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Education as Change

On-line version ISSN 1947-9417
Print version ISSN 1682-3206

Educ. as change vol.24 n.1 Pretoria  2020

http://dx.doi.org/10.25159/1947-9417/8839 

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ARTICLE

 

Resurrecting the "Black Archives": Revisiting Benedict Wallet Vilakazi with a Focus on the Utility and Meaning of African Languages and Literatures in Higher Education

 

 

Nompumelelo B. Zondi

University of Pretoria, South Africa. Mpume.zondi@up.ac.za; https://orcid.org/0000-0003-4864-3032

 

 


ABSTRACT

Although viewed (and dismissed) by many as primarily a tool for communication, language (and literature) cannot be understood only in relation to what it communicates. A study of how it is shaped uncovers the social forces that provide its broad and complex template in the acts of reading and writing. This article focuses on the utility and meaning of African languages and literatures in higher education, with Benedict Wallet Vilakazi's (1906-1947) poetry at the centre. It argues how, by resurrecting "black archives", in this article epitomised by revisiting the work of one iconic writer and scholar, Vilakazi, we could give further impetus to the prospect of intellectual efforts in African languages. In this context, the article upholds the value and meaning of this scholar while offering perspectives on the saliency of his work for inter alia the meanings and location of African languages and literatures with regard to epistemic diversity, the "transformation" of curricula, tradition versus modernity, gender, the meaning of identity, and the broader humanist project. In essence, therefore, the article suggests that in an academic context, African languages and literatures require a serious engagement with the "implied reader", "the native subject" and consequently necessitates greater troubling, unsettling in the way we teach, the way we write, and the way we read. It suggests that acts of rereading (albeit preliminary) are an important intervention in the project of the intellectualisation of our discipline.

Keywords: African languages and literatures; black archives; Benedict Wallet Vilakazi; Department of Higher Education; curricula transformation


 

 

Introduction1

Singling out the importance of the humanities and of African languages, the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), in the White Paper for Post-School Education and Training (2013, 37-41), advances an understanding of the seminal relationship between language, literature, context and society. The National Development Plan (National Planning Commission 2011), another founding document shaping the developmental agenda for South Africa, acknowledges that "major humanist projects which link our heritage and our future as a society" are encompassed by the humanities in general and African languages in particular, and advises that "[o]ur education from basic to tertiary and through the science and innovation system should invest and build capacity and high level expertise in these" (quoted in DHET 2013, 37). Furthermore, the "demise of African languages in the academic sphere poses a serious threat to linguistic diversity in South Africa" (DHET 2013, 38) and must be reversed. The DHET White Paper commits itself to a set of key ideas and strategies to ensure the rejuvenation of African languages through a "cross-disciplinary approach" (DHET 2013, 38).

At a time when "democratisation" and "decolonisation" are popular buzzwords in institutions of higher learning, the uncelebrated works of African intellectual scholars, which I metaphorically refer to "as black archives", are worth reconsidering. One such writer is Benedict Wallet Vilakazi who, at his untimely death on 26 October 1947 aged 41, had already made an enormous contribution towards the development of African languages and literatures. His three important novels and two anthologies of poetry, as well as the English-isiZulu/isiZulu-English dictionary he co-authored with Doke, attest to this.2 Recognition of this scholar's contribution to the scholarly project in African languages and literature is long overdue-possibly because, as has been postulated, South African literary historiography has, "for socio-political and ideological reasons[,] relegated black writers to a marginal position in relation to the English dominated South African literary establishment" (Ngwenya 1998, 127). The work of Vilakazi deserves some recuperation to a central position in the Southern African literary canon. This article explores the utility and meaning of African languages and literatures in higher education, and whether revisiting the poetry of Benedict Wallet Vilakazi enables some perspective in thinking through the issue of utility and meaning.

The article is structured in broadly four parts that should not be viewed as discrete, but rather as interconnected sections. Firstly, it takes us directly to Vilakazi, who, in this study, represents "the black archives". It then moves to a contemporary set of contextual observations, and then back to Vilakazi, before finally concluding with a set of ideas that speak to a vision of how the humanities can better understand and respond to the South African context, in a time where many are disillusioned by the promise of democracy.

As a prelude and reflection, I engage the first part of the title of the article, namely resurrecting the black archives with a focus on Vilakazi, as a response to the question of decoloniality. On the occasion of the 70th anniversary of his death, I turn to the figure of Vilakazi (1906-1947). His body of work offers salient perspectives on the meanings and location of African languages and literatures with regard to epistemic diversity, the "transformation" of curricula, tradition versus modernity, gender, the meaning of identity, and the broader humanist project, even though accounting for all of these issues will not be possible.

Vilakazi was a scholar, linguist, novelist and poet who is affectionately canonised as "the Father of Nguni literature" (Ntshangase 1995, 1) and "the founder of modern Zulu poetry" (Ngwenya 1998, 128). Vilakazi (1980, 9) boldly proclaimed in the poem "Wo, Ngitshele Mntanomlungu" ("Tell Me, White Man's Child"),

Isikhumba sami siyangiceba3

Ulimi Iwami lona luhle

Noma abanye bethi luyangehlisa

Ngibulewe ngalo ngiding' ukwelashwa

(Vilakazi 1980, 9)

(My skin condemns me

My language is beautiful,

Even though others say it degrades me,

I am bewitched, I need to be cured)

Although he expressed pride in his cultural heritage, which was subjected to attempted systematic erasure as demonstrated in the claim Noma abanye bethi luyangehlisa (Even though others say it degrades me), he did so in a way that did not romanticise an African past. Vilakazi articulated the voice of the underprivileged, voiceless black masses as part of his calling as a poet crossing ethnic boundaries. This sentiment, which is foregrounded in both of his volumes, is vividly illustrated in "Woza Nonjinjikazi" ("Come, Monster of Steel") which brings together the notion of how black identity in our midst was systematically erased and silenced. The poem laments the fact that black men's hard labour in the mines nonetheless failed to improve their livelihoods. The speaker in this poem says the following:

Shona langa lemihla yonke.

Wen 'owanqab 'ukukhanyisa

Kithina sizwe sikaMnyama

Imfihlo yomtapo weGoli

Engilibone licebisa

Izizwe nezinhla zomhlaba

Thina bakaMyama sibuka

Sikhex 'izindebe ezinkulu

(Vilakazi 1978, 23)

(O set, you daily sun

You who refused to bring light

To us, the black nation.

The hidden mysteries of the caves of gold

Which I see bestowing wealth

On nations everywhere on earth,

While we black people watch,

Our thick lips gaping)

The issues addressed by Vilakazi in the first half of the 20th century remain relevant social issues today. The safety of black miners is one issue, considering the recent fatalities at Sibanye Gold Mine in Carletonville, where the death toll rose to seven (Times Live 2018) and the Lily Mine disaster in Mpumalanga in 2016, for which families of the victims have not found closure yet (ENCA 2017). Material realities 70 years later attest to the significance of Vilakazi's poems and underpin the perception that, even then, he was already a visionary writer who wrote about the plight of the poor and those who remain disenfranchised from the centre of the South African political economy. I shall later return to this point.

Interestingly, in the poem just quoted ("Woza Nonjinjikazi"/"Come, Monster of Steel"), Vilakazi displays his non-essentialist worldview, evident in his citing of ethnic groups other than the Zulus with whom his works are predominantly concerned:

Ngizw 'abaVenda nabaTshopi

Behay'amahubo

(Vilakazi 1978, 23)

(I hear Venda and Tshopi people

Singing songs)

The mention of other groups such as the Xhosa and Basotho in the poems "Ngizw'ingoma" ("I Hear a Song") and "Ithongo lokwazi" ("Ancestor of Knowledge") shows that the example quoted above is no coincidence. It is almost as though he is calling back then already for unity against unsubstantiated ethnic boundaries that, by their very nature, were deliberately orchestrated to divide black people (Mamdani 2005). This he does by avoiding an essentialist mindset which would have seen him concerning himself with Zulu people only. However, this is not the case. Vilakazi sees himself as the voice of the voiceless that takes into account other ethnic groups. This stance manifests itself in other poems as well such as "Imfundo ephakeme" in Amal'ezulu (Vilakazi 1980, 6).

In view of the above, and considering that the world's reputed greatest poet, William Shakespeare, is celebrated the world over, including in South Africa, the nation would also find it appropriate if its own giant received due accolades. Moreover, with Shakespeare's works having been translated into more than 100 languages (Estill and Johnson 2015), it is timely that 70 years after his passing the impact of Vilakazi's work should be revisited and centralised in the South African literary establishment (Ngwenya 1998, 127), especially given that although his lifespan was a decade shorter than that of Shakespeare, he nonetheless accomplished a great deal.

Likewise, it is crucial that we begin to critically question the epistemologies and discourses of domination that have created blind spots with respect to how education is structured, with the purpose of beginning to actively unshackle ourselves from the often unquestioned acceptance of what constitutes "a classic". When reading about William Shakespeare, for example, literary historiography and literary theory undeniably underscore that his works are central to the literary canon (of Britain, English literature and world literature). His works are labelled "classic", and he himself a "universal writer". This is an author who, more than 400 years ago, wrote about matters that continue to plague and have bearing on our societies today, be it love, politics, power, or war. Indeed, he continues today to be read, studied and analysed-his works and himself canonised the world over. His works are worthy of the label and the status of "classics". If one considers his depiction of existential issues and the search for meaning4 which resonate with our very existence, in texts such as Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar, and Macbeth, prescribed at all levels from basic education to tertiary education at institutions of higher learning, one can maintain that his works are as relevant today as they were when he wrote them. They have, therefore, been translated into many languages and, in this technological era, been made into films and committed to other media that ensure that Shakespeare has taken on new relevance.

Similarly, the great works of African literary writers and scholars such as Ngügï wa Thiong'o, Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Mongane Wally Serote and Es'kia Mphahlele are not foreign to students of literature (certainly in the field of African languages and literatures). What the works of these writers have in common is the central truth that literature deals with issues that affect us as people at a particular time.

In line with the father of "decolonising the mind", Ngügï wa Thiong'o (1986), who makes the case that African literature in Africa should be the starting point from which to move to engage other traditions, and in the context of this article, I propose that Vilakazi should, in the same breadth, be brought to the centre and consequently receive attention. This recommendation is informed by the fact that he dealt with issues which are, and continue to be, the most relevant in our context. Vilakazi's lifespan is, to some extent, comparable to that of Shakespeare, even though Vilakazi died at 41 and Shakespeare at 52. In fact, Vilakazi achieved more given that he died 10 years younger than Shakespeare. I argue that Vilakazi should be afforded a similar status and that the importance of his works for our times must be recognised. Thus, while I entirely acknowledge Shakespeare's value, I suggest that our institutions of higher learning should begin to shift their gaze to centre more poignantly our contextual specificities.

Vilakazi's works stimulate their rereading. Born in 1906 in KwaDukuza, Vilakazi was named after Bhambatha kaMancinza Zondi, chief of the Zondi clan in Greytown, KwaZulu-Natal. In the same year, Bhambatha led the famous Bhambatha Rebellion against the poll tax imposed by the colonial government under Charles Smythe (SAHO 2011). The poem "Woza Nonjinjikazi" ("Come, Monster of Steel") mentioned above could be said to signal the fact that Vilakazi was continuing the struggle waged by Bhambatha in grappling with the struggle of his contemporary (wo)man, and their fight against the encroaching touch of modernity. Even though the rebellion was unsuccessful, Bhambatha's bravery in attempting to stop his people from supplying cheap labour in order to pay the poll tax would, at a later stage, influence Vilakazi to continue the battle, albeit with a pen instead of a military arsenal. While Shakespeare did indeed deal with issues of power, Vilakazi grew up knowing, learning and living tales that informed his genealogy and that shaped his view of the world and its injustices. This highlights my opinion that Vilakazi deals with similar issues but with validity that is more vociferous. Remembering his initiation to become an imbongi, a traditional bard, Vilakazi, in the poem "Ugqozi" ("Power of Inspiration"), refers to himself as Mancinza, which is one of the Zondi clan names, izithakazelo. Hereby Vilakazi lays claim to the kinship of Bhambatha and thus perceives himself as rightfully belonging to a Zondi clan. He says the following:

Namhla kangikwaz' ukuthula noma

Lapho ngilele ngikwesikaBhadakazi,

Ngivuswa nguMnkabayi ethi kimi:

"Vuka wena kaMancinza!

Kawuzalelwanga ukulal'ubuthongo.

Vuk'ubong 'indaba yemikhonto!

Nank'umthwal'engakwethwesa wona "

(Vilakazi 1980, 2)

(Today I can never be silent

Because in the depths of the night

Mnkabayi awakens with the words

"Arise, O you son of Mancinza!

Your destiny bids you awaken

And sing to us legends of battle!

This charge, I command you, fulfil!")

Not only did Vilakazi rely on his own imagination and creativity, he also cooperated with higher ancestral powers, symbolised in the above poem by Mnkabayi, Shaka's paternal aunt, "perhaps the most powerful woman of her time in Zululand" (Attwell 2005, 105). Central in the lines just cited, Vilakazi associates his poetic inspiration with Mnkabayi. This signifies his conscious appreciation of the status of women-in this case, royal women-even back then when patriarchy, as manifested in (inter alia) male writing of female izibongo (Zondi 2006, 2), depicted the contrary and when women were generally silenced and marginalised in literature. While there is no specific work of Vilakazi that focuses on feminism, as a feminist I am inclined to see traces of feminism in the poem cited. My observation is informed by Vilakazi's choice of a female royal figure, Mnkabayi, when he could have selected and charged with success any other royal male figure. In terms of gender, his choice of Mnkabayi can be described as being visionary and revolutionary. This will be elaborated upon later.

Vilakazi's works continue to exude a superb quality from which new ideas arise with every encounter-and this encounter is in the act of rereading, thus rendering him (and his work) a classic. While in literary contexts the notion of a classic is always in dispute, I am of the view that classics have a way of becoming part of the shared experience of a whole culture or group provided that it is always subject to an ongoing philosophy of rereading and scrutiny which centres the social role of language and literature.5 Landscape has a purpose in maintaining a holistic way of life that acknowledges the role played by environs in sustaining human life. Influenced by the Romantics, the poem "KwaDedangendlale" ("The Valley of a Thousand Hills"), (Vilakazi 1980, 23) invokes the Natal landscape:

Ngikhumbule kud' ekhaya

Laph 'ilanga liphumela

Phezu kwezintab' ezinde

Lishone libomv'enzansi

Kuze kusondel'ukuhlwa

Nokuthul' okucwebile,

Laph'uphuma phandl'unuke

Uhogele ngamakhala,

Uzigqum'umzimba wonke.

Ngomoya wolwandl'omanzi

(Vilakazi 1980, 23-24)

(I remember far away at home

There where the sun rises

Above the tall hills

And goes down shining red below

Until dusk comes

With its pure silence

There where you go outside and breathe in,

Breathe in deeply with full nostrils

And feel your whole body affected by

The moist air of the sea)

Let us consider the scientific appeal of the poem by elaborating on how it was shaped by and captures the social forces that provide its broad and complex template in the acts of reading and writing. To that end, I take into account a view that reading and writing are inherently linked to the socio-political conditions which shape how we think and what it is that we think about. These claims allude to the fact that we invariably always bring our socio-political ontological and epistemic underpinnings to a text. And so, let us read his works to begin to reveal the insights into the humanities and African languages, and consider, in tandem with the White Paper for Post-School Education and Training (DHET 2013, 37-41), what his work advances with regard to the importance of understanding the seminal relationship between language, literature, context and society. This brings me to the second entry point into the article, which provides some contextual markers of the role and relevance of African languages in the transformation agenda of our higher education system.

