Exploring 'marginalised' girls' agency and their perspectives of schooling and VET: a study of girls in Zimbabwe

Doka, Jane S. (2024). Exploring 'marginalised' girls' agency and their perspectives of schooling and VET: a study of girls in Zimbabwe. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.00096276


There have been concerted efforts on a global scale to improve the lives of girls through education, particularly girls characterised as ‘marginalised’. Underpinned mostly by a human capital framework, these efforts often present education as something readily available to girls and something they should value because of the potential future benefits to them. Seldom are these global views tested from the standpoint of the girls themselves, who have transitioned through formal schooling and vocational education training (VET) within their local contexts. This study argues that there are complexities involved in these girls’ lives and their education experiences and their own agency should be highlighted as a crucial component in their lives being empowered through education.

Conducted remotely during the Covid-19 pandemic, this qualitative study employs a narrative research design, encompassing semi-structured interviews and a participant-led photography activity to draw from the lived experiences and voices of six ‘marginalised’ girls from Zimbabwe. Data was analysed using thematic analysis to examine the girls’ perspectives on the role of education in their context, how they re-engage with education when they have been out of school, and how they exercise their agency in education. The Capability Approach (CA) by Amartya Sen and others was employed in this study’s analysis to explore how the girls navigate the complexities in their context and exercise their agency to gain the freedoms they need to lead the kind of life they value.

The findings in this study indicate that girls’ lives and education experiences are complex. Their perspectives about education and its value in their lives are fluid, often shifting according to the stage they are in life. The girls’ agency is interwoven with societal values and realities which interact with enabling and constraining factors at various points and conflate their choices and motivations regarding education. Furthermore, the findings show that these girls exercise agency in different ways that are often not recognised in the extant literature on girls’ education.

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