Her study critiques explanations of academic performance that locate academic attainment problems in the student, rather than the environment.
“I wanted to know what makes disadvantaged students resilient and even do so well academically regardless of rare financial support from their families,” she says.
In her work with students at Fort Hare she noted that students were often parentless and heading households. Others were the children of uneducated parents.
Her study shifts the focus away from ‘disadvantage’ and ‘fixing deficits’, towards academic success and recognising students’ strengths.
By looking at the academic trajectories of sponsored students at UWC, Dr Ngalo-Morrison illustrates how they are positively influenced by financial, academic and psychosocial institutional support and nurturing campus environments that recognise students’ dignity, agency and responsibility.
Hailing from Sterkspruit in the Eastern Cape, Dr Ngalo-Morrison left South Africa for political exile in Nigeria after her late brother was arrested trying to cross the border to Botswana. She was only reunited with her baby daughter, who was taken to her sister-in-law in Lesotho, six months later.
After being declared stateless persons by the United Nations, she and her family sought refuge in Canada but were rejected. Instead, through her former husband, they settled in New Zealand.
Dr Ngalo-Morrison had earlier studied social work in South Africa and obtained a degree in special education while in exile. With the dawn of democracy in South Africa, she returned to take up a position at Fort Hare.
She recently retired as Executive Director of Old Mutual’s educational trust, where she worked for nearly a decade.
Dr Ngalo-Morrison is continuing her work with young people. She is a trustee for the Resilience Network Institute, working with schools in Cape Town townships to empower high school learners to pursue higher education.