 

Contemporary Contextuality-Observations and Critiques

It may sound clichéd to state that we live in times of profound change, given the malaise of our socio-political context. Ours is a context in which the template of change is deeply embedded in the meaning of a budding democracy. We are regularly directed to questions of rights, expectations, service delivery, the meaning and ethics of leadership, of what it is to be a nation and, at the heart of it, the meaning of embodiment in the context of gender and sexuality. The academy is intricately entangled in a web of several competing social problems and forces. Within this scheme the location, position, utility and meaning of language remain key markers not simply of its current position in the public domain or in higher education transformation, but central to the idea and meaning of a university. There are many drivers of our location as academic professionals within a university. However, what is central to me is (1) the production and harnessing of new knowledge, (2) the building of cultural and political understanding, (3) finding new and innovative applications of existing knowledge, (4) validating knowledge and values through our curricula, (5) providing opportunities for social mobility, (6) strengthening social justice, (7) promoting dialogue and debate, (8) educating and providing skills for a changing labour market, and (9) nurturing the hopes of the world by recognising our interconnectedness with it. These issues inform the thinking in this article. An engagement with African languages in the higher education environment must recognise that we ought to shift paradigms from the deficit view that highlights limitations-what constricts, prohibits and proscribes our languages. This paradigmatic shift interrogates, rather, the possibilities of what enables, enhances, strengthens and facilitates the further development of African languages. If the value of supporting the uses of African languages in the development of science and technology-broadly speaking, the knowledge project-is to be meaningful, we are required to remain critical of how we build, renovate and amplify thinking in and through our disciplines.

More importantly, we need to be critical in the manner in which we navigate our subject disciplines in an evolving higher education context.

The official recognition of African languages in the Constitution represents a groundbreaking intention about linguistic status that takes us beyond symbolism to the importance of identity and identification. Whereas the apartheid regime accorded independent recognition of African dialects with the purpose of dividing the African population along ethnic and linguistic lines, the opening up of South African society after apartheid has created new problems that have turned managing the multilingual situation into a new dilemma. The task of standardising African languages is an ongoing challenge, and the state is unable to cope with the development of official languages on equal terms. The centrality of linguistic citizenship, a notion suggested by Christopher Stroud (2001), is a way to address, spotlight and recuperate the lost semiotics of historically marginalised agency and voices in societies under transformation. This lens magnifies the language politics that shape citizenship while challenging sociolinguists, linguistic anthropologists, literary scholars and indeed all who are located in the academic profession of languages to make a positive impact on the linguistic discourse that is in line with transformation.

In framing this thinking and in line with the DHET's White Paper for Post-School Education and Training (2013, 38), the insights of two scholars who in recent publications offer some thoughtful ideas that have a bearing on this argument are apt. In an article titled "The Struggles over African Languages", Peter Vale interviews Pam Maseko, an African languages scholar at Rhodes University, about her understanding of the position of African languages and literature in higher education with a focus on how they were developed in the apartheid state (Maseko and Vale 2016, 79-93). In the interview, Maseko makes a number of key points. She states the following:

The development of African languages was never meant to benefit their speakers. The descriptive grammars were largely aimed at assisting others to understand those languages and using them for purposes of education, whatever that education meant- conversion to Christianity, and so forth. (Maseko and Vale 2016, 82)

Maseko goes further to indicate that the system, which we have inherited, represents African languages that were taught in ways that were completely detached from the people who spoke the languages. She observes that contrary to global scholarship on languages that has shifted, this has not been the case in South Africa (Maseko and Vale 2016, 82). Maseko adds the following critical point:

When the Bantustan universities were established, all they had to fall back on was missionary education. This may sound controversial, but apartheid did a lot to develop African languages, whatever its agenda, which was obviously to subjugate people and all that. But it did a lot for the structural development of the language; the development of its corpus. (Maseko and Vale 2016, 83)

The position put forward by Maseko in the interview draws from her own experience of studying isiXhosa at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) in the mid-eighties, which strengthens her claims. She makes a key point:

African languages in higher education were meant to benefit "others"-they were meant to have a utilitarian or functional value for speakers of other languages. So when the entry of African language speakers to these universities accelerated, African language departments had nothing to present to them. (Maseko and Vale 2016, 83)

As the interview progresses, Maseko also speculates on the diminishing numbers of students of African languages in the post-apartheid period. According to her, the reason for this situation is that the numbers of second-language speakers dropped as "[s]ociety did not value the languages. Jobs did not require them in the same way that they required English and Afrikaans during apartheid. There was no demand for universities to produce graduates capable of responding to the linguistic diversity of South Africa" (Maseko and Vale 2016, 85). She further asserts that "speakers of African languages did African languages simply because the one certain thing they could do was to teach" (85). Another reason Maseko ascribes to this drop in mother-tongue speakers "was that these languages were taught in ways that did not relate to their own experiences" and "even the funding systems did not relate to the value supposedly placed on these languages in national legislation" (85). In Maseko's view, "there was no correlation between policy and what actually happened in practice ... [P]arents and even people in the academy feel that English needs to be promoted even more strongly" (85) and there is lip service paid to the value of multilingualism. For Maseko, "there is a lack of understanding that African languages are alive and relevant for people today, even though English is the dominant language" (85). The rejuvenation of the academic engagement of languages is in her view a goal that should be shared by all stakeholders in institutions of higher learning, to perhaps minimise the emphasis on structure and to centralise the social value of language especially in its intellectual traditions.

However, this is not all. In another robust engagement, Nomalanga Mkhize, in a paper titled "Away with Good Bantus: De-linking African Language Literature from Culture, 'Tribe' and Propriety", suggests that literary regeneration ought to be at the heart of African language intellectualisation (Mkhize 2016, 146-152). In her view, "there appears to be more talk about intellectualisation than actual practice" (146). Mkhize claims that "intellectualisation in African languages is not merely institutionalisation, but a re-framing of the kind of the 'native subject' or 'implied reader' that the African language literary tradition has historically constructed" (146). In essence, her view is that the "institutionalisation model" of promoting African languages fails because it reproduces conservative scholarly practice associated with African languages and literary culture. In this sense, as argued in the work of Gordan (2014), the academy becomes seduced by "disciplinary decadence". Mkhize goes further and argues that

[a]t its heart, intellectualisation ought to be a project of literary regeneration, a project to push the boundaries of discourse. This requires that scholars move beyond an administrative and lexicographic approach that sees intellectualisation endeavours revolve around university signage, dual-language circulars and terminological and lexicographic quibbles. (Mkhize 2016, 147).

At the core of Mkhize's argument, with which those who honestly acknowledge that African languages should be treated more fairly than is currently the case must agree, is the view that "[i]ntellectualisation should expand the imaginative scope of academic work, and it is new literary production that has the potential to challenge scholarly conservatism and expert gatekeeping that has characterised African language scholarship" (Mkhize 2016, 147).

Remaining with Mkhize, "the major hindrance to the intellectualisation of African languages is that textual production (fiction and non-fiction) has historically been heavily bent towards conservative themes, in which cultural pride, propriety and identity take centre stage-that is-a literature that speaks to 'Good Bantus'" (2016, 147). Our experience with school and university curricula shows a narratological tradition marked by three characteristics: "(i) the close linkage between ethnic identity and language, (ii) use of African language as cultural reclamation and pride and (iii) narratological stagnation and lack of inventiveness in literary production" (147). Mkhize claims that "intellectualisation efforts that do not effectively de-link African languages from these suffocating tendencies will fail to bring African languages properly into the centre of scholarly production in South Africa" (147). Her observations mobilise perspectives that direct our attention to the prospect that African languages (beyond missionary control and supervision to the Verwoerdian era of linguistic tribalisation) have caused African language writers to struggle to innovate, dissent and break new ground. Second, in her view, resonating with Maseko and Vale (2016) cited earlier, is the rigid and overwhelming emphasis on grammar and orthographies. More alarming is the view that the "print culture of African languages has been largely used as ideological tools of creating 'good and proper Bantus'" (Mkhize 2016, 147). Essentially, what Mkhize calls for is a literary subversion in African language literature, as she claims "there is a great divide between popular usages of the language and their use in the realm of scholarship, book publishing and teaching" (Mkhize 2016, 148).

While Mkhize provides provocative analytical and conceptual thought, there is a central contradiction to her argument. While she points to a "narratological stagnation" (2016, 147) or the aesthetic rut in which African language writing finds itself, we must realise that her observations are in fact acts of reading and interpretation. Reading and interpretation are also acts of rewriting, directing us to modes of interpretation that can assist in revising meanings. Rereading consists of ongoing and repeated encounters with a text, guided by a particular task so that segments of the text are revisited and rethought. Rereading is the most effective type of reading because it demands of us to recognise that reading is also a way of rewriting a text, as Roland Barthes (1967) informed us in his classic essay, "The Death of the Author". What he says is that, basically, when the authorial voice is done, the reader takes over, and in doing so recreates the text. This is all the more relevant in relation to the idea of a canon (a body of literary and cultural production that influences a literary tradition). Hence in the third part of this paper I return to the work of B. W. Vilakazi, an iconic figure in South African literature and a central figure in the canon of isiZulu literature, to suggest that rereading and re-engaging his works is part of an intellectual effort which is both transformative and, indeed, a form of praxis.

 

Unpacking Vilakazi's Works

In a period of 12 years, Benedict Wallet Vilakazi wrote three novels and two anthologies of poetry, and completed his master's and doctoral dissertations. He also collaborated with Professor C. M. Doke on the English-isiZulu/isiZulu-English Dictionary, which was published posthumously in 1948. Ntshangase (1995, 1) maintains, "[n]o other person in African languages and literature in South Africa has been able to achieve what Vilakazi did". His impact is still being felt today, as attested by Nyembezi, who avows that "some writers of Zulu poetry, for example, have taken Vilakazi as their model; but not only do they try to emulate his style; they even employ his expressions so that the end product is just another poem by Vilakazi" (Nyembezi 1959, 28). It is against this background that his undocumented life and work require reconsideration. In fact, his works have always been relegated to the periphery of African intellectual history (Ntshangase 1995, 1). This bias might be explained in the context of an academic discourse wherein his contemporaries, such as Herbert Dhlomo, wrote in English. Drawing on Vilakazi's two volumes of poetry, Inkondlo kaZulu (Zulu Songs) (1935) and Amal'ezulu (ZuluHorizons) (1945),6 I discuss a few poems to illustrate Vilakazi's significance for the transformative project in higher education. These poems were chosen because they indicate trends, tendencies and applicability to current times.

In the poem, "Imfundo Ephakeme" ("Higher Education"), Vilakazi steadfastly alludes to collaboration. Referring to his own education, which exposed him to various influences, he says the following:

Ngavakash' izimbong' ezimnyama

Zihay 'imiqondo yamakhosi,

Nezinye zibong' utshwal'emsamo.

Ngafak' ukuhlakanipha kwazo,

Ngakudiya nokwezabamhlophe.

Namhla zixaben' ekhanda lami.

Ongaqondi lutho ngalezi zinto

Nozilalel' ubusuku bonke

Engafundi lutho kuze kuse,

Engamazi uSiza noSisero,

NoShaka, noNgqika noMshweshwe,

Namhl' uyathokoza ngenhliziyo

(Vilakazi 1980, 7; emphasis added)

(I visited black poets

Praising their kings' wisdom

And others praising traditional beer at the sacred place

I took in their wisdom

And mingled it with that of the white men.

Today they are mixed up in my head.

One who understands nothing about these things

Who sleeps the entire night

Not reading anything till morning breaks

Knowing neither Caesar nor Cicero

Nor Shaka, Ngqika and Moshesh,

Today is happy at heart.)

The above quotation essentially speaks of a man who understood the possibility of what Pratt (in Ngwenya 2008) described as "contact zones" between African traditionalism and Western modernity. He also did not pretend that such encounters had no impact on him. Rather, his poems and critical writings "reflect his awareness of the inherent contradictions underlying the challenging task of having to ensure continuity and preservation of Zulu traditions while simultaneously devising new strategies and forms of poetic expression to suit modern context[s]" (Ngwenya 1998, 129). Moreover, Vilakazi also saw himself as a man who did not neglect or despise the past, but who interpreted it through his own imagination (Attwell 2005, 81). After all, acculturation is an effect, when two cultures cross paths. Vilakazi demonstrated depth by borrowing from values that could enhance his own. It would have been questionable if he had remained indifferent in his outlook on life after having encountered various influences. On the contrary, in an article titled "The Conception and Development of Poetry in Zulu", Vilakazi does not leave us speculating about these "contact zones". Conscious of his environment, he reiterates his intentions, writing that

[t]here is no doubt that the poetry of the West will influence all Bantu poetry because all the new ideas of our age have reached us through European standards. But there is something we must not lose sight of. If we imitate the form, the outward decoration which decks the charming poetry of our Western masters, that does not mean to say that we have incorporated into our poetry even their spirit. If we use Western stanza-forms and metrical systems, we employ them only as vehicles or receptacles for our poetic images, depicted as we see and conceive. (Vilakazi 1938, 127)

In the context of institutions of higher learning today, Vilakazi was advocating for and continues to spur us on with the charge of a recognition of influence, intention and affect (somewhat similar to what has for several decades been viewed in literary studies as intertextuality). Rooted in an African oral tradition, which is dependent on memory, Vilakazi, by writing down his poetry, was already championing the relevance of the African story, wisdom and experience. Furthermore, he was making these inflections accessible to a broader society and the world, a reciprocal value that is to be expected when diverse cultures meet, sometimes collide and where mutual enrichment is envisaged. By recording his culture through his poetry, he also guaranteed its preservation for future generations. While some critics such as Jabavu (1943) and Ntuli (1984) do not always find his adoption of Western forms desirable, Vilakazi's view of the colonial encounter is largely characterised by a conscious desire to integrate the worldviews of the coloniser and the colonised into a coherent perspective, within which "coherent" does not mean "uncritical". It could be argued that unlike most members of the African petty bourgeoisie of Vilakazi's time, he did not embrace Western culture thoughtlessly at the expense of his own. Rather, contrary to the typical values and worldviews espoused by the black bourgeoisie (a class Vilakazi belonged to) that perceived Western culture as superior, Vilakazi "regarded the two cultures as epistemologically different yet with complementary value systems" (Ngwenya 2008, 57).

Vilakazi was also capable of "borrowing" from the West but yet, at the same time, remaining conscious of issues affecting Africans. Conscious of the influence of the West, Vilakazi understood it as a European "form" in the poetic presentation of a recognisably African "content" (Ngwenya 1998, 135). In his PhD dissertation, Vilakazi accentuates the point: "What future literature needs is not a compromise between the old and the new ideas, but a fusion, as it were, not of a mixture but of an amalgam. The virile elements of both African and western cultures must fuse and give birth to a new life, expressed in new literature" (1946, 372).

In his appraisal of the Western attributes of Vilakazi's essentially African poetry, David Attwell (2005, 89) notes the following:

We can now see that Vilakazi's seemingly obsessive fondness for rhyme, together with his interest in prosody, were essentially means to an end, which was to enable Zulu writing to acquire abstraction, distance, monumentality and perfection-broadly speaking, the qualities of aesthetics.

