the lives of a small number of individuals” (Creswell, gendered perspectives. Using this interview format offered 2013, p. 12). Narrative inquiry is appropriate for this small- participants unrestricted opportunities to discuss issues that scale study because it is well suited for addressing issues of were important to them in their educational experiences rather cultural complexities and human centeredness and has the than limiting their responses to issues that we had identified as capacity to retell the stories that have the most influence on likely obstacles to educational outcomes in our literature individuals (Mertova, 2001). Mertova further notes that nar- review (Creswell, 2013). We developed open-ended questions rative inquiry “is more concerned with individual truths than designed to encourage discussions about our participants’ con- identifying generalizable and repeatable events” (p. 8). The ceptualizations and constructions of resilience, their perspec- method called for the collection and organization of rich, tives about obstacles or risk factors for academic achievement, descriptive stories of our participants and provided us with a as well as promotive factors that enhance coping with adver- strategy to interpret their stories to detail the schooling expe- sity. Participants were also given an opportunity to tell their riences in the Ghanaian educational system. Through a bio- personal stories about how they coped with adversity in their graphical style of narrative inquiry (Connelly & Clandinin, educational pursuits from the earliest time they could 1990), our goal was to tell the stories of our participants situ- remember. ated within the context of the educational environment in A 60-min focus group interview was scheduled for each Ghana. In sharing the voices of these students, we intended group. Each interview was held in an empty, quiet classroom to describe their lived experiences in a manner that would or a spacious office on the campus to provide a familiar loca- resonate with other students who share similar experiences tion for the participants. The researchers adopted the focus in the continent and other parts of the world. We also sought group format to suit the condition of our research partici- to provide critical insights for Ghanaian teachers, the gov- pants as they had no prior experience in research participa- ernment, and school administrators, and contribute to the tion and we decided that this approach would be more research literature. convenient and less intimidating. Experts on qualitative research see focus group as “a way of collecting qualitative data, which, essentially-involves engaging a small number of Participants people in an informal group discussion (or discussions), Participants for this study were part of a larger doctoral dis- ‘focused’ around a particular topic or set of issues” sertation study on risk and protective factors associated with (Wilkinson, 2004, p. 177, as cited in Onwuegbuzie, Dickson, academic outcomes of high-risk youth (see Abukari, 2010; Leech, & Zoran, 2009, p. 2). Onwuegbuzie et al. (2009) Abukari & Laser, 2013) who volunteered to participate in point out that focus groups are less threatening to research focus groups for in-depth interviews. We received permis- participants, and the open nature of the focus group environ- sion from three colleges in Ghana to collect retrospective ment encourages participants to discuss perceptions, ideas, data from first-year students about their schooling experi- and opinions, and thoughts. ences prior to college including challenges they faced as well Similarly, Madriz (2000) observes that “focus group is a as support they received. The study was approved by the collectivistic rather than an individualistic research method institutional review board of the University of Denver as that focuses on the multivocality of participants’ attitudes, well as the ethics committee of each institution in Ghana. experiences, and beliefs” (p. 836). Given that this study was Surveys for the quantitative data were completed during conducted with Ghanaian students who hold collectivistic class sessions and the researchers asked for volunteers orientations, we place focus groups within the context of col- among these students to participate in the focus groups. lective testimonies and group resilience narratives. This Three groups of 10 students (n = 30) , one focus group from method was used to unveil specific and little-researched each of the three colleges, were interviewed for the current aspects of Ghanaian youth’s experiences growing up, their study. The sample was a purposive, convenience sample with educational experiences and struggles, and their feelings, equal numbers of males and females consisting of 15 males attitudes, hopes, and dreams. 