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Nursing education, including the individual nurse educator, has a responsibility to society and to students for providing quality education, for maintaining the highest academic standards, for the proficient use of teaching strategies and for ensuring adequate support to learners. These standards were threatened at a particular college in the Western Cape which instigated this study.
This study aimed at investigating the academic factors that influenced learning at a particular nursing college in the Western Cape. The objectives included the following possible factors that may have contributed towards the unsatisfactory, academic performances of students:
• Nursing as a career choice;
• Selection criteria;
• Approaches to learning;
• Motivation and learning;
• Language barrier to learning; and
• Factors affecting the learning environment.
A non-experimental, descriptive research design was applied with a quantitative approach. The target population (N = 963) consisted of nursing students following the course leading to registration as a professional nurse, according to the South African Nursing Council’s regulation 425, as promulgated by the Nursing Act 50 of 1978, as amended (Nursing Act 33 of 2005). Probability, stratified sampling was used to select the sample of participants (n = 174).
A structured questionnaire, consisting of predominantly closed questions, was used for the collection of data.
Ethical approval was obtained from Stellenbosch University to conduct this study. Permission to conduct the research was also obtained beforehand from the management of the nursing college being studied, whilst prior informed consent was obtained from each participant.
Reliability and validity of the study were assured by means of a pilot study and through the use of experts in nursing research, methodology and statistics. Data was collected and captured by the researcher personally.
The data was analysed with the support of a statistician and was expressed as frequencies and in tables and histograms. Descriptive statistics and post-hoc analyses, including tests for statistical associations, were performed.
The outcomes from this study showed that third year students (n = 49/23%) spent the most time studying, whilst first years (n = 74/43%) and second years (n = 40/23%) only spent 2.3 hours studying per day. Academic support classes, when offered, were always attended by (n = 64/37%) and most times by (n = 72/42%). The majority of the participants were able to cope with the workload most of the time (n = 107/61%), whilst (n = 51/30%) and (n = 6/3%) of the participants indicated coping seldom and never, respectively. A significant relationship between the ages of participants and being able to cope with the workload (Spearman p-value = 0.02) existed. Results indicated that (n = 83/48%) of the participants received support with language problems, whilst (n = 75/43%) indicated that they did not receive support with language problems. The Afrikaans speaking participants coped the best with the workload (mean score = 1.72), followed by the English speaking students (mean score = 1.68), and lastly the Isi-Xhosa speaking learners (mean score = 1.65).
Recommendations made by participants included the following:
• Strict adherence to the selection criteria, which should help decrease the attrition rate.
• English as a subject / module during the first year was proposed.
• The promotion of the proficiency in English, through interaction between English speaking learners and students with English as second language, should be encouraged.
• Regular updates of the contents of the curriculum.
• The importance of identifying ‘at risk’ students and pro-actively introducing a mentorship programme.
• Information technology needed to be improved in many aspects, such as accessibility of Web based communication.
Results from the open ended questions showed that participants regarded the teaching strategies as boring. Large classrooms were also mentioned as a problem. Smaller classes were requested to enable more interaction in the class.
In conclusion, this study showed that specific academic factors were influencing learning at the nursing college being investigated in the Western Cape. Therefore, recommendations were made in this study, which, if implemented, should result in an improvement in the overall academic performances of students.
SCIENTIFIC FOUNDATION OF THE STUDY
A major challenge faces higher educational institutions around the world on how to achieve quality outcomes for students in an increasingly globalised and competitive environment (Harvey & Kamvounias, 2008:31). Education is a reciprocal process, during which the learners acquire knowledge, ability, and self awareness in gaining diversity to thought (University of Wisconsin, 2001:2). Nursing education is designed to educate and train nursing students to become competent and qualified professional nurses (Mellish, Brink & Paton, 2009:6). In order to provide skilled nursing care, professional nurses must be educated and trained to master certain skills and be knowledgeable about the science of nursing (Mellish et al., 2009:6-7). According to Leufer (2007:322), nursing students need the appropriate knowledge and skills to enable them to deliver safe and competent care to their patients.
According to Mellish et al. (2009:63), professional nurses enter the nursing programme with different expectations of what is to be learnt, different intellectual skills, types and levels of motivation, and different interests. Furthermore, professional nurses also come from different cultures and backgrounds. Consequently, professional nurse educators, who are responsible for educating and training these students, have a challenging task.
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