The fourth and final component of this article touches briefly on a vision statement that promotes African languages. This is then reconnected to the work of Vilakazi. Heads of departments of African languages should take pride in African languages by furthering their development in all areas and finding new ways of addressing the challenges resulting from dynamic changes in the higher education environment. It is critical that African languages be actively involved in the processes of promoting and advocating for these languages as an asset in the broader context of multilingualism and in the context of the country. This they should do by expanding the landscape of their departments, which, informed by the DHET's White Paper for Post-School Education and Training (2013), should see the development of these previously marginalised languages become a reality rather than wishful thinking. The White Paper as a document that warns of the demise of African languages in the academic spheres highlights the urgency of the threat this poses to linguistic diversity in South Africa. Consequently, it provides a set of key ideas and strategies to ensure, firstly, the rejuvenation of African languages and, secondly, their development as languages of literature, science and academia. Thirdly, it recommends intensifying the focus on African languages at universities as a way of preventing their extinction. The White Paper also alludes to the creation of a non-sexist and non-racial society and the discovery of Ubuntu as a major humanist project that links our heritage and our future as a society.

Earlier, in this article, I promised to return to the issue of Vilakazi as a transformed man at a time when patriarchy was rife and gender activism an unknown concept. Despite the limits of this context, Vilakazi, albeit very subtly, touches on gender. In a society steeped in patriarchy, Vilakazi's acknowledgement of a female figure as an ancestor from whom he drew inspiration was quite exceptional-a notion we can develop in contemporary South Africa. When at King Shaka's court and while in a trance, Vilakazi could have imagined a male royal figure tasking him to leave a legacy for generations to come. However, it is Mnkabayi that he found suitable to inspire him, as described in the poem cited earlier "Ugqozi" ("Power of Inspiration").

Princess Mnkabayi was the daughter of Jama, son of Ndaba, sister of Senzangakhona and paternal aunt of Shaka. She was one of a set of twins, and for the first time, contrary to Zulu custom, the lives of both twins were spared. As a result, the custom of ukugingisa itshe, which entailed causing the death of one of the twins by letting it swallow a small stone, was permanently discontinued. Later, Mnkabayi acted as a regent for the period when Shaka was still too young to take over from his father, Senzangakhona.

According to Freudian theory,7 the dream Vilakazi had after having fallen asleep outside King Shaka's court suggests that it had been Vilakazi's wish from the outset to receive inspiration from Mnkabayi. We first hear her name in the second stanza of the poem "Ugqozi" ("Power of Inspiration") when told that Mnkabayi, an all-powerful woman with supernatural powers, without opening her mouth had the gatekeeper open the gates to allow Vilakazi to enter the royal court. Vilakazi says the following:

Kwafika kim'uMnkabayi emuhle

Wangithatha phansi wangiphonsa phezulu

Ngabon'umlindi-masango evula

(Vilakazi 1980, 1)

(Mnkabayi appeared to me looking beautiful

She looked at me from head to toe

The gatekeeper then opened the gate)

At the second mention of Mnkabayi's name (in the fourth stanza), Vilakazi opted to say Ngamfuna uMnkabayi (I searched for Mnkabayi) rather than ngafuna uMnkabayi. The significance of the words Ngamfuna uMnkabayi (I searched for Mnkabayi) as opposed to ngafuna uMnkabayi illustrates the point put forward in the abstract that language and literature cannot be fully understood merely in relation to what they communicate, but must also be viewed in relation to the context of communication. Providing a precise English translation illustrating the difference between the two versions is impossible because of a lack of semantic and lexical equivalence, but the word ngamfuna that Vilakazi chooses, instead of ngafuna, emphasises that he wanted the woman Mnkabayi to be the source of his inspiration, not merely any randomly chosen person. It is with a woman that he identified. Indeed, in the final stanza Mnkabayi tasks Vilakazi with teaching future generations.8 As alluded to in the abstract, the context in which language and literature communicate contributes critically to the content of the message. Vilakazi uses repetition-a common feature of oral poetry (Canonici 1998, 29), in this instance the repetition of Mnkabayi's name, to enhance the quality and richness of the poem.

Vilakazi's poems not only illustrate the relationship between context and content, but also the link between history and literature. The way in which the 1913 Natives Land Act9 allocated 7% of arable land to Africans while leaving more fertile land for whites (Modise and Mtshiselwa 2013) speaks to two matters that remain highly contentious to this day: land and conditions in the mining industry. In his protest poems "Ezinkomponi" ("On the Mine Compounds") and "Ngoba ... Sewuthi" ("Because ... You Now Say") Vilakazi engages in intellectual warfare. I only have space for a brief comment on "Ezinkomponi" ("On the Mine Compounds"). In this poem, Vilakazi, speaking on behalf of the voiceless, reflects on a gold mine in Johannesburg in the 1940s. The miners, the mine magnates and the heavy machinery are depicted as three protagonists who struggle to validate their respective roles in the conflict. This famous protest poem remains a cry for help in the face of destructive industrial advancement that pits the values of gold and money against human values that are worth living for (Zondi 2011, 173). To illustrate this point, consider the text (lines 37-38 and 41 -45)

Ngizwile kuthiwa emgodini

Kuy'izizwe ngezizwe zikaMnyama

[...]

Ngizwile kuthiwa kwakhala

Imishini kwavela mbil'emnyama

Emqondweni wayo kuhlwile khuhle

Yabanjwa yahendulw 'imvukuzane

Yavukuz 'umhlabathi ngabon 'igolide

(Vilakazi 1980, 61)

(I heard that in the mines

Are found men of black tribes

I heard that when the machines roared

There appeared a black rock rabbit

In its mind, it was night-time

It was trapped and turned into a mole

It burrowed deep and I saw gold)

In the extract above, Vilakazi is trying to demonstrate how despite their perceived ignorance, black miners were not oblivious to the wealth they were generating for nations while the pittance they earned kept them deprived. Vilakazi (and others in his league that make up the "black archives") should be studied beyond departments of African languages. If Shakespeare, Achebe, Ngügï wa Thiong'o, Soyinka, Serote and Mphahlele appeal to the taste of students regardless of the medium of instruction, why would the legendary Vilakazi not have the same effect, especially given that his poetry has been translated into English.

 

Conclusion

This article is a contribution towards the intellectualisation of African languages for higher education. In calling for revisiting "forgotten" African scholars, herein referred to as "the black archives", the works of one of the country's literary greats of the 20th century, Benedict Wallet Vilakazi, have been studied. With Vilakazi at the centre, drawing on the contents of the DHET's White Paper for Post-School Education and Training (2013) and the National Development Plan (National Planning Commission 2011), the article has demonstrated how African languages can be used in higher education curriculums as the kernel of the academy in addressing national imperatives such as transformation, decoloniality, epistemic success, student success in higher education as well as social cohesion. Vilakazi offers new ideas with every encounter in the act of rereading his works. Moreover, by applying ideas from Maseko and Vale (2016) as well as Mkhize (2012), some contextual markers of the role and relevance of African languages in the transformation agenda of our higher education system were engaged. The article suggested that African languages departments should take the lead in furthering the development of all areas connected to the issues mentioned above and finding innovative ways of addressing the challenges brought about by the dynamic changes in the higher education context. This, I contend, they will achieve by becoming actively involved in the processes of developing, advancing and advocating for these languages as an asset in the broader context of multilingualism and in the context of the country.

 

References

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Modise, L., and N. Mtshiselwa. 2013. "The Natives Land Act of 1913 Engineered the Poverty of Black Africans: A Historico-Ecclesiastical Perspective". Studia Historiae Ecclesiasticae 39 (2): 359-78. Accessed May 9, 2018. http://www.scielo.org.za/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S1017-04992013000200020.         [ Links ]

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Ngügï wa Thiong'o. 1986. Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature. London: James Currey.         [ Links ]

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Ngwenya, T. H. 2008. "Transculturation in the Poetry of B. W. Vilakazi". South African Journal of African Languages 28 (1): 49-58. https://doi.org/10.1080/02572117.2008.10587301.         [ Links ]

Ntshangase, D. 1995. "Between the Lion and the Devil: The Life of B. W. Vilakazi, 19061947". Paper presented at the African Studies Institute Seminar Series, Paper No. 384. http://hdl.handle.net/10539/9603.

Ntuli, D. B. Z. 1984. The Poetry of B. W. Vilakazi. Johannesburg: J.L. Van Schaik.         [ Links ]

Nyembezi, C. L. S. 1959. Bantu Authors' Conference. Historical Papers Collection. University of the Witwatersrand Historical Papers Research Archive. Johannesburg.

SAHO (South African History Online). 2011. "Events Leading to Bambatha Rebellion". SAHO, March 31, 2011, last updated August 27, 2019. Accessed March 30, 2018. www.sahistory.org.za/article/event-leading-bambatha-rebellion.

Shakespeare, S. (1609) 2010. "Sonnet 30". In A Companion to Shakespeare's Sonnets, edited by M. Schoenfeldt, 451. Oxford: Blackwell.         [ Links ]

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Times Live. 2018. "Death Toll in Masakhane Mine Accident Rises to Seven". May 5. Accessed May 6, 2018. https://www.timeslive.co.za/news/south-africa/2018-05-05-death-toll-in-masakhane-mine-accident-rises-to-seven/.

Vilakazi, B. W. 1935. Inkondlo kaZulu. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press.         [ Links ]

Vilakazi, B. W. 1938. "The Conception and Development of Poetry in Zulu". Bantu Studies 12 (1): 105-34. https://doi.org/10.1080/02561751.1938.9676073.         [ Links ]

Vilakazi. B. W. 1945. Amal'ezulu. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press.         [ Links ]

Vilakazi, B. W. 1946. "The Oral and Written Literature in Nguni". PhD thesis, Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press.         [ Links ]

Zondi, N. B. 1995. "Protest in the Poetry of B. W. Vilakazi". MA diss., University of Natal.         [ Links ]

Zondi, N. B. 2006. "Critiquing the Male Writing of Female Izibongo: A Feminist Approach". Agenda 20 (68): 30-30.         [ Links ]

Zondi, N. B. 2011. "Three Protagonists in B. W. Vilakazi's 'Ezinkomponi' ('On the Mine Compounds')". Literator: Journal of Literary Criticism, Comparative Linguistics and Literary Studies 32 (2): 173-87. https://doi.org/10.4102/lit.v32i2.17.         [ Links ]

 

 

1 This article is informed by the recent inaugural lecture that the author delivered at her current university.
2 An elaborate presentation of his works appears in the third part of this article titled, "Unpacking Vilakazi's Works".
3 The English translations draw mainly from those by Florence Louie Friedman, with my own modifications (wherever necessary), as found in my master's dissertation (Zondi 1995).
4 "When to the sessions of sweet silent thought..." (see Sonnet 30, Shakespeare 1609 [2010], 451).
5 The significance of reading, rereading and scrutinising a classic work foregrounds its timeless relevance in each generation's reflection (s). Generational reflection(s) in the case of Vilakazi's work signifies the importance of his ruminations even after his untimely departure from the South African academy.
6 While Inkondlo kaZulu was first published in 1935 and Amal'ezulu in 1945, the reprinted versions I have used were published in 1978 and 1980 respectively.
7 As Sigmund Freud argues, what is common in all these dreams is obvious. They completely satisfy wishes excited during the day, which remain unrealised. They are simply and undisguisedly the realisation of wishes.
8 There is insufficient semantic and lexical equivalence to precisely render the difference between ngamfuna and ngafuna.
9 The 1913 Land Act allocated only 7% of arable land to Africans, leaving the more fertile land to whites. This Act is seen to have "created socio-economic injustices in terms of poverty and dispossessment of land from black people" (Modise and Mtshiselwa 2013).

^rND^sBarthes^nR.^rND^sCanonici^nN. N.^rND^sGordan^nL. R.^rND^sMaseko^nP.^rND^nP.^sVale^rND^sMkhize^nN.^rND^sModise^nL.^rND^nN.^sMtshiselwa^rND^sNgwenya^nT. H.^rND^sNgwenya^nT. H.^rND^sShakespeare^nS.^rND^sStroud^nC.^rND^sVilakazi^nB. W.^rND^sZondi^nN. B.^rND^sZondi^nN. B.^rND^1A01^nAnna^sOdrowaz-Coates^rND^1A01^nAnna^sOdrowaz-Coates^rND^1A01^nAnna^sOdrowaz-Coates

ARTICLE

 

Chaos Theory and the Neoliberal English-Based Dimension of the Polish Higher Education Reforms 2018/2019

 

 

Anna Odrowaz-Coates

The Maria Grzegorzewska University, Poland. acoates@aps.edu.pl; https://orcid.org/0000-0002-2112-8711

 

 


ABSTRACT

This article draws on chaos theory to critically analyse the recent higher education reforms that have been taking place in Poland. The argument launched in this article aims to show that the reforms are based primarily on neoliberal foundations and to expose the linguistic dominance of the English language in neoliberal settings. The English language appears to be a strong tool of neoliberal power, used to empower or to marginalise local academics. The divisive power of English exploited by reformists creates a growing fissure between age cohorts, disciplines and academics representing diverse social backgrounds. The tension and uncertainty brought about by the reforms have increased the anxiety and competition between scholars, undermining solidarity and compromising joint agency. The long-term results of entering the neoliberal "rat race", which is strongly reliant on English language skills, are yet unknown.

Keywords: language and power; sociolinguistics; chaos theory; neoliberalism; critical pedagogy; higher education reform


 

 

Introduction

This article concerns the ongoing changes to higher education in Poland, which commenced in 2015 and are constantly amended, updated and non-ending. The most controversies were raised as a result of reforms brought in by the current government, which represents the political majority held in the Polish parliament by the Law and Justice party (commonly known as PiS). The government is considered to be right-wing oriented, with radical socialist ideas. The recent education reforms have caused controversy among the country's intellectual elites and have completely destabilised streams of funding for universities and the recruitment of students. University rectors, lecturers, teachers, parents and students were taken by surprise with sudden and rapid changes, leaving people confused and uncertain about the future of higher education in Poland and about the personal and professional situation of the higher education community. This pertains particularly to the changing modes of evaluation of universities and their staff that often refer to past periods, during which knowledge production was measured under very different regulations-a situation where someone' s past publications were worth 100 points on one day and the next day they do not even qualify to be considered and receive 0 points is quite common. Requirements for PhDs and post-doctoral professorship have been updated several times in the last five years, changing the criteria for academic advancement to place more importance on writing in English and accessing funding from abroad. Up until recently, Poland supported free access to higher education for everyone and the number of people with higher education degrees was quite remarkable (GUS 2019) and internationally praised. Therefore, some consider the changes in funding and the narrowing of the acceptance rate to be a step backwards (Kwiek 2014; Pilch 2017-18; Sliwerski 2018) and others look for the ultimate reasons behind these unsettling reforms (Maria Mendel and Tomasz Szkudlarek cited in Odrowaz-Coates 2018b; Pilat 2018). In this article, a critical analysis of the changes and the government's rhetoric is presented to unveil the English language-centric core of the reforms. Finally, the Polish higher education reforms are framed within an overarching concept of "chaos theory in education", as one of many possible theoretical groundings for the observed phenomenon.

The conceptualisation embraces a number of previously developed chaos theory applications to various educational contexts, searching for novel ways to apply them to higher education in Poland. A discussion on chaos theory and its application in the analysed case is followed by conclusions based on reflection about the future of Polish higher education and the ongoing linguistic shift towards the English language that meets a neoliberal expectation (Odrowaz-Coates 2018a).