6 SAGE Open The actual interview ranged in length from 60 min to 90 Laird, 2008; Theron, 2015; Theron et al., 2013; Ungar et al., min because participants in some groups provided rich, in- 2007) that reveal the importance of social relationships and depth answers while others were less expansive. After we access to material resources and instrumental needs, as well obtained consent, all three focus group interviews were as cultural influences on resilient youth’s construction of recorded with a voice recording device and transcribed ver- resilience in non-Western cultures. batim. We used a qualitative trustworthiness method of trian- Details of the emergent themes are discussed in the next gulation (Merriam, 2002) by reading each of the three section in relation to the research questions outlined earlier. transcripts and individually developing initial codes or con- structs through open coding and focused or axial coding “Not giving up.” In response to the first research question (Creswell, 2002, 2013; Miles & Huberman, 1994; Saldaña, regarding Ghanaian students’ definition of resilience, partici- 2010). According to Lincoln and Guba (1985), the coding pants were asked to describe the concept of resilience and process generates two categories of themes: one constructed what it means to them in relation to academic achievement. by the investigator through his or her observations and the “Not giving up” is how many participants defined their abil- other emerges from respondents’ unique cultural terms about ity to cope when faced with adversity. Their definitions also the issue(s) being investigated. Each coder separately exam- centered on individual perseverance and being positive in the ined the transcripts and codes generated and identified all face of challenges or obstacles. As a 24-year-old male stu- distinct statements (any word, phrase, sentence, or response dent noted, “I wanted to travel [abroad] but later decided to that pertained to a single concept). The researchers convened rewrite the exams [high school certificate exam]. By then I to discuss differences in themes and statements and worked had spent 7 years at home. . . [after high school]. That’s how toward consensus to reconcile the themes. Field notes taken I made it and I’m here today.” Another student supported this by the researchers during the research were also compared view with the transcripts for additional validation. Furthermore, we engaged peers and participants from the Like when you complete SSS [senior secondary school] and the three colleges in critical analysis of our preliminary findings results are out, you realize that you passed only 2 subjects out of to ensure that our proposed themes were reasonably reflec- 8, you don’t have to think that you can’t make it. If others can, tive of the data obtained (Merriam, 2002). The research team why can’t I? met a couple more times to discuss and negotiate the mean- ing of emergent codes and themes and to identify interrelated Resilience to these participants also meant “ability to with- themes to produce a grid of themes (see Table 1). stand a difficult situation” in the presence of adversity. As a 22-year-old male student remembered, Findings When my father was alive I was getting a lot of support from This study was conducted to explore Ghanaian students’ def- him. After he died I experienced abject poverty. My mother was initions of resilience and their coping mechanisms to adver- a trader but she lost her job and it became very difficult for her sity in relation to academic achievement. While a few of the to take care of me and my brothers. findings overlap with resilient traits in Western societies, they underscore the contextuality of resilient youth’s social While the students’ narratives about how they overcame positioning and cultural constructions. For instance, students hardships to go to university are examples of individual who grew up in rural communities experienced frequent adaptation to adversity, their narratives are consistent with teacher absenteeism and inaccessible roads while female stu- Akbar’s (1984) principle of survival and the collective self, dents endured cultural expectations of early marriage and values that underlie the Africentric philosophy of collectiv- other gender role expectations. In addition, early death of a ism and coping with adversity. As Theron and Theron (2013) parent (mostly the father as breadwinner) ran through the has noted, the African kinship system promotes resilience in stories of most research participants, laced with the complex- youth by members of kin purposefully narrating stories of ities of cultural practices associated with inheritance that left difficult childhoods and how they survived it. In this instance, the children and their mothers further impoverished, thereby disadvantaged young people are socialized to expect hard- threatening their education and developmental trajectory. ship and be ready to cope with it. However, the students’ personal and collective educational experiences were not all negative. Some participants Future orientation. In a follow-up question, when participants described how individual perseverance, familial and kinship were asked to describe how they coped with difficulties in support, and the collective expectations of future role helped their lives and stayed in school, almost all of them attributed them in times of stress. it to hope and optimism for the future and their ability to delay Overall, five themes emerged from the analysis: not giv- gratification to accomplish their educational goals. As a male ing up, family, future orientation, culture, and spatial inequal- student demonstrated, “Having the patience and understand- ity. These themes are consistent with previous findings (e.g., ing that every obstacle that comes your way can be overcome, Abukari 7 Table 1. Dimensions of Risk, Protection, and Academic Outcomes Among Ghanaian Youth. Dimension of construct of risk and protective factors Supporting quotes Family “My father was an educated person but my mother is an illiterate. Because