The learning experiences of New Zealand secondary school students with chronic health conditions
Chronic health conditions (CHC) in New Zealand adolescents are on the rise as medical advances continue. Exact numbers of the student population ranges from approximately 17% (Adolescent Health Research Group, 2008) to as high as 37% (Ministry of Health, 2008a). Pasifika and Māori youth are especially hard hit by the increase in numbers of CHCs in New Zealand. Young people with a CHC face additional challenges in the physical, cognitive, and psychosocial domains their healthy peers do not. Prior research shows CHCs can negatively affect learning. This study used Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (Smith, 1995), generally used in nursing and psychological research, and focused on the learning experiences of New Zealand secondary school students with a CHC. It emphasized and gave voice to these students’ experiences that affected their learning. Data were collected from 24 participants in seven secondary schools in a major New Zealand city, through semi-structured individual interviews and focus groups. Despite a wide range of CHCs and ages represented within the overall cohort of students, they shared many commonalities. Participants considered themselves no different from their peers in school, even as they discussed the different effects and difficulties of their respective CHCs, such as the impact of pain or inability to concentrate. They considered school important and did not want to miss class due to either a CHC or its treatment. The physical, cognitive, and psychosocial impacts of CHCs make learning challenging, especially when students encounter skepticism and teachers with insufficient knowledge of CHCs to meet their learning needs. This lack of understanding or knowledge regarding CHCs and how they impact the student caused additional strain but these young people retained their interest in school, regardless of school decile or ethnicity. Students took responsibility for their learning and attributed learning success to their efforts and coping strategies with strong support given by parents. Teachers or others within the school who knew about the CHC were seen as helpful and understanding; protective factors which contributed to their learning. New and career educators and policy makers in New Zealand need additional instruction in New Zealand on the impact of CHCs on learning as well as greater encouragement of communication between parents and schools regarding health to help these adolescents in their education.