The discussion is imbedded in critical pedagogy, understood as the responsibility of intellectuals (cf. Giroux 2019). According to Giroux (2019, 82), critical pedagogy is about "understanding how the power works within particular historical, social and cultural contexts in order to engage and, when necessary, to change such contexts". By refuting the objectivity of knowledge and asserting the partiality of all forms of pedagogical authority, critical pedagogy initiates an enquiry into the relationship between the form and content of various pedagogical sites and the authority they legitimate in securing particular cultural practices (Giroux 2019, 83). This stance carries potentiality for anarchy. Anarchy, by definition, underpins the theoretical concept of chaos, as chaos reflects the disestablishment of order. Giroux calls on academics to resurrect a language of resistance and possibility against the forces of corporate power and global capitalism, especially against the corporatisation of universities. What is more, Giroux proposes seeking militant utopianism in this quest (cf. Giroux 2019, 267). Giroux's call seems most appropriate to find fertile ground in the context of Polish higher education reforms.

 

The Socio-Political Context of Polish Higher Education1

The Polish education system, including higher education, has been undergoing constant changes and reforms since the fall of communism in 1989. After the fall of the Iron Curtain, the education system was adjusted to bring it in line with European Union standards, with a three-stage education system: elementary, lower and upper secondary. This was introduced in 1999 and was followed by a three-stage higher education programme (introduced in 2005) consisting of three years for a bachelor's degree, two years for a master's degree and further years for doctoral studies. The PISA (the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment) results for 15-year-old Polish secondary school pupils improved significantly between 2000, when Poland scored below the EU average, and 2015, when Poland was ranked as one of the leading countries. From 8 August 2011, a ministerial regulation by the Ministry of Science and Higher Education redefined the scientific and artistic disciplines and the following areas of sciences were distinguished: humanities and social sciences, technical sciences, science, natural science, medical sciences, agriculture, forestry, veterinary sciences and art. The justification for such division was its application when awarding scientific titles and degrees. This division was recently updated by the reformists, causing chaos and outrage among academics representing disciplines wiped off the discipline map (particularly representatives of ethnology, ethnography, and anthropology, which were excluded). Others, for example those representing theology, secured a new discipline. The Bologna Process enabled Poland to enter the exchange of EU students and academic staff, and facilitated the transfer of ECTS points. Learning outcomes, uniformed by the Bologna Process, led to ensuring that all EU university graduates are capable of thinking critically and display characteristics of reflexive practitioners. The process resulted in over five million European students taking part in the Erasmus international exchange programme since its beginning (EC 2019). The Erasmus exchange relies on English as a medium of communication. This was not enough for the Minister of Science and Higher Education, Jaroslaw Gowin, representative of the dominant party Law and Justice, who in order to modernise the organisation of Polish universities (first established in 1364) introduced further reforms. He voiced a concern that increased access to higher education compromises its quality. Access to higher education has increased from 9.8% in 1990 to 50% in recent years (GUS 2019),2 indicating a positive shift in societal development and an increase in education level achieved by the Polish population. However, the situation is one of continuous change with no apparent long-term vision and politically tainted moving goalposts.

Moreover, the increasing dominance of the English language within the Polish education system leads to a certain linguistic shift that gives English a leading position among foreign languages. This provides a new tool of social division between age cohorts and people with different levels of education. English has gained the status of a second language in the country and a certain distinction can be observed between those who use it as their second language and those who do not (cf. Odrowaz-Coates 2017a; 2018; 2019). Polish openness towards the mainstreaming of English has a relatively short history. As previously mentioned, it comes from the backlash of the compulsory study of the Russian language in the Polish education system until the fall of communism (1989) and from entering the Bologna Process, which aims at uniformity and therefore transferability of education systems in Europe. This may seem like a positive idea until one notices that the principles of free academic thought are suppressed by increasing demands for external funding. Pursuing grant applications, which are often written in English, and the commercialised outcomes of research are an embodiment of a neoliberal model of science that academics locally and globally are expected to embrace. This neoliberal model is heavily dependent on English (Odrowaz-Coates 2017). English bestows soft power on entities through the hub of global neoliberalism (cf. Odrowaz-Coates2019). This soft power is based on the appealing principle of participation in the global dialogue. The evidence that the dialogue cannot be equal comes from Kachru (1985) and Pennycook (2006), who developed three moulds of the influence of English: a norm-providing inner circle of native speakers (ENL), a norm-developing outer circle of speakers of English as a second language (ESL), and a norm-dependent expanding circle, where English remains a foreign language taught only in school (EFL).

The differences in access to participation in the global academic dialogue are evident. Although the position of English in Poland is shifting from EFL to ESL (cf. Odrowaz-Coates 2019), the ENL dominance in power and in access is reflected in the higher education reforms.

 

Higher Education and the Use of Chaos Theory

Among basic theories in science, such as the Newtonian law of gravity, quantum mechanics (Max Planck) and Einstein's theory of general relativity, chaos theory emerged in Lorenz's mathematical concepts of dynamic systems, sensitive to initial conditions, where prediction of the future is limited. This theory may be applied to specific conditions of post-modernity and increased uncertainty characteristic of our times (cf. Baranowski 2017). It may also be utilised to frame the uncertainty of the ongoing higher education reforms.

Susan Baker (1995) was one of the first to use chaos theory for the interpretation of educational systems, alongside Cutright (2001), Abrahamson and Freedman (2007), Reigeluth (2004), and finally Akmansoy and Kartal (2014). The relevance of the application of chaos theory to the Polish higher education reforms is inspired by Henry Giroux (2019, 58), who views our times as a period in history characterised by large areas of discontinuity and rupture, accelerated by the widespread use of electronic information (dominated by the English language) that distorts traditional concepts of time, community and history, blurring the boundaries between "image" and reality, and adding to the uncertainty and chaos in people's lives.

If one looks at higher education from an organisational perspective, Thiétart and Forgues (1995) show that organisations are non-linear, dynamic structures with two conflicting, offsetting forces of stability against instability, creating potential chaos. This translates into different outcomes of similar actions during a single life cycle of an organisation. Stacey (1992), Wheatley (1992) and Morgan (1993) also analysed organisations through the lens of chaos theory and found similar findings as described above. Because any school or university can be described as an organisation, their works should not be omitted when analysing the educational context presented in this article. A definition of chaos theory as developed by Gollub and Solomon (1996, 282) asserts that chaotic systems are sensitive to initial conditions, which means that any initial error in planning will expand and multiply beyond possible expectations. This indicates that to be able to predict an outcome, one must be absolutely certain, to the smallest detail, about the initial circumstances. However, this is considered to be unachievable when considering a complex organisation like a country's higher education system. Moreover, the randomness of human factors related to both the diversity of teachers and the diversity of students significantly decreases the likelihood of precisely measuring the initial state and increases the appropriateness of employing chaos theory in educational practice.

Cunningham (2001) questions the validity of any form of educational outcome measurement, since too many uncontrollable factors play a role in students' performance. Education systems are subject to a "butterfly effect", a notion first mentioned by Edward Lorentz, who conceptualised the dynamics of weather prediction, linking it to chaos theory. He gave the example of a butterfly flapping its wings in one part of the world causing a tsunami in another (cf. Glickman et al. 2001). The same may apply to education, if one agrees with his theory, which claims that small variations in initial conditions lead to large differences in outcomes (Cunningham 2001). Although higher education institutions may be compared to "fractals", which are smaller copies of the same structure on a scale (Baker 1995, 16, 148; cf. Peitgen, Jürgens, and Saupe 1992), the regular pattern of how they are to be organised and managed does not guarantee exactly the same outcomes (cf. Gleick 1987). Similarities exist between chaos theory in education systems and the concept of the "feedback loop" (cf. Reigeluth 2004), where systems adjust their evolution based on their own feedback. Susan Baker (1995), in her PhD thesis, demonstrated such similarities, simultaneously analysing the interdependence of initial conditions and final outcomes. It is as yet impossible to say with certainty what outcomes can be expected from the ongoing changes in the Polish higher education system that have the potential to cause organisational chaos.

Chaos theory does not imply complete randomness, although it does affirm the nonlinear dynamics of system interdependencies. It also offers new ways of studying complex, complicated and uncontrollable occurrences in deterministic systems (cf. Kellert 2008, 5-8). Elhadj Zeraoulia (2012, 362) discusses the concept of randomness using the Maxwellian theory of elastic collisions that exist in a clockwork universe that allows a level of non-preference in terms of who collides with whom, which leads to random distribution and therefore still a notion of chaos. Lampert (1985) supports the idea that all individuals involved in educational processes have agency and that their own particular agency changes the course of their actions and the collective and individual outcomes, thus representing chaos. The unpredictable decisions made in the classroom by teachers and students and those by ministers and academics may create an ongoing tension and conflict between multiple interests and aims, leading to more and more choices, and complicating the final outcomes. Lampert links the freedom in terms of what to do and what to say in the school environment (cf. university) with the subsequent cause of action, and this has a randomising effect in the distant future. She claims that all participants in education contribute to its uncertainty and chaos, both at school (cf. university) and in a wider context. This wider context should be understood as the social environment of all actors involved in teaching and learning, and their everyday life experiences, adding to chaos and uncertainty, multiplying the options and the potential outcomes (cf. Buchmann and Floden 1993). Moreover, Buchmann and Floden (1993, 221) see chaos as a specific, materialised matter, taking chaos in education for granted, since it is certain that educational uncertainty will exist. They urge educators to remain calm, steady and confident in their decisions, and believe that this is the most appropriate method to address chaos.

An interesting interplay between determinism, predictability and chaos was developed by Greg Hunt (1987). Hunt claimed that absolute predictability and determinism are separate and that predictability is separate from chaos and not possible, even if the initial conditions are perfectly measured. However, when Peter Smith (1998, 58) analysed chaotic dynamic models, he claimed that they can be useful for short-term trajectory tracking. In his view it is the long-term predictions that are not possible. If this is true, then current higher education reformists should maintain a short-term vision for the changes they make.

 

Recent Reforms and the Notion of Uncertainty

One of the recent reforms implemented in higher education in Poland is called regulation 2.0 (also known as the Constitution for Science) and aimed at increasing the quality of research and teaching through internationalisation and grant-based funding of higher education institutions. This reform illustrates in what ways unpredictable outcomes go beyond first impressions and indicates in what ways chaos theory might be helpful to understand the changing landscape of higher education in Poland. Among the stated goals of this reform is a desire to bring back the top Polish scientists who have emigrated and to reverse the brain drain from Poland to other countries. The regulation goes on to define the goal of entering the global research investments market by enhancing the position of Polish universities in global rankings and attracting students from other countries to study in Poland. The first impressions of the changes are relatively positive as it seems to be a programme that strives for excellence (Ministry of Science and Higher Education 2019). For example, the limiting of the number of students per full-time tutor to 12, which means that universities become empowered to raise entry requirements as the number of places is now limited. However, the actual implementation rules give some cause for concern and are the embodiment of chaos theory in higher education. Here are just a few: Sudden changes to the length of study programmes for different professions devalue recently obtained qualifications of some graduates, who become unable to continue MA studies in their chosen profession. Having more students than 12 per tutor at higher education institutions means financial penalties. There are no financial provisions to employ more tutors, only the threshold of financial penalties, which must not be breached. The Ministry of Science and Higher Education provides a significant part of universities' financial support, providing funding per student. Therefore, limiting the permissible number of students is in effect a money-saving measure and puts considerable pressure on universities to close the funding gap. In the last decades, the number of private higher education institutions has decreased, since those who have achieved the entry criteria or have successfully passed entry exams have been entitled to free higher education. People capable of studying were empowered to do so. This remarkably inclusive model, with free higher education open to all, has now changed (2019). It looks like the boom of private universities is to return, shifting the costs of studies from the taxpayer to parents and students themselves, increasing the gap between those who can and who cannot afford to study, in line with the neocapitalist vision. This will undoubtedly lead to increased social divisions based on monetary power. We are yet to see students' reaction in line with similar neoliberal practices abroad.

Another money-saving measure included in the reforms is a specific algorithm to finance research, which discriminates against the social sciences and humanities. The Polish government calculates the funding required for different disciplines to carry out scientific tasks in research with a form of absorption costing. This places each discipline on a scale and the position on this scale defines how funding is allocated. In the past, social sciences were placed at value 2, whilst medical and technical science at 3 on a 1 -3 scale. In the post-reform model, the 1-3 scale has been replaced with a scale of 1-6, which positions social sciences and humanities at 1 or at best, 1.5. This change translates into a 30-40% drop in the financing of research in these disciplines from the ministerial budget and a considerable degrading of the apparent value of the social sciences and humanities (Nowakowska 2018).

Moreover, Polish universities are grouped into categories A+, A, B+, B and C. Categories B and C are higher education institutions for teaching and not research facilities. B+ indicates that the facility teaches, carries out research and is able to grant PhDs. Facilities in the A and A+ categories focus primarily on research and also grant PhDs and further academic titles for scientific promotion. The reforms change the way in which the categories are classified,3 allocating more significance to articles published in the limited number of journals from a new ministerial list. The publication of books and book chapters has been discouraged by the evaluation paradigm, which devalued this form of scientific expression. Furthermore, in order to accrue points based on book publications, books must be printed only by publishers from yet another ministerial list, which keeps being updated (Ministry of Science and Higher Education 2019b). Both lists were promised to be announced in January 2019, but there was a significant delay. The list of journals was eventually published in July, but it works back in time to cover the whole period of 2019 (Ministry of Science and Higher Education 2019c). The content of the list has also changed multiple times. If academics publish in a journal outside of the list, it is practically worthless in terms of the evaluation under the new regime. Moreover, the list favours publications in English, a criterion which appears to be key to the selection of Polish journals that survived the cuts. Moreover, international journals that publish in English were assigned much higher value, especially in the social sciences. The actual division of journals into disciplines took further time and was carried out by a narrow group of ministerial experts, which means that a considerable amount of scholars have been unsure where to invest their work for the last two years.

The list of Polish journals that are considered for points has been severely limited to 500 for all disciplines. Previously 3080 were in a position to provide points (Ministry of Science and Higher Education 2017). All Polish journals have been given new obligatory standards to which they must adhere, e.g. the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE). Furthermore, Open Researcher and Contributor ID (ORCID) numbers are assigned to the authors, even if they do not publish in English. Informed compliance with both requires a certain knowledge of English. In 2017, Polish journals were able to apply for additional funding to support their international exposure. It was not clear at that time if the successful applicants would be included in the list of 500 Polish journals. To receive financial support, they had to either include writers from abroad, be reviewed by foreign reviewers, have international scientific boards or be published in English, and all had to provide abstracts and titles in English. It was also seen as beneficial to be available as open access and to have a digital object identifier (DOI number). These items rely on English as the lingua franca of international communication and this language shift in Polish higher education circles and in the labour market has been discussed by Odrow^z-Coates (2017; 2018; 2019). The system is becoming more reliant on English and more English-language oriented, positioning the language highly in comparison to others, including the native tongue. This part of the reforms adds to the notion of chaos and creates conflicts between fluent users and those less fluent, thus new power hierarchies emerge based on knowledge of English as a second language.