my father had the benefit of Definition: Family included parents, education, he wanted all his children to be educated” grandparents, siblings, and extended family “Because my father is an educated man he wanted to make sure that his children got an education” members. Family is being referred to here “My mother supported me financially and everything” as a system of support for educational “He [my father] helped me with many physical needs such as clothing and food” achievement “She [my mother] helped me with food and bought my clothing and paid my school fees” “She pays my school fees, she buys books and other things” “It is my mother who has made me who I am and where I am today . . . she supported me financially and everything, she pays my school fees” “Most of my inspiration came from my dad . . . and some inspiration came from my grandparents” “My mother advised on what to do to help myself like get a job to support myself” Future orientation “Having the patience and understanding that every obstacle that comes your way you can overcome it •• Definition: Being hopeful for the future and achieve what you want” and taking control of your life and future “Nobody cared about me anymore, so I put in a lot of effort and decided that I will make it and go back •• Ability for impulse control, delay of to school, and I did it” gratification (Lynch, Hurford, & Cole, 2002) “I knew that he [my father] couldn’t take care of me anymore so I decided to look for work and for about 6 years now I have been taking care of myself; that’s how I made it and I’m here today” “Hope for the future” “In our school, for example, in our hostels, sometimes you hear your colleague telling you that you never wore any expensive clothing. One doesn’t have to think that you should follow what others are saying because we’re from different homes” “We came here individually but we came for a purpose so we shouldn’t feel discouraged by other people’s behavior or attitudes” Not giving up “I wanted to travel [abroad] but I didn’t succeed, so I decided to rewrite the exams. By then I had spent 7 years at home. . . . That’s how I made it and I’m here today” •• Definition: Refusing to accept failure as an option “Like when you complete SSS and the results are out, you realize that you passed only 2 subjects out of •• Keep on trying 8, you don’t have to think that you can’t make it. If others can, why can’t I?” “The time my father was alive I was getting a lot of support from him. After he died I experienced abject poverty. My mother was a trader but she lost her job and it became very difficult for her to take care of me and the rest of my brothers” “Resilience means the challenges you can withstand” Culture “I’ll be general. Muslims have a perception that as a lady if you’re 15 years or older you’ve to get married Definition: Culture in the Ghanaian context and not to be in school. The belief is that education is not for women because the men have to work has many dimensions hard to support them” •• Gender—Early marriage expectations “Some family members will give you something like food but not money. The things that the family will and domestic roles vs. professional roles come together to contribute is funerals. When there is a funeral, they contribute a lot” •• Tradition—Resources used to glorify and “My father had two wives and everything changed, he used to look after all of us but when he married a honor the dead instead of support for second wife things changed [for the worse]” education •• Polygyny—Marriage of multiple wives by men Merge box with culture On my part, the death of my father created a big problem. After his death things were tough because when he was alive he worked as a [private] contractor so he left some property for us. I completed SSS in 2006 and even though all my requirements were not set the following year I rewrote the exams and got all my requirements but my family didn’t have the money to support me because my elder sister was already in the university and I had to wait for her to finish before I could enroll “In my final year in secondary school while I was waiting for my results my father died. So the results came out and I was hoping to continue my education. But the little assets that my father [had] left, the [extended] family members came and took everything because we were young and they knew we couldn’t do anything; and my mother too, they gave her nothing” “Sometimes when you lose one parent or both, it’s always difficult to continue your education” Spatial inequality “I am from Brong Ahafo and the major problem is infrastructure. Where I come from there is only one Definition: Unequal distribution and access secondary school which does not have qualified teachers” to schools and teachers “There are not enough schools and you don’t know if you’re doing well or not” “In my hometown the •• Bad roads and lack of transportation in roads are very bad which makes transportation very difficult” rural areas “Some students have to go to neighboring towns or city to study and that affects their movement and •• Lack of electricity and potable water in teachers cannot also come to the village if there is a school” most areas “The most competent teachers who would have come to teach students to succeed don’t come because of the bad roads” “Sometimes living in a Zongo (slum) community for example, there is no motivation, and when you reach the level of education we’re in right now and you’re passing by [a group of people] somebody would say, look at this girl; is it because you’re in the university or something, we were all in this community. There is no motivation” “We grew up with a Zongo [inner-city] mentality—smoking [tobacco] was very common. Growing up in such an area is very difficult. I had some friends who smoked and had to study with them and that was very difficult” Note. SSS = senior secondary school. 