Moreover, an incredibly complex algorithm was developed to evaluate individual academics and their institutions based on where they publish their research findings. Could it be that the algorithm is meant to confuse the participants, to occupy them with deciphering the unknown and to minimise their agency, enabling further chaos and insipient implementation of neoliberal practices? It places some serious limitations on local scientists and is a clear indication of power (empowerment) and powerlessness, based on a language criterion. The list and information about how it affects the financing algorithm have reduced the value of local, Polish language publications and put greater focus on journals published in the English language, which automatically assigns higher value to publishing in English. The new list of journals that accrue points has focused on those indexed in international databases that favour publications in English: Scopus and Web of Science, Science Citation Index Expanded, Social Sciences Citation Index, Arts and Humanities Citation Index and Emerging Sources Citation Index. The new list has reduced the number of journals indexed by ERIH+ that will accrue points, which reduces academic freedom and linguistic diversity. Moreover, some journals, both Polish and external to Poland, promote policies of only citing literary sources that are available in English. The Scopus indexing database demands that all references are provided in the Latin alphabet, indirectly suggesting either transliteration (which makes the sources unreadable and difficult to find) or translation of the titles of the literature quoted. This is an example of exercising power, linguistic power.

As indicated, the reform brings considerable uncertainty that unhinges actors of all ages and their positions within the education system. Odrowaz-Coates (2019) analyses the possibility of positive outcomes of such uncertainty. Uncertainty forces organisations to create solutions. However, in practice, these solutions rarely eliminate or decrease the level of uncertainty (Boudon 1982, 68), thus increasing social conflicts within organisations. Conflicts in postindustrial societies are caused by unjust divisions of power (Boudon 1982, 69; Dahrendorf 1959), including the disparity in English language acquisition between different age cohorts in academia who are forced to produce more and more in English. Another example of this English-language domination is that publishing books in English, particularly if published abroad, is regarded much higher than publishing a book in one's own native tongue. As Odrowaz-Coates (2019) reports, "although this is useful for dissemination of knowledge and for global recognition, it devalues publications in one's own language and supports language hierarchy, positioning English at the top of the language ladder in countries aspiring to be present in global scientific discourse".

The aspiration to publish in English may be related to trends observed in most developed and wealthy countries. In a study dedicated to a review of all scientific publications in the social sciences and humanities that were published in English and in a native tongue, carried out by Kulczycki et al. (2018), it was established that in countries with high GDP and HDI such as Denmark, Finland, Flandreau and Norway, over 60% of all publications were published in English, whilst in Poland, it was only 17% (see Table 1).

The above table presents a gap between the number of English publications in the social sciences and humanities published in western and northern countries and former communist entities. It shows that Poland is lagging behind its counterparts in the proportion of publications in English. It should be mentioned that Poland is the largest country considered in this table, both in terms of territory and the number of inhabitants, and therefore is a significant player in European academia. The inwards knowledge production (in Polish language) poses the risk of running parallel to global science and not within it. There is also the risk of producing publications that are not at all connected to the Polish society, which means that academics and the public are more and more divided despite sharing a common historical, geographic and political space. Phillipson (2017) notices that English has become a globally recognised language of academic dialogue ("lingua academica") and therefore Polish scholars are forced to adjust and comply with its power.

The reforms are ongoing, and their actual implementation is tainted by their unpredictability and constant change. For instance, the requirements for career advancement and retirement age have been adjusted several times in the last five years, in a departure from the original idea to match them with those of other Western countries. Academics report confusion and misinformation on a daily basis, including high levels of uncertainty as reported by Mariusz Baranowski (2017). Universities dedicate time and resources to follow updates that are often postponed or not available within the promised timeframe (Kulczycki and Korytkowski 2018; Kulczycki, Rozkosz, and Drabek 2019). The unpredictability of the direction in which the changes will lead should be analysed in reference to the previously explained butterfly effect, and even if the effect is not visible at present, every action will have certain unpredictable consequences in the future.

For promotion to higher academic titles, the required standard has shifted several times and is now set in a way that promotes academics capable of publishing in English and able to participate in the global dialogue (Kulczycki 2019). At the time of writing, in order to be eligible to defend a doctoral thesis the requirement for a scientific publication by the candidate has been changed. The publication must now be in a journal that is indexed in Scopus or Web of Science or be a peer-reviewed book, published by a publishing house from the recently revealed ministerial list. The list of publishers on this list is far from comprehensive, which makes it difficult to decide whether to publish abroad to gain international recognition, even if the publisher is not on the list, or at home in a less globally recognised publishing house, but which is present on the list. To be considered for a PhD, a formal official language certificate certifying proficient knowledge of English is necessary, meaning that the previous, internal university qualification is no longer sufficient, and this has been replaced by a qualification that is costly to obtain.

In order to be promoted to Associate or Full Professor, candidates are required to lead an international project, participate in successful international grant applications, be included in international grant recipient teams and gain international experience abroad. The minimum requirement for staff exchange is to secure at least a one-month long placement at a foreign institution. Longer periods are considered more prestigious, which adds a burden to single parents and parents of small children. Candidates must provide a paper highlighting their scientific achievements and discoveries written not only in Polish but also in English. Candidates must also demonstrate a strong publication record in English, with an emphasis on foreign journals with a high Impact Factor (IF). The goalposts are set high and are not matched with appropriate training, organisational culture, past experience or funding. In fact, the funding for universities has been modified in a way that favours the largest universities and penalises smaller players. The single discipline academic institutions, despite the new publication-based assessments assigned to disciplines, will lose out, since they may be unable to diversify their programmes enough to be considered interdisciplinary and will not meet the new requirements for offering doctoral studies (cf. Kulczycki and Korytkowski 2018).

The government tried to secure support for the reforms among younger academics through a number of measures, especially with the promise of a pay rise. Although those in the lower pay bands received an increase in their salary, middle- and higher-ranking academics were left behind and there is still a considerable pay gap in relation to their Western counterparts even when the costs of living are considered (NUMBEO 2018). Funding for research has been channelled to the largest players and smaller entities have been slowly pushed to either find money for research elsewhere or to become more oriented towards teaching and less towards combining scientific work with teaching practice. In both cases, knowledge of English has become more and more desirable, if not essential. This is driven by the market economy and the interests of global players. Universities are now expected to seek external funding and critics see that willingly or not they become "outsourced R&D [research and development] departments of the biggest corporations. By these means government intends to tighten the relations between universities and businesses" (Pilat 2018). The Polish minister Jaroslaw Gowin has expressed this desire on many occasions; for example, he stated that the reforms aim to "construct an innovative economy and universities have to provide it with innovative research as well as innovative employees" (Pilat 2018).

 

Arguments for Discussion

Although this article is based on the Polish socio-political realm and is therefore country specific and incidental, it is not an isolated case. In the North American context, Giroux (2019, 111) writes about "increasing isolation of academics and intellectuals from the world around them, reflecting corporate culture's power to define pedagogy as a technical and instrumental practice", which leads to obscuring the fact that culture is indeed a terrain of politics and struggle. For years, Giroux has been one of the icons of a critical approach to neoliberalism and its impact on education. He says, "schools more closely resemble either malls or jails, and teachers, forced to get revenue for their school by adopting market values, increasingly function as circus barkers, hawking everything from hamburgers to pizza parties-that is, when they are not reduced to prepping students to take standardized tests ... Citizenship has increasingly become a function of consumerism" (Giroux 2019, 193). Furthermore, Giroux often writes and talks about an epidemic of forgetfulness and an increasing endorsement of amnesia about historic backgrounds, moral roots and political seeds in many well-established democracies in the world. Giroux highlights, once again, the role of educators in democratic societies and the requirements for them to maintain a critical approach, promote civic literacy and not be used to damage the ideals and values of democracy, but instead to create critical thinkers that provide resistance against the forces that impend democracy (cf. Giroux 2019, 374). The democratically elected decision makers that are shaping higher education in Poland seem to use chaos as a tool to increase their power and control over the academic world. The academic world is more haunted than ever by internal conflicts and a lack of solidarity between colleagues at different organisational levels. The element of chaos and surprise relies on the fact that multiple elements central to the reforms are as yet unknown and "in process". There are delays and occasional misinformation, which enhance the feelings of uncertainty. The delays are frustrating for academics and misleading with regard to where they should try to publish their research findings. It is now apparent that many leading publishing houses in the global scientific community will have no meaning for Polish writers if they are not on the ministerial list. Assigning journals to disciplines has destroyed the principles of interdisciplinarity, which was advocated by the government at the beginning of the reforms and is still required in some areas, such as running a doctoral school. This gained considerable support from the academics who are now confused and disappointed about what followed. This interdisciplinary promise raised the hopes of many young scholars who believed that they would benefit from the diversity of research outcomes cutting across disciplinary boundaries. In fact, the new policy of strict assignment of journals to disciplines, and therefore scholars to disciplines, creates a limiting ambient with clearly defined disciplinary borders that will have a limiting effect on cooperation not only locally, but more importantly, with international research networks.

To enrich the chaos argument in the Polish higher education context, Abrahamson and Freedman's theory (2007) may be apt. They use a metaphor to describe chaos in academic circles, jokingly claiming that universities are safe havens for messy desk owners, as messy desks are considered to show creativity and academics are perhaps led to believe that the more one piles on one's desk, the higher one's reputation. This chaotic space is however usually systematised into some sort of order, which often disappears when the overwhelming amount of accumulated paper grows beyond what is manageable. This is an apt analogy for chaos in higher education, in reference to the constant change and its bureaucratic manifestation. However, Abrahamson and Freedman aim simply to show that chaotic systems are highly supple, flexible enough to change rapidly, efficient in improvising and able to harmonise with the environment they operate in. These are qualities that neoliberalism feeds on. Can this be an element of hope? Is it possible that the chaos experienced by those involved with higher education in Poland may truly lead to surprisingly positive outcomes? It is impossible to predict the answer at this point in time. From the perspective of critical pedagogy, flexibility is a characteristic tool for the implementation of neoliberalism. In order to be successful, flexible participants in the "game" adapt to market demands, absorbing responsibility from powerful agents that should be held accountable for the chaos they evoked.

 

Final Remarks

Giroux acknowledges that state intervention in education systems has become a primary concern for critical pedagogues (Giroux 2019, 33). Since 1983, Giroux has continually questioned whether state intervention in education is subservient to neocapitalism, explaining how the state reproduces relationships between dominant and dominated classes, supported by international solidarity based on class. He claims that schools and universities play a significant role in the political interest of economic elites. He focuses on government funding for educational research programmes that is politically aimed to favour hard sciences and to "further the economic interests of the dominant classes" (Giroux 2019, 37). In this case the dominant classes are the political, decision-making governmental elites responsible for higher education reforms. The critical lens of enquiry draws from chaos theory to frame the current state interventions in the Polish higher education system. In conclusion, the outcomes of the state interventions are as yet unpredictable. Chaos in education may be seen as destructive. Can it also create new opportunities for non-linear, creative thinking, innovative solutions to problems and help to overturn archaic systems of power? It remains to be seen whether the higher education reforms in Poland, depicted as an embodiment of chaos theories, will accelerate Polish education's rise to a higher level internationally, which is the claimed intention behind the reforms. What is certain is that the reforms embrace a linguistic shift, oriented towards an increased use of the English language, which is empowering for some and disempowering for others, creating new dependencies and disestablishing existing power structures.

 

Biographical Note

The author of this article is the Chairholder of the UNESCO Janusz Korczak Chair in Social Pedagogy at the Maria Grzegorzewska University in Warsaw, Poland (unescochair@aps.edu.pl).

 

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Ministry of Science and Higher Education. 2019c. "Komunikat ministra nauki i szkolnictwa wyzszego z dnia 31 lipca 2019 r. w sprawie wykazu czasopism naukowych i recenzowanych materialów z konferencji wraz z przypisana liczba punktów". [Decree regarding the list of scientific journals and reviewed materials from international conferences together with the assigned number of points]. July 31, 2019. Accessed March 6, 2020. https://www.bip.nauka.gov.pl/akty-prawne-mnisw/komunikat-ministra-nauki-i-szkolnictwa-wyzszego-z-dnia-31-lipca-2019-r-w-sprawie-wykazu-czasopism-naukowych-i-recenzowanych-materialow-z-konferencji-miedzynarodowych-wraz-z-przypisana-liczba-punktow.html.

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1 See the comprehensive report on the Polish education system by Eurydice (Kolanowska 2018).
2 GUS is the Governmental Main Statistical Office in Poland.
3 For the latest laws on evaluation, see Ministry of Science and Higher Education (2019a).

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ARTICLES

 

Between the Vision of Yesterday and the Reality of Today: Forging a Pedagogy of Possibility

 

 

Salim Vally

University of Johannesburg, South Africa svally@uj.ac.za. https://orcid.org/0000-0001-9156-1775

 

 


ABSTRACT

In this article I discuss the vision of education for liberation during the antiapartheid struggle in South Africa. The article focuses specifically on "People's Education" and "Workers' Education". Instead of an instrumental role for education reduced solely to the labour market requirements of business, economic growth and international competitiveness, I argue that the purpose of education is much broader. Embedded in a rich tradition of an educational praxis based on social justice and democratic citizenship, the popular movements associated with people's and workers' education generated alternatives to apartheid's legacy on education. In contemporary South Africa, this apartheid legacy is exacerbated by post-apartheid policies rooted in neoliberalism. While post-1994 education policies established the legislative framework for social justice, equity and adequate resources remain unattainable and elusive. In the face of the desultory state of schooling and the failures of neoliberalism, the article takes issue with the proffered solutions advocated by proponents of neoliberalism, including strident calls for the privatisation of education and resorting back to an apartheid-like disciplinary regime. In forging a pedagogy of possibility, social class analysis and effective community participation in education policy deliberations would need to be reinserted into the conversations about redress and education reform if the country is to overcome its inequalities and social cleavages. To this end, alternatives and possibilities raised during the struggle against apartheid are reiterated, re-examined and offered as prisms through which an alternative education can be practised.

Keywords: education policy; neoliberalism; privatisation; social class; community; alternatives


 

 

Introduction1

South African activist-scholar Neville Alexander often mentioned the biblical axiom, "Where there is no vision, the people perish" (Alexander 2013, 22). He considered the aphorism one of "the most insightful and profound tenets" (22) of the Cape African Teachers' Association, an organisation that inspired him in his youth to activism, and that influenced his abiding interest in education. Alexander used the line from Proverbs 29 whenever he expressed indignation at the social malaise he witnessed. In his posthumously published book, Thoughts on the New South Africa (Alexander 2013, 39), he wrote:

Our real concerns are the palpable signs of social breakdown all around us: the ever more examples of greed and corruption involving public figures, who are expected to be the role models for our youth; the unspeakable abuse of children, of the aged and of women; the smug dishonesty, indiscipline and slothfulness of those who are paid to render public services ... the unthinkable violence in so many communities; the abuse of drugs ... the trashing of the public health system; in short the general mayhem and apparently suicidal chaos that ordinary people experience in their daily life.

He lamented, "[s]uddenly, as though by some sleight of hand, our role models changed. Far from the cooperative, street committee, shop-steward, comradely ethos that had made the country both ungovernable and irreversibly democratic, we were, and are, enjoined to be 'like them', like the entrepreneurial, individualistic whiz-kids of the neoliberal epoch" (2013, 42). Rebuking those responsible, he believed that "they have lost us the moral high ground, even the bit of it that we seemed to occupy for a few brief moments after Madiba's [Nelson Mandela's] release from prison" (2013, 43).

The Vision of Education for Liberation

The vision Alexander referred to existed in the stirring and fearless years of the 1970s, including the watershed moment of the 1976 Uprising, certainly in the maelstrom years of the 1980s and even in the expectant early 1990s before it began to ebb away.

In fact, Enver Motala and I explained in our book Education, Economy and Society (Vally and Motala 2014) that all the South African educationists of the past that we venerate today such as I.B. Tabata, A.C. Jordan, Rick Turner, Ruth First, Archie Mafeje, Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe, Zeph Mothopeng, Fatima Meer, Dennis Brutus, Mathew Goniwe, Abu Asvat and numerous others representing the diverse traditions in the broad liberation movement had a very different vision of the society that exists today (Vally and Motala 2014, 16):

Their legacy gave rise to vibrant and vital education social movements in South Africa. They believed in a purposeful education which recognises that the role of education and training also crucially involves understanding the values and belief systems in society, rebutting "race", gender, ethnic and other stereotypes; the ability to evaluate ideas and systems critically, for transformative and critical thinking; the ability to communicate socially and to work for oneself and for society, and indeed to stimulate "intellectual curiosity". One which saw the potential role of education and training systems, in which a framework for state-directed support for working class and poor communities can be achieved and where a wide range of socially useful activities exist.

This is not the banal, reductive paradigm that is today the hallmark of the dominant approach drowning out important ideas on education and society, including the development of a socially conscious and critical citizenry. The neoliberal approach to education centres on the commodification of education and the privileging of subjects, programmes and disciplines that largely benefit business at the expense of the arts, humanities and the social sciences. The "efficient" and "effective" delivery of education and other services are also left to market mechanisms such as privatisation for their resolution. This proposed "market solution" to our education crisis, even with state regulation, is less a case of a pragmatic attempt at resolving the problem than a case of ideological wishful thinking.

Privatisation does not solve the problems in education; rather, it makes them worse (Spreen, Stark, and Vally 2014). Neoliberal globalisation's narrow focus on business and the market system continues to undermine and distort the purposes of good quality public education. It has the potential to negate the struggles for a fair, just and humane society, substituting for these unaccountable and avaricious global autocracies based on the power of money. If there is to be any hope of achieving the goal of a democratic and humane society, then abandoning the public mandate of the state is not an option.

Following from a history of struggle against apartheid, the purpose and the value of education are much broader, and as our history shows are linked to a rich legacy of educational praxis based on social justice and democratic citizenship. This purpose and this value cannot be reduced solely to the needs of economic growth and international competitiveness as neoliberalism attempts to do. Clearly, knowledge, skills and the competencies derived from education and training are critically important for all societies and for the well-being of nations. However, the reduction of their value to the labour market needs of employers, to the exclusion of their wider societal purposes such as meeting the aspirations for social justice, human rights and the promotion of the cultural life of communities, is a serious limitation on their social role.

South Africa has a proud legacy of education for liberation comprising a history of resistance in and through education. This resistance generated popular epistemologies and pedagogies including the "people's education movement", "workers' education", the "popular adult and/ or community education movement", and "education with production".

This is not self-indulgent struggle nostalgia or romance, but to show that alternatives and possibilities arise out of concrete engagement in social struggles. In History's Schools: Past Struggles and Present Realities (Choudry and Vally 2019), mention is made of Svetlana Boym's distinction between critical or reflective nostalgia, and a nostalgia that sees itself uncritically as truth and tradition and which includes nationalist myth making.

 

People's Education

In the 1980s up to the early 1990s the concept of People's Education, in contrast to the apartheid education system, captured the imagination of many South Africans. The concept promised liberation from an authoritarian and unequal education system and in its place one that could provide an alternative and a basis for a future democratic system. It was defined variously as "an educational movement, a vehicle for political mobilisation, an alternative philosophy, or a combination of all three" (Motala and Vally 2002, 174).

Significantly, a forerunner to the People's Education movement of the 1980s was the ideas and methods of the Brazilian educator, Paulo Freire. Freire's ideas were introduced to the University Christian Movement and, through it, to the South African Students' Organisation (SASO) as early as 1970. Freire's books were banned by the apartheid state, but hundreds of copied versions of The Pedagogy of the Oppressed (Freire 2005) were clandestinely distributed at black universities and "eagerly studied by the young activists of the Black Consciousness Movement" (Alexander 1992, 22). SASO students and others applied Freire's ideas to many literacy and other conscientisation projects in urban townships and rural areas. Freire's pedagogy appealed to educational activists and theorists because his anti-capitalist social theory accorded with the experience of and the insights at which the education activists in the liberation movement had increasingly arrived. The Brazilian's pedagogy arose out of conditions similar to those that obtained in South Africa. Also, the specific organisation of the struggle in the late 1970s and especially in the 1980s as a grassroots movement anchored in groups and projects in the "community" brought with it a sensitivity about democratic principles. This sensitivity, reinforced by Freire's pedagogy, became integral to the practice of People's Education.

People's Education was seen as the means to build alternative governance. The emphasis on democratic governance resonated with Student Representative Councils and Parent-Teacher-Student Associations (PTSAs)-different from the functioning of present-day School Governing Bodies. The concept of democracy, access and equity emerged in the call for a unitary anti-racist and anti-sexist schooling system, an end to sexual harassment and corporal punishment, better resource provisioning, different curricula and free compulsory education.

From the mid-1980s, supporters of People's Education were not only concerned with the transformation of schools, they also provided the impetus for the formation of hundreds of non-governmental education organisations and actively challenged academics and the academy around three key areas: "1) accountability within the university and communities around them; 2) implementing People's Education in the universities themselves; and 3) support for developing People's Education in schools through the production of alternative courses and teaching methods" (Motala and Vally 2002, 183).

Chisholm and Fuller (1996) argued that radical interpretations of People's Education remained dominant throughout the better part of the 1980s. However, liberal views on education gained cachet from the beginning of negotiations between the African National Congress (ANC) and the apartheid regime in the early 1990s (Chisholm and Fuller 1996). The role of civil society organisations and even the language of People's Education became increasingly marginal to the overall project of educational change. Discourse and content were prioritised rather than radical demands; that is, the focus shifted from social engagement and democratising power relations to demands that emphasised performance, outcomes, cost effectiveness and economic competitiveness.

 

Workers' Education

Similar to the invaluable education through activism in the South African Students' Movement (the high school counterpart to SASO), union education has left an enduring and endearing impression about the importance of non-formal education. Back then in the 1970s and early 1980s, social movements and political activism evolved into sites of learning and of knowledge production with long-lasting educative consequences.

A significant feature in the early 1980s was that some of the key shop stewards were involved in the 1976 Uprising. Informal education took place in the shop-steward councils. Later, education committees linked to these councils were also formed (Vally 1994). Influenced by the expansion of the political struggle from the early 1980s, workers began to shape and influence the nature of the struggle. This period saw the growth of militant civic, youth, and student struggles in which workers became increasingly involved. Through their informal learning experience as well as the intensive education carried out in shop-steward councils and in community forums, worker leaders gained confidence to engage with their unions' leadership on contested organisational and political issues.

The leadership of independent unions stood out because of their willingness to be accountable to their membership. The rank-and-file membership played an active role in the campaigns and decision-making processes of the unions. Political militancy as well as success in redressing the day-to-day grievances of the membership characterised the union movement. Education intervention was geared towards mass collective involvement in recruiting members, producing militancy and laying the basis for building strong democratic organisations by providing the skills necessary for this.

It is essential to include as education the day-to-day struggles of workers-the grievances, disputes, strikes and how they were handled. In short, the realities of life, struggle and employment, which Marx called the harsh and hardening school of labour, are equally to be understood as educative. It is in this area that experiential learning took place (Vally, Bofelo, and Treat 2013). The strike, solidarity actions and workplace occupations were perhaps the most important learning moments.

Established traditions of participatory democracy, accountability, worker leadership and mass action as well as a critique of capitalism were brought by rank-and-file workers to community organisation. Community and school struggles for a People's Education were accompanied by the development of worker education. Unsurprisingly, unions were referred to not only as schools of labour but also as laboratories of democracy, where workers could test new ideas, arrive at new understandings and enrich collective practices (Vally 1994). An intellectual embrace was in the making: "Workers searched memory, each other, history, the world, political texts, for ideas and knowledge, bringing everything into their intellectual embrace" (Grossman quoted in Cooper et al. 2002, 120).

As a consequence of the dominant politics leading up to the negotiated settlement in 1994, the trade union leadership in the late 1980s and early 1990s changed its adversarial vision towards a quest for an equal partnership with business and government. These changes were to have a significant impact on worker education. The priorities, forms of delivery, and key target audiences of trade union education shifted. The labour movement also increasingly became involved in workplace training issues guided by a new commitment to increased productivity (Cooper et al. 2002, 123).

Today, workers' education is a shell of its former self. This decline, with some notable exceptions, must be situated within a wider socio-economic crisis manifested in unprecedented inequality, high levels of unemployment, retrenchments and conditions of precarious work integral to the post-apartheid state's neoliberal trajectory over the past 25 years.

Many in the trade union leadership are also implicated in diminishing worker education through a combination of business unionism, bureaucratisation, malfeasance, the sacrificing of internal trade union democracy, and the promotion of a narrow, "human capital" approach to education dependent upon private providers of education and "skills" training (Koen et al. 2018).

I argue that the nature of the negotiated settlement between the erstwhile dominant liberation movement (the African National Congress) and the apartheid regime (the National Party), the continuation of the class character of the state (despite the normative discourse of human rights and development), and the uncontested absorption of South Africa into a global market economy ruptured the education principles and practices established by civil society, trade unions and social movements in the 1970s to the early 1990s. To locate and to understand the present reality, including inequalities, means locating the straightjacket of dominant class relations and the class formation of the present state. Understanding these social processes will reveal why the once dominant education vision in the liberation movement, although co-opted rhetorically and institutionalised, does not translate into tangible benefits for the majority of the poor.

After 1994, education activists had expected the new political order to usher in a more equitable education system. They hoped that a better education system was in the offing because a democratic government would respond to the needs of ordinary people. Boosting this hope was a plethora of educational legislation that was passed by the new South African parliament. The prevailing and misplaced assumption was that after the 1994 elections the new political dispensation would automatically translate into a better society and educational system. But this was not to be. Most of the active participants in these education social movements during apartheid were demobilised in the early 1990s. Ballard (2005) has shown that this phenomenon of demobilisation is not unique, and Mamdani has warned of the postcolonial "marriage between technicism and nationalism", resulting in the demobilisation of social movements (Mamdani 1996, 21). While the hope for change from above was misplaced, by 1998 civil society had begun to move from a sense of disillusionment and powerlessness to a situation where it tentatively began to reassert itself. It took four years before social movements were reconstituted, in part in response to the neoliberal macroeconomic policies of the government's Growth, Employment and Redistribution Strategy (GEAR) in 1996.

In commenting on early policy developments, I co-authored an article sardonically titled "In the Shadow of GEAR: Between the Scylla of a Blurred Vision and the Charybdis of Obstructed Implementation" (Vally and Spreen 2003). In our view, the crisis could not be blamed on poor implementation alone. Moreover, the technically rational search for best practice innovations, which were "cost-effective" or "efficient", did no more than tinker with the fundamental educational and social problems in question. Further, the rationale that "the policies are fine we should just get implementation done" ignored the mainsprings of a system and its policies that maintained, reproduced and often exacerbated inequalities.

 

The Poverty and Inequality Hearings and the Education Rights Project

My early research while based at the University of the Witwatersrand's Education Policy Unit involved convening the education component of the Poverty and Inequality Hearings-an initiative of Chapter Nine institutions and civil society modelled on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. I was also tasked with conducting research on racism, "racial integration" and desegregation. This was commissioned by the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) and involved over 100 schools. Both these endeavours provided compelling reasons why I have maintained in all my research outputs an explicit focus on the relationships between power, knowledge and the state in education, and the need to grapple with issues of class, "race", gender and spatial stratification in education and society. In essence the SAHRC report showed that the handling of desegregation in most South African schools was firmly rooted within the assimilationist framework and a narrow multiculturalist model (Vally and Dalamba 1999). Many egregious instances of racism were found but also that the shadow of apartheid ideology (Carrim, Makwanazi, and Nkomo 1993) continued to cast its gloom, no longer through racially explicit policies, but by proxy and exclusions such as language restrictions, spatial segregation and high fees-all related to social class. What happens outside the school gates will inevitably affect the gains made in schools. Although the report recommended 10 key concrete and achievable interventions, none of those were implemented.

Over 10 000 people attended hearings, mobilised communities or made submissions to the Poverty and Inequality Hearings organised by the South African National NGO Coalition (SANGOCO) in 1998. These submissions ranged from carefully worded, logically argued views of research organisations to the poignant testimonies of some of the most marginalised.

While the poor identified key obstacles preventing the eradication of poverty, and while the convenors of the Poverty and Inequality Hearings arranged a list of responsibilities for government officials in order to ensure that the fight to end poverty becomes the nation's priority, the hearings arrived at a cul-de-sac and state officials' promises did not materialise.

My shift towards research on education rights, community participation and transformation is related to my role as coordinator of the Education Rights Project (ERP). During this time, I interacted with several hundred communities around education rights. Many of these impoverished communities, assisted by the ERP, used participatory action research to strengthen their campaigns. The ERP also collaborated with public litigation organisations around specific issues such as the cost of school education and user fees.

Fine's (2009, 186) description of the inner cities of the US where there exist "thick desires, to be educated or to educate, to work in ways that are meaningful, to engage with politics, to be treated with respect, and to speak with voices that will be heard" also applies to poor and working-class communities of South Africa. These working-class voices help us understand failures of policy and implementation, as Apple and Beane (1999, 120) suggested, outside their "glossy political rhetoric and place them in the gripping details of everyday life". These voices underline education rights, and that these rights cannot be divorced from wider socio-economic rights.

Research undertaken by Appadurai (2006) has also shown that the exercise of rights cannot be achieved when conditions deny citizens their right to be heard and the freedoms associated with the right to participation in public life. The research also underlines the importance of rights awareness and the kind of human rights education that stresses the indivisible nature of human rights and the interconnectedness between education, economic, social and political rights.

The collaboration between the academy and communities whose education rights are being systematically violated is an integral part of the work to democratise education. This collaboration has, in a limited way, given communities the tools to inform, direct, own and use research to claim their space and voice. The research and experience of the ERP with community members also showed that the omission and elision of social class and community will continue to impoverish education policy and practice.

But the discourse of normative rights, often championed as the mainstay of South African public institutions and the Constitution, has often served to promote the fictitious idea that the limitations of rights are solely a legal and justiciable phenomenon in effecting redress and equity. It is premised on the assumption that certain rights exist for all in an equal way. This inhibits people's ability to recognise when they are in fact illusory and why society does not act to protect these rights. For example, a single mother in one of South Africa's dusty townships or impoverished rural areas cannot be said to have the same power of political persuasion or opportunity compared with a suburban corporate executive. These are real distinctions that give some people advantages and privileges over others.

As previously mentioned, education rights cannot be divorced from wider socioeconomic rights. Confronting patterns of inequality and social exclusion may go some distance in achieving curricular goals and the rights of citizens. It is also necessary to caution against an uncritical use of human rights instruments without applying them to pedagogical practice, an over-reliance on legal experts, and ignoring the agency, struggles and activism of rights claimants and holders. Legal mechanisms and human rights instruments are better understood within the larger realities of power and social relations (see Madlingozi 2006; Spreen and Vally 2006; Vally, Thapliyal, and Spreen 2013; Zembylas and Keet 2018).