8 SAGE Open you can achieve whatever you want.” Another student added, kinship system, and for that matter, Afrocentrism, has waned “As I grew older nobody cared about me anymore, so I put in and does not exert the same amount of influence it once had a lot of effort and decided that I will go back to school, and I on individual behavior outcomes. Admittedly, the influence did it.” Students also demonstrated their control over their of these factors on African indigenous ways of life is palpa- own situation instead of externalizing their difficulties. A ble. As Kuznesof (2005) astutely points out, globalization male participant demonstrated this when he observed, has produced a common vision of what childhood experi- ence should look like, a kind of “global morality” standard. Nonetheless, Kuznesof argues that despite these influences, I knew that he [my father] couldn’t take care of me anymore so I decided to look for work and for about 6 years now I have been family and kinship have served and continue to serve impor- taking care of myself. That’s how I made it and I’m here today. tant roles as an institution for social stability. Based on her analysis of the impact of globalization and colonialism on Furthermore, students demonstrated their resilience by family and kinship systems in Latin America where condi- noting that effective coping transcends beyond optimism in tions are similar to sub-Saharan Africa, Kuznesof (2005) the face of adversity but it includes self-discipline; that is, acknowledges the negative impact of these forces but argues one’s ability to resist peer pressure and recognize the unique- that despite these changes children still utilize kinship and ness of your circumstances. A 24-year-old female student family relations in creative and adaptive ways. For example, demonstrated self-discipline when she noted, the values of interdependence and reciprocity sustain chil- dren in times of economic crisis, marital strife, and parental In our school, for example, in our hostels, sometimes you hear death; parents also depend on their children for sustenance in your colleague telling you that you never wear any expensive times of need. Alber and Bochow (2011) as well as Smith clothing. One doesn’t have to think that you should follow what (2011) echo similar views on their study on globalization and others are saying because we are from different homes. kinship structures in Africa. Alber and Bochow (2011) observe that despite the rise of nuclear families in urban Another student added, “We came here individually but we areas of Africa, this does not undermine the traditional under- came for a purpose so we shouldn’t feel discouraged by other standing of children belonging first to their lineages and sec- people’s behavior or attitudes.” ondarily to immediate parents. Smith (2011) supports this Again, while these qualities are individual resilient traits, observation based on his studies on the effects of globaliza- they should be understood within a proper context. As noted tion on kinship of the Igbo people in southeastern Nigeria. earlier, the notions of hardship and suffering are African cul- Smith observed how the kinship network remains an impor- tural myths that are accentuated by both legend and spiritual tant resource for how people navigate the contemporary beliefs. Theron et al. (2013) characterize this cultural myth world by adapting to outside changes using resources from as equanimity or impulse control, as a protective factor in the kinship networks. African context. This kinship and cultural value of equanim- ity nurtures a resilient trait in youth and, according to Theron Family. The second research question asked students to et al. (2013), this impassive attitude toward present suffering describe social support systems that supported or hindered with a focus on their competencies and hope for the future, their educational experiences. Consistent with earlier helps young people to cope with current stress to achieve research (e.g., Theron, 2015; Ungar et al., 2007), family, as a educational success. Theron and colleagues further observe social system, provided basic and material resources, such as that when the concept of equanimity as a protective factor is food, clothing, shelter, and school fees for our research par- viewed from a cultural perspective, African youth are tradi- ticipants. When asked to describe what has helped them to tionally socialized to accept their modest place in the kinship reach their present level of schooling despite the numerous system and their relative powerlessness compared with barriers to education in the country, participants’ descriptions adults, which is consistent with the Ubuntu value of toler- of family relationships were both supportive and tenuous. ance and forbearance, and it is consistent with Ungar et al.’s The tenuous nature of family relationships will be discussed (2007) adherence to local culture as a coping strategy. later in this section under “culture.” The