The state of education may be characterised by rampant fiscal profligacy, the dismal state of infrastructure and facilities in many of our schools, and the perceived abysmal performance of our learners. While a mélange of new official policies on every conceivable aspect of education exists and racially based laws have been removed from the statutes, the education system continues to reflect and to reproduce the inequalities in society. Access to schooling has increased and there is gender parity, but quality education for the poor, which in South Africa's unequal society are the majority of the population, remains elusive. Although a minority of schools in South Africa can favourably compare with the best in the world, quality education remains unequally distributed along social class, racial and spatial lines.

After 1994, policy changes have occurred, but have these policies resulted in meaningful changes? The stubborn reality persists: the education system continues to be based on social class. In the post-apartheid era, education, far from becoming the great leveller, in fact continues to reproduce inequalities in society. Another change has been that, as in other areas of society, a small layer of black people from the middle class has been added to those who were erstwhile beneficiaries and continue to be today.

Towards the end of 2008, the Public Participation in Education Network (PPEN) was launched. PPEN, an action-oriented group of educationalists, declared in its "Call to Action" that the failures in education had induced cynicism among various communities and even among educators, school managers and other public officials. PPEN drew attention to the pervasive sense of powerlessness and loss of hope about the possibility of meaningful outcomes for society. It asserted that schools were not failing individually; rather, the corporatised state was failing them collectively.

Alexander discussed ways of reversing this trend and identified a few key omissions and mistakes, including the failure to move away from the spatial apartheid location of schools that perpetuates racial and class divisions, the inadequate professional development of teachers, and the "blind spot of language policy" in schools (Alexander 2010).

Alongside Alexander's commentaries, other educationalists have also written about post-apartheid education. They include writings on educational management, school governance, curriculum, language, assessment, equity, teacher education, professional development and support, early childhood development, and adult basic education (Chisholm 2004; Motala and Pampallis 2001; Sayed and Jansen 2001; Tikly 2011; Vally and Motala 2014). Early on, it was realised that education, while a necessary condition, cannot on its own address the social problems society has to confront. It is not a panacea.

The failure of the public education system to provide quality education for the majority of learners has given rise to recidivism, the crude resort to an apartheid-like disciplinary regime and the privatisation of education. Failure by the state to implement its own policies has resulted in many analysts incorrectly blaming what they consider an all too powerful human rights culture for undermining discipline and respect for authority, as they understand it. This often involves, for example, the nostalgic call for a return to authoritarianism characterised by the "fundamental pedagogics of didactic and choral recitation", "talk-and-chalk" rote learning, corporal punishment and blaming teachers and learners (and not systemic inequality) for educational shortcomings. While self-discipline and accountability to the community are essential, learner-centred practices need not undermine but could instead enhance respect and self-discipline in the classroom.

The move by the state to introduce "Outcomes Based Education" (OBE), which was introduced as an incredibly complex and grandiose curricular approach, helped create a climate where the only things that matter are those that can be measured. There was the view that teachers in poorer communities had to be creative in "mustering additional resources and inventing alternatives", but without adequate training and resources to sustain their initiatives this was akin to providing teachers with "a lamp and three wishes", thus ironically OBE largely benefitted teachers in well-resourced schools (Spreen and Vally 2010, 434).

Attempts by the post-1994 South African state to ensure educational redress are hampered by the very high rates of child poverty. According to the University of Cape Town's Children's Institute (Hall 2018, 140), in 2017, 65% of children lived below the upper-bound poverty line. Although prolific in quantity and rich in their theoretical and analytical contributions, many volumes of educational analyses leave a major gap in understanding policy in practice. Regardless of how enlightened a curriculum might be or how motivated teachers are, none of this will matter if a child comes to the classroom hungry. Empty bellies cannot sustain policies. By obscuring this simple reality, we miss the real issue.

There are those who complain that we are not getting "bang for our buck" and spending too much money on education without the requisite "returns" (The Economist 2017). While it is true that much of the money from the country's fiscus does not reach the intended beneficiaries, it is not simply a question of throwing money at the problem- wastage and corruption must be addressed. Today, the majority of South Africa's public schools are without libraries, many are overcrowded and there is a backlog for buildings, capital expenditure and school maintenance.

Besides expanding on the elision of social class, my work examines the role of local education activism in South Africa, a relatively under-researched area largely ignored by mainstream education policy theorists. I argue that educational reforms seeking to address social cleavages should be accompanied by a wider range of redistributive strategies, democratic participation, political will and clear choices about the social outcomes that policy interventions seek to achieve.

My doctoral study tried to make sense of many of these issues and the paradox that while post-apartheid education policies established the formal basis for social justice and equity through legislation, in reality these goals remain unattainable and elusive (Vally 2013). The thesis suggests that what has been missing from most analyses of transitional policymaking in South Africa is a careful examination of social class, and particularly how and why social movements and social actors on the ground, who were initially central to policy formulation and critique, became largely marginalised once policies were institutionalised. The trajectory of the latter trend, which is related to the class nature of the post-apartheid state and the political economy of the transition from apartheid to democracy, is explored in detail in the study.

My view is that the elision of social class analysis in educational policy forums, combined with a lack of meaningful community participation, has contributed to the failure to address and overcome the profound inequalities and social cleavages that characterise the South African education system. The doctoral thesis sought to disrupt the dichotomies between formal and informal educational arrangements, the public and private spheres, and cultural and political spaces. The role of localised education activism in South Africa has been under-researched and largely ignored by mainstream education policy theorists.

Despite the lacunae in policy research, some good work has been done. In 2004, Lewis and Naidoo explored the relationship between decentralisation, democracy and participation. Their article discussed the limitations of decentralisation as a way of solving problems of democratic participation. They argued that School Governing Bodies largely serve to reinforce existing patterns of power and privilege in schools and in the broader society. They concluded by asserting that the technocratic character of school governance in South Africa makes it inaccessible to the majority of its communities and disempowers the poor. More broadly, Hemson (2007, 9) examined the often repeated view by government officials that there are formal processes laid down in policy and statutes for participation, but argued that these are validly regarded by social movements as non-existent or ineffective and that "existing formal democratic structures of society are not opening public decision-making to the historically dispossessed". Similarly, a study of community experiences where attempts were made to engage with local municipalities in development planning and policy processes found that "insufficient consideration has been paid to public participation, and that existing policy frameworks, institutional mechanisms and programme interventions are failing to comply with government's constitutional and statutory obligations in this regard" (Buccus et al. 2008, 1). The latter study found that the "poor and marginalized have the least impact on policy and development planning" and new approaches to participation are required since the existing formal mechanisms are "inadequate, inaccessible and disempowering" (2008, 11). It also revealed that the ward committees or community public meetings (called Izimbizo), through which legislation allows for "public participation", were instead forms of consultation widely seen as formalities, rather than the actual participation of local communities in decision-making or implementation.

Solutions towards addressing the numerous problems in education require the voice, knowledge, experience and information gathered by locally based social movements. Here, the vital advice for critical educators to graft "shouts and whispers of resistance onto a wide-angle landscape that links political and cultural economies to everyday life in school and community" (Anyon 2005, 34) is pertinent. I hold the view that educational reforms seeking to address social cleavages should be accompanied by redistributive strategies and democratic participation.

 

Social Class and "Race"

Foregrounding class and community concepts in theorising and in understanding education policy in the South African context would go some distance in grappling with contemporary education. Apart from Linda Chisholm's book, Changing Class (2004), scant attention has been paid directly to issues of social class in education over the past 25 years.

Elsewhere in an article on class, "race" and the state in post-apartheid education (Motala and Vally 2010, 93), we remarked that "throughout the period of the 1970s up to the early 90s, debate about class analysis characterised a vast array of writings including historical studies, sociology, political science and economic analysis in particular". We regretted the fact that social class as an analytical and conceptual category "has been a casualty of the post-apartheid period" (2010, 93).

Postmodern theory, in vogue during the late 1990s and early 2000s, was used as a justification for the retreat from class analysis, and it was made even more seductive by its coincidence with the illusionary "miracle of the New South Africa". Intellectual complicity contributed to the erasure of class as an analytical category, often consciously and disparagingly. Archaic public and academic voices representing capitalist interests, and without any reference to class, spoke to the "non-ideological" reforms needed to build education. A return to the "true values" of social democracy was called for, as if these voices were not ideological. In my view, a decline of the educational scholarship based on class started to take root, and the self-censorship imposed by scholars on any work that overtly recognised the importance of social class took precedence.

But this self-censorship is not meant to imply that racial and gender issues were mere distractions from basic issues of inequality. The view of the Trinidadian C.L.R. James, quoted in Walter Rodney's seminal work, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (1983, 100), is apposite here:

The race question is subsidiary to the class question in politics, and to think of imperialism in terms of race is disastrous. But to neglect the racial factor as merely incidental is an error only less grave than to make it fundamental.

Racist policies and strategies, for capitalist accumulation and for engendering social conflict, are used by the ruling classes of hegemonic states such as the United States to advance their global exploitative interests. Their manufactured ideas about "race" (and other such discursive categories) have acquired powerful meanings in the public consciousness, in global politics and in the control over resources. Not surprisingly, grappling with the relationship between these social categories is not limited to South Africa. John Saul (2006, 64-65) wrote:

Himani Bannerji has underscored the "absurdity" of attempting to see "identity and difference as historical forms of consciousness unconnected to class formation, development of capital and class politics. " But in doing so she also emphasizes the impossibility of considering class itself outside the gendering (and "race-ing") that so often significantly characterizes it in the concrete.

 

Towards a Pedagogy of Possibilities

Given the desultory state of public education, calls for the privatisation of schools in all their permutations are receiving greater resonance. Advocates of right-wing reform in South Africa such as the Free Market Foundation, the South African Institute of Race Relations and the Centre for Development Enterprise stridently advocate proposals ranging from outright privatisation of education and the withdrawal of the state to various versions of market-friendly policies (Vally and Motala 2014). In opposing these proposals, Thandika Mkandawire, adapting Gramsci's famous aphorism, refers to this predatory maneuvering as "[t]he pessimism of the diagnosis and the optimism of the prescription" (quoted in Muller 2012).

Policy makers and analysts in South Africa tend to import and borrow policies and their prescriptions largely from Europe and North America, regardless of the vastly differing histories, contexts and circumstances. In effect, although many of the borrowed policies have been shown to be ineffective in the very countries of their provenance, they continue to be purveyed as policies useful to development elsewhere. Such policy borrowing is fostered not only through the work of "expert" consultants but also by "native" researchers who have little regard for the critical literature on this issue. One consequence is that South Africa has seen a mushrooming of private schools in recent years. Increasingly, public money subsidises private schooling (Vally 2018).

Privatisation is poor public policy, and Klees's (2020, 15) caution is relevant here:

Thirty+ years of neoliberal policies have often left public schools over-crowded, with poorly trained teachers, few learning materials, dilapidated facilities, and often not close by. It is no wonder that some parents opt out. However, while it is rational for disadvantaged individuals to sometimes send their children to private schools, it is poor public policy-it serves only a few, it increases inequality, it ignores the public interest, it neglects public schools, and it devalues teachers. Privatization is said to meet the growing education gap (which resulted from years of attack on the public sector), but all it does is replace an attempt to develop good public policy with the vagaries of charity or the narrowmindedness of profit-making.

For advocates of neoliberal globalisation, the virtues of business and of the so-called "free market" system are the mantra of their new world order. These advocates continue to undermine and distort the purposes of good quality public education. They have the potential to negate the struggles for a fair, just and humane society, substituting for these unaccountable and avaricious global autocracies based on the power of money.

In light of capital's moves to configure the world in its own image, education activists cannot abandon the public mandate of the state if we are to have any hope of achieving a society free of corruption, accountable public services that promote decent employment and socially useful work, the provision of public goods and the development of a genuinely democratic society. And, for public education to work, we need motivated, professional and happy educators, competent managers and state officials, adequate resources and infrastructure, and a conducive community environment that addresses the social context and consequences of poverty and proper enforcement of standards.

The corporate agenda is not limited to schools. Our book, Universities and Social Justice (Choudry and Vally 2020), discusses the trend around the world. Here, I will mention the issues in broad outline. Universities face renewed privatisation, intensive marketisation, and a challenge to the very notion of the university as a mechanism for addressing social inequality and facilitating the circulation of knowledge.

The late Toni Morrison (1993) presciently and lyrically counselled some time ago during her Nobel Prize acceptance speech:

There will be more of the language of surveillance disguised as research; of politics and history calculated to render the suffering of millions mute; ... arrogant pseudo-empirical language crafted to lock creative people into cages of inferiority and hopelessness ... whether it is the proud but calcified language of the academy or the commodity driven language of science; ... It is the language that laps vulnerabilities, tucks its fascist boots under crinolines of respectability and patriotism as it moves relentlessly toward the bottom line and the bottomed out mind ... [It] cannot permit new knowledge or encourage the mutual exchange of ideas.

In the face of mass unemployment, aligning skills to the competitive global "new knowledge economy" has become the obsession of most nation states. Solidarity and learning that address the self to public life, and social responsibility to robust public participation and democratic citizenship are marginalised. Subjects and disciplines that have a purchase in the marketplace are valued more highly.

An increasing number of university administrations ardently promote the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution or 4IR (Maharajh 2018). Technology and the development of technological skills are important, but as Bell (2019, 2) cautions, "not within the existing economic system and the political and social framework that sustains it". Students need to be equipped to ask critical questions (including about the political economy of technology itself, and the pedagogical and social implications of educational technology), which they can only do through critical consciousness, to engage in democratic debate on this issue and to make informed choices about social priorities.

Undoubtedly, progressive spaces, while constrained, do exist in the academy. Individuals in many universities are able to connect with community organisations and social movements, and they can accomplish valuable counter-hegemonic work. These spaces could be expanded through a vigorous defence of higher education as a public good and a space for a critical democratic citizenry, and through resistance against commercial and corporate values that shape the form, purpose and mission of our institutions. The emphasis on technical rationality, simplistic pragmatism and undemocratic managerial imperatives must be countered. Proactively, initiatives could include linking programmes, projects and resources to community needs and struggles.

Through print and electronic media, mainstream commentators and free-market "experts" tediously feed market fundamentalism with a crass mantra, which is usually a permutation of the following clichés: "We must be competitive and entrepreneurial"; "We need more skills"; "Education fails to provide young people with skills for employment"; "We need more investment and economic growth" (see Vally and Motala 2014). In a country marked by mass unemployment and inequality, this pre-emptive discourse is seductive, playing, as it does, into the anxieties and ambitions of both parents and young people. Rarely do we hear dissenting voices, and rarely do we challenge the simplistic statements and platitudes of these "experts" (Duncan, Bond, and Vally 2014).

In this misnomer called free-market discourse, the burden of responsibility for failure rests on individuals. A seemingly common-sense approach obscures the real obstacles to procuring decent and remunerative employment. The "transition from school to work" problem is then simplistically reduced to inadequate career planning models and the lack of "entrepreneurial skills". The common-sense view is promoted as neutral, objective and ideology-free. These shared views cohere into "everyday wisdom" that relies on securing some degree of consent from the ruled. Relatedly, Beattie (2019), in a significant recent article on neoliberalism's psychological effects titled "The Road to Psychopathology: Neoliberalism and the Human Mind", revealingly begins his article with an epigram attributed to Margaret Thatcher: "Economics are [sic] the method; the object is to change the heart and soul" (see also Mishra 2017).

The causes of unemployment are put at education's door. Education, according to these advocates of neoliberalism, is not teaching what the economy needs. While it may well be accurate to say that many children and youth in South Africa leave school without the basic skills necessary for life and work, this mismatch discourse is arguably less about basic skills and arguably more about vocational skills. The argument, while superficially plausible, is not true for at least two reasons: "First, vocational skills, which are often context-specific, are best taught on the job. Second, unemployment is not a worker-skills supply problem, but a structural problem of capitalism" (Vally and Motala 2014, vii). While focusing on education institutions and the supply-side, the more important question would appear to be on the demand-side, which is usually ignored by human capital theorists: how can we create decent jobs that require valuable skills and value education outside paid work?

In opposing these somewhat tedious arguments advanced by neoliberal and human capital advocates, Siyabulela Mama's (2019) recent article on the skills mismatch argument and youth unemployment is pertinent, particularly about alternatives such as solidarity economies, cooperatives and climate justice jobs.

 

Forging Pedagogies of Possibility

Today, humans face an unprecedented ecological and health crisis brought about by unbridled capitalist exploitation of our planet-some have called it the Capitalocene instead of the Anthropocene (Moore 2016). In our book (Choudry and Vally 2020), we are conscious that "progressive struggles must contend with other serious challenges as the latest wave of nationalist, xenophobic, racist and pseudo-populist politics seek to divide and rule communities and countries already fractured by years of social and economic upheaval, repression and growing inequality. These political agendas divert attention away from the real causes of today's social and economic problems." In this period, marked by an assault on education and on reason, increasing inequality, devastating unemployment and the rise of obscurantist, xenophobic and misogynistic discourse, militarism, as well as the unprecedented ecological crisis, meaningful education interventions that address these exigencies are necessary.

An unjust world is not inevitable. We are often admonished with the demand to produce an alternative, or confronted with an emphatic TINA (There Is No Alternative) argument. The riposte to this is THEMBA (There Must Be an Alternative) or TAPAS (There Are Plenty of Alternatives). The praxis of all the movements I mentioned earlier gave rise to many possibilities, which although often tentative, could have been developed further. In some cases, clear alternatives were squandered. Alternatives and possibilities raised during the struggle against apartheid must be re-examined.

For example, on the question of the clustering of schools, Alexander worked with progressive urban planners (Smit and Hennessy 1995) on a plan for overcoming the spatial apartheid nature of the city of Cape Town, acting as a pilot for other cities in South Africa. The plan argued in considerable detail how the establishment of well-equipped schools at important nodal points on the main transport arteries of the city could enable "all children, regardless of colour, language group or place of residence" to attend such schools. Alexander (2010, 8) commented:

Although complimentary copies of the book were made available to some individuals in the new bureaucracy, and the approach was discussed with and positively received by cabinet ministers and urban planners involved in rethinking the apartheid city in Cape Town, it had very little impact at the time because of the timidity and tentativeness, i.e., lack of clarity and vision, that characterised the first years of the transition. Yet, unless we get back to this approach, complemented by and working in tandem with some of the other foundational changes that are required, social and racial integration among poor and working class children will remain a dead letter for decades, if not centuries.

Alexander was also exasperated by the lack of support he received around the importance of mother-tongue instruction and the development of historically marginalised languages. There were many other frustrations encountered, and as a country we are impoverished as a result. Alexander proposed concrete alternatives and demonstrable possibilities in the present. Going beyond social critique and academic analyses-beyond the boundaries constructed by the requirements of conventional scholarship since engagement was inseparable from serious scholarly activity-he combined theoretically plausible arguments with the actually existing realities of contemporary pedagogical practices. For Alexander, the academy not only had the responsibility to stimulate activism and democratic practice through the rigorous production of knowledge and the practice of teaching, but also it had the responsibility to be accountable to communities.

The alternatives suggested relative to work and learning should be consistent with progressive ways of thinking about sustainable planetary ecology. Given the urgency of dealing with climate change, an eco-pedagogy is also necessary. Climate change denialists and many who think that we will find technological solutions via 4IR should bear the following in mind: in order to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius would require 10 new carbon capture plants to open every week for 70 years. There are currently 18 plants worldwide. In the meantime, the United Nations thinks that by 2050 there will be at least 200 million climate refugees and in the worst-case scenario a billion. The poorest countries, which have caused the least pollution, will bear the brunt of the suffering and already do (see, for example, Gooding 2019).

The pressure of competitiveness and marketing, the seduction to own the latest car or biggest house, and the temptations of conspicuous consumption are not helped by the example of yesterday's struggle icons. So how can educators empower young people to see through the deception and glitz, to see the values of solidarity, justice, and the fight against discrimination and inequality as the primary ones? How can educators open students to the possibility that there may be more fulfilment to be discovered in living in a just society where, as Alexander (2013, 44) argued, "enough is as good as a feast", than living in an inequitable one? How can we help to recognise the violations in the continuing violence against women, children, LGBTI+ people and those we deem "foreign" who are scapegoated because of politicians' incompetence?

To answer at least some of these questions, Paulo Freire called on us to imagine a world that is less ugly, more beautiful, less discriminatory, more democratic, less dehumanising, and more humane. Macedo (2005, 11) wrote in his introduction to The Pedagogy of the Oppressed that Freire, with his hallmark humility, taught us what it means to be an intellectual. Freire taught us the meaning of a profound commitment to fight social injustices in the struggle to recapture our lost dignity as human beings. "We need to say no to the neoliberal fatalism I do not accept ... history as determinism. I embrace history as possibility [where] we can demystify the evil in this perverse fatalism that characterizes the neoliberal discourse" (2005, 11).

The structural conditions imposed by neoliberalism and its dismissal of the link between poverty and inequality to education, together with deeply entrenched institutional factors, have a profound impact on development which impedes the possibilities for progressive and transformative education and training. It is also true that the social fragmentation consequent on the racist policies of the apartheid state and the intractability of its effects which have passed into the post-apartheid state cannot be wished away. Yet, as in the struggles against apartheid education, in the post-apartheid era organisations such as the ERP, PPEN and Equal Education offer valuable lessons. The collaboration between progressive academics, non-governmental organisations and research centres based at universities with communities whose education rights are being systematically violated is an integral part of the work of the democratisation of education. These efforts have increasingly given communities the tools to inform, direct, own and use research to claim a space in the formal policy arena and to demand accountability from state actors.

Although many of the social movements are not always able to provide sophisticated alternatives to the status quo, it is precisely the constituencies they represent that have brought about the most significant changes in this country. Popular energies, which once sustained the powerful pre-1994 education social movements, are again resurgent. These new social movements have established continuity with past struggles but have also shed the disarming and misplaced hope that changes to the political dispensation and a progressive constitution are sufficient to realise socio-economic rights and democratic citizenship.

Events in the recent past among youth and students are certainly suggestive of a new generation, in the now very popular epigram of Fanon, attempting to fulfil its mission. It does signal a new consciousness among important layers of youth, students and workers, but also exasperation with the sophistry of the ruling party, frustration at thwarted hopes, the everyday injuries of mere survival under racial capitalism, the failure of an economic system which increases inequality and unemployment, the venality of politicians and the brazen excesses of cronyism.

With all its contradictions and complexities, the FeesMustFall movement has opened up critical debates at a number of institutions-not just universities-about the purpose of education in relation to the idea of transformation and decolonisation in a situation of the global marketisation and corporatisation of education. These debates are not just about colonial and apartheid era statues since they relate to a raft of other issues all of which go to the root not only of education but also of society, including symbolic representation, structural racism and interpersonal prejudice, class inequalities, demographic issues, heteronormativity, patriarchy, "whiteness", the culture of institutions, language, culture and knowledge, the questioning of the curriculum, power and history. The debates and alternatives suggested could be built upon towards the achievement of free quality public education from pre-primary to higher education.

In forging meaningful alternatives and possibilities for education today, we often have to also look back. The book Under-Education in Africa: From Colonialism to Neoliberalism (Hirji 2019) recounts how after independence, students together with some progressive staff members such as Walter Rodney, John Saul and others contributed to making the University of Dar es Salaam a beacon of progressive scholarship. These intellectuals championed decolonisation and, while critically supportive of President Julius Nyerere's humanism and policies of Ujamaa, they also warned of the dangers of neocolonialism. Their critiques, celebrated as the "Dar es Salaam Debates", remain germane to revitalising the African academy today. In these bleak, dire and precarious times, with constant assaults on reason and education for liberation, the book is an antidote to despair. Hirji's injunction not to lose hope is also a clarion call to action and is rooted in the firm belief that "the struggle is a long term one; there are bound to be ups and downs. But ultimately, Africa and its people will triumph" (2019, 259).

 

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Rodney, W. 1983. How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. Harare: Zimbabwe Publishing House.         [ Links ]

Saul, S. J. 2006. Development after Globalization: Theory and Practice for the Embattled South in a New Imperial Age. Scottsville: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press.         [ Links ]

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Spreen, C. A., and S. Vally. 2010. "Prospects and Pitfalls: A Review of Post-Apartheid Education Policy Research and Analysis in South Africa". Comparative Education 46 (4): 429-48. https://doi.org/10.1080/03050068.2010.519478.         [ Links ]

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1 This article is based on the author's professorial inauguration delivered at the Council Chambers, University of Johannesburg on 4 September 2019.

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ARTICLE

 

Making "Mini-Me's": Service-Learning as Governance of the Self in a South African Context

 

 

Carol Mitchell

University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa caroljcrosly@gmail.com https://orcid.org/0000-0002-0275-4813

 

 


ABSTRACT

This article presents an attempt to examine my own service-learning practices through the use of the conceptual tools of Michel Foucault, in particular his notions of governmentality and power. The article views the development of service-learning in South Africa and our current practices as operating within a regime of truth, and it considers service-learning as an apparatus for constructing particular kinds of subjects. From a broad conceptual lens, the article moves to the analysis of an interaction during a critical reflection process in service-learning in an attempt to examine actual practices and how these may produce different subjectivities. The article is an attempt to encourage other practitioners to reflect on their own practices, uncover their assumptions, and ask how things could be otherwise.

Keywords: service-learning; South Africa; Foucault; critical reflection


 

 

Introduction

Foucault (1983, 231-32) stated that it is "not that everything is bad, but that everything is dangerous, which is not exactly the same as bad. If everything is dangerous, then we always have something to do." This article presents a Foucauldian analysis of service-learning practices that is not an attempt to pronounce judgement, but rather to open up ways in which it could be dangerous. Butin (2010, 18) warned "service learning is not safe. It is anything but safe." If it is dangerous, then we have work to do.

 

The Catalyst

A few years ago, I was invited to attend student service-learning presentations at a sister campus of our university. As the students were presenting, it struck me how much they sounded like my colleague who had been the course instructor. They used her frameworks of understanding; they highlighted the issues that were most pertinent to her; they used her most familiar terms, and some even spoke with her passion for the issues confronted in the course. At that moment, I became aware of how, as service-learning practitioners, and educators in general, we direct our students' learning towards our priorities and in terms of our frames of reference. This was a worrying moment, as I was attracted to service-learning because it seemed to offer an alternative to conventional teaching practice, which appeared to me to be more prescriptive. The "openness", flexibility, and "student-led" nature of service-learning resonated with my desire for a less authoritative approach to teaching.

Having already been practising service-learning for a number of years, I wondered how many "mini-me's" I had produced over the years, and considered the dangers of this kind of production. After all, my intentions were noble and good, and who could dispute that we need socially aware and active students to help challenge the inequitable system? But what if this powerful tool of service-learning ended up in the wrong hands? What nefarious goals might students be indoctrinated towards?

Harkavy and Benson (1998, 12) argued that the revolutionary mantra for service-learning should be "overthrowing Plato and instituting Dewey". They argued for the democratisation of education, as opposed to the elitist Platonic approach. They rejected Plato's dualistic notion of separating "pure" theory and applied practice, and instead recommended Dewey's instrumental learning through inquiry. This argument is appealing; after all, as educators, we want our students to learn through active engagement with "genuine dilemmas and perplexities" (Harkavy and Benson 1998, 16). But, in considering the questions generated by my experience above, I wondered how far the service-learning field had come in terms of overthrowing Plato. He stated the purpose of education as "the process of drawing and guiding children towards that principle which is pronounced right by the law and confirmed as truly right by the experience of the oldest and the most just" (Plato 1980; The Laws 659). Were we, in continuing not to examine our own assumptions and philosophies, deciding what should be pronounced and confirmed as truly right, and guiding our students towards those principles? I became concerned that service-learning may be the "emperor's new clothes", and was reminded of a cynical friend of mine who always enquired after my work by asking how the social engineering project was going. I was particularly concerned as my experience in service-learning over the years had revealed the power of the pedagogy in rendering students vulnerable, and thus more open to enquiry and learning.

I wondered how to bring a critical perspective to my work to encourage this level of critical reflection.

 

My Positionings

As a lecturer in the discipline of psychology, I have experience in a variety of different learning contexts, from "normal" lecture-based classes with hundreds of undergraduate students, to individual supervision of students' clinical case work. Service-learning is part of this teaching portfolio, together with a strong interest in community psychology.

The scare quotes around "normal" are intentional, since, in the literature, service-learning has often been positioned as counter-normative. For example, Jeff Howard wrote "service-learning is not for the meek" (1998, 28) as it moves beyond traditional classroom-based teaching and learning practices. This counter-normative nature of service-learning has become part of its identity, and practitioners are often regarded as pioneers for promoting shared responsibility, active learning opportunities for students, more egalitarian approaches to learning and coping with the unpredictability of working in the real world (Ash and Clayton 2009).

As will become apparent in this article, this distinction between normative and counter-normative is central to my concern regarding the construction of "mini-me's". Foucault (Simon and Foucault 1971) argued that while a seminar format may appear to be more open and egalitarian, it is less "honest" than the lecture. The lecture system, with a professor behind his/her desk and no opportunities for student discussion, has, what he calls,

[a] crude honesty, provided it states what it is: not the proclamation of a truth, but the tentative result of some work which has its hypotheses, methods and which therefore can appeal for criticism and objections: the student is free to uncover its blunders. (Simon and Foucault 1971, 199-200)

In contrast, the seminar, with its apparent respect for freedom, is far more dangerous:

[B]ut don't you think that a professor who takes charge of students at the beginning o f the year, makes them work in small groups, invites them to enter his own work, shares with them his own problem and methods-don't you think that students coming out of this seminar will be even more twisted than if they had simply attended a series of lectures? Will they not tend to consider as acquired, natural, evident and absolutely true what is after all only the system, the code and the grid of the professor? Isn't there the risk that the professor feeds them with ideas much more insidiously? (Simon and Foucault 1971, 199)

Foucault's observations troubled me, particularly as I had been one of the original participants in the CHESP (Community Higher Education Service Partnership) initiative, and thus deeply immersed in the normative frameworks of service-learning. As Butin (2010) argued, there is a strong normative framework in service-learning, which allows practitioners to privilege particular models and goals. There are prescriptions on more or less effective ways to do service-learning; there are step-by-step guides of how to design a course; there are comparisons of different types of service-learning and service-learning research, with some regarded as better than others, and there are exemplars and best practices. These are all sanctions, techniques, part of the apparatus of service-learning as a regime of truth. There are "experts" in the field who pronounce the truth of service-learning, and are revered and respected (professors, pioneers, winners of awards). Thus, ironically, the operations of the power