extent to which fam- However, we are quick to add a caveat that this stoical atti- ily was a supportive resource is more fully appreciated when tude should not be conflated with Peterson, Maier, and considered from the types of support that aided academic Seligman’s (1995) and Werner’s (2000) learned helpless- achievement of participants. Family support can be catego- ness; although young people accept their sense of powerless- rized according to whether they are tangible or intangible ness, they do not give up, and they believe that this position (Berndt, 1989; Tietjen, 1989). According to Berndt (1989), is only transitory and will get better, and that is what pro- the types of social support received by young people can be motes endurance. categorized as esteem support, informational support, instru- Some may argue that due to the history of colonialism and mental support, and companionship support. Esteem and more recently, globalization, which has exposed Africans to instrumental support were both salient among study partici- Western style education and lifestyle, the influence of the pants and are described below. Abukari 9 Esteem support. Esteem support is defined as “statements Gonzales, Cauce, Friedman, & Mason, 1996; Werner, 2000). or actions that convince people of their own worth or value” While these findings underscore the important role of kin- (Berndt, 1989, p. 310). Words of encouragement from par- ship network in promoting resilient processes in young peo- ents and other family members were important sources of ple in specific cultural context (Laird, 2008; Theron, 2015), support that helped young people to cope in times of dif- it is important to not exaggerate them. As it is revealed in ficulty. As a 21-year-old female participant noted, “When I the next sections, cultural and structural barriers, coupled wrote the final exams and didn’t make it, family members with extreme poverty, especially in rural areas, can diminish will tell me to rewrite it and that since others have done it I mothers’ support for their children’s education. could do it [too].” Furthermore, the family constellation in Ghana includes grandparents, uncles, and aunts from whom Culture. In this study, culture is defined as distinct aspects of some student found support: gender, family, and community practices that are related to patterns of interaction and use of resources. This definition Most of my inspiration came from my dad because my mom presupposes gender roles, traditional norms and customs, didn’t have much time to go through my academic work and and family processes. Study participants perceived local cul- everything. It was almost like I was always on my own but some ture (gender, religion, tradition) as both a protective factor inspiration came from my grandparents. and a risk factor for educational outcomes. For example, a female student noted, Participants also found the support they received from their mothers helpful to reducing stress associated with loneliness I’ll be general. Muslims have a perception that as a lady when and unemployment during the transition from secondary you’re 15 years or older you have to get married and not to be in school to college. As observed by a female participant, “My school. The belief is that education is not for women because the mother advised on what to do to help myself like get a job to men have to work hard to support them. support myself.” This is consistent with youth resilience research that identified the important role of emotional sup- In this instance, culture or religion, specifically suppresses port in the adjustment of at-risk youth and academic outcome women and inhibits their educational access and achieve- (Lynch, Hurford, & Cole, 2002; Theron, 2015; Theron & ment. These observations by the study participants are reflec- Theron, 2013; Theron et al., 2013). Specifically, Theron tive of the expectations commonly held among some rural (2015) in her study on culturally sensitive understanding of folks; Muslims who hold radical and fundamentalist beliefs, resilience among Black South African youth observes that and those with little or no formal education. For females in marginalized youth cope with hardship and related risks with these subcultures, marriage may take precedence over the instrumental resources, such as access to material resources, education for young girls, increasing their risk for low edu- relational supports, and adherence to cultural values. She fur- cational attainment and marginalization as evident in the ther observed the important role of kinship in supporting the above statement. This is an illustration of one instance where resilient processes of young people, including mothers, family relationship was tenuous and an obstacle or risk factor grandmothers, sisters, and aunts. for academic achievement. Another situation in which family relationships was tenu- Instrumental support. Resources or tangible goods that are ous is cultural practices associated with funerals and the provided and are necessary to solve practical problems are practice of polygyny. Polygyny is more common among referred to as instrumental support (Berndt, 1989; Tietjen, rural people in general and Muslims in particular in Ghana. 1989). Many participants explained how payment of school These customary and religious practices were identified by fees and provision of basic needs such as food and clothing some participants as anathema to academic achievement. by their parents were instrumental to their present achieve- Although there exist variations in tribal/cultural rituals in ment. As one participant noted, “She [my mother] helped many Ghanaian cultures, family and community members me with food and bought my clothing and paid my school would rather save toward giving departed kin a deserving fees.” Another student added, “she [my mother] paid my funeral (emphasis added) rather than for the education of school fees, she bought books and other things,” “It is my children. As a participant noted, “Some family members will mother who has made me who I am and where I am today . give you something like food but not money. The things that . . she supported me financially and everything, she pays my the family will come together to contribute [toward] are school fees,” another student added. The role of the mother funerals. When there is [a] funeral, they contribute a lot.” in the lives of these students is worth noting. While many There is evidence to support this view. Many observers, local participants indicated that their mothers had no formal edu- and international, have expressed surprise and concerns over cation, their instrumental role in their children’s education expensive Ghanaian funerals. For example, Ghanaian vet- was surprising. This is contrary to existing research findings eran journalist and politician, Elizabeth Ohene (2018) in the United States where low maternal education is a risk observed that the body of a dead kin may be kept in the factor for poor behavior and school outcomes (Cobb, 2007; morgue for months if not years while the family plans and 10 SAGE Open squabbles with funeral plans with accumulating cost, and some positive aspects of the local culture that support posi- efforts to provide a befitting burial may also involve renovat- tive adjustment, as demonstrated in this example with regard ing the home of the deceased to accommodate guests at to getting support from the community: funeral. de Witte (2003) and Newton (2014) echo similar It depends on the lifestyle you live within your family. If you observations by pointing out that money and death are insep- live a good lifestyle, anytime you have a problem even if it is arable in Ghanaian culture. They further observe that beyond their means they will do all they possibly can to support Ghanaian funerals are not a somber, low-key affair but a you. But if you live otherwise they have some [negative] social event usually attended by a large number of mourners, perceptions about you and [if] you have problems they won’t which can cost several times more than a wedding. help you. In addition to expensive funerals, death of a parent was a common denominator among the study participants at their Apart from the cultural value of good behavior and life- tender ages and its adverse impact on their lives and educa- style, participants identified other sources of support and tion was palpable. The negative impact of death of parents protection against adversity: “If you combine your studies was poignantly illustrated by a 23-year-old participant: with bible studies it can help you. Any time you’re feeling bad you can open your bible and read and that will change In my final year in secondary school while I was waiting for my your mind so you can focus on your studies.” Another stu- results my father died. So, the results came out and I was hoping dent extended this view in relation to the role of religion and to continue my education. But the little assets that my father behavior restraint: [had] left, the [extended] family members [took] everything because we were young and they knew we couldn’t do anything; [My] religion forbids drinking alcohol and any form of hard and my mother too, they gave her nothing. drinks and for that matter if you’re [a] young lady or a guy you’ll not even be interested in alcohol because your religion forbids it In addition to inheritance, the death of a father who is often and that will help you achieve whatever you’re doing. the sole breadwinner of the family in many Ghanaian fami- lies impoverishes the surviving family, as one student It can be induced from these examples that culture is inter- observed: twined with several aspects of Ghanaian youth’s lives, and the role of religion and spirituality in general in providing a On my part, the death of my father created a big problem. After sense of security, meaning, stability, and purpose in the face his death things were tough because when he was alive he of adversity is documented in many studies (Akbar, 1984; worked as a [private] contractor so he left some property for us. Gilbert et al., 2009; Theron et al., 2013). In the study sample, I completed SSS in 2006 and even though all my requirements were not met, the following year I rewrote the exams and got all resilience was accounted for as the capacity to effectively my requirements but my family didn’t have the money to support cope with the multiple faces of culture in ways that were me because my elder sister was already in the university and I culturally acceptable, which is also consistent with Ungar had to wait for her to finish before I could enroll. et al.’s (2007) observation of the role of culture in influenc- ing youth behavior and educational outcomes. As is common in every society, death of a parent often may result in the disruption of the personal life of young chil- Spatial inequality. Finally, in response to questions about fac- dren and their education. Death of a parent in any society is tors that make it difficult to achieve educational success in a monumental loss to the child. Within the Ghanaian society, Ghana, participants identified inadequate infrastructure and death of a parent has several nuances and it is an added layer living in a zongo (inner city) as risk factors that inhibit aca- of risk to children’s developmental trajectory. In addition, demic success. The impact of inadequate infrastructure is customary practices relating to inheritance after the death of more pronounced in rural communities where teachers are a parent, particularly the father, can have devastating conse- unwilling to work due to lack of potable water, electricity, quences on children. One possible explanation is that cur- and reliable transportation. As one participant pointed out, rently Ghana does not have a well-functioning child “Some students have to go to neighboring towns or city to protection system or a developed foster care system, and cur- study and that affects their movement and teachers cannot rent laws on child protection and inheritance are very weak also come to the village if there is a school.” Another partici- and are rarely enforced. The high illiteracy rate among the pant added, “In my hometown the roads are very bad which general population is another factor. Many illiterate mothers makes transportation very difficult.” The impact of bad roads have no knowledge of the current formal national inheritance and the reluctance of teachers to teach in rural communities laws. Extended family members also revile wills left by were underscored by another student: “The most competent deceased fathers as alien to their culture, and inheritance, teachers who would have come to teach students to succeed based on wills may alienate surviving children from the don’t want to come because of the bad roads.” In other extended family forever. This can result in the disruption of instances, lack of schools is a major obstacle to educational children’s education. Nonetheless, participants identified access and achievement, as observed by another participant: Abukari 11 “There are not enough schools and you don’t know if you’re acknowledge that the small size of our sample might have doing well or not.” All these support the availability and limited our ability to fully capture all the manifestations of access to material resources emphasized by Ungar et al. these factors. Second, our study relied on three focused (2007) in supporting or inhibiting youth resilience in non- groups drawn from three deprived universities in three met- Western countries. ropolitan areas in the country whose educational experi- These contextualized risk factors of lack of transportation ences might be markedly different from those in more and freedom of movement as well as poverty are consistent privileged schools and rural deprived communities. Future with Ungar et al.’s (2007) findings on resilient-inhibiting studies should target a larger, more representative, sample factors in non-Western cultures. According to the authors, across different levels of the Ghanaian educational system access to these basic and instrumental needs are vital for to fully understand these processes. youth resilience. As reported by some participants, some communities in Ghana are marginalized by bad roads and Declaration of Conflicting Interests poor social amenities, and these have negative consequences The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect on school outcomes. Previous research has documented the to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article. relationship between poor community characteristics and youth behavior outcomes including academic achievement Funding in Ghana (e.g., Glewwe & Ilias, 1996; White, 2004). The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research and/or authorship of this article: This work was Implications for Practice and Policy supported by the Fahs-Beck Fund for Research and Experimentation (grant number 36630). The findings in this study have several implications for pre- vention, intervention, and social policy. First, the stories the Note participants shared offered insights into the types of prob- 1. Data from two of these groups were used for the doctoral dis- lems they are confronted with in pursuit of their education in sertation study (Abukari, 2010). Ghana. Consistent with social constructionist theory, study participants adapted in response to environmental realities, and in doing so, their socially constructed realities changed. References This was highlighted by many challenges and opportunities Abukari, Z. (2010). Risk and protective factors associated with aca- including family and individual protective factors as well as demic achievement among Ghanaian youth (Doctoral disserta- cultural and spatial challenges. These are factors that pro- tion). Retrieved from ProQuest dissertation and theses database mote resilience for some but are sources of vulnerability for (UMI No. AA13426018). others with regard to academic outcomes within the Ghanaian Abukari, Z., & Laser, J. A. (2013). 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SAGE Open – SAGE
Published: Dec 21, 2018
Keywords: resilience; Africentric; academic achievement; Ghana; qualitative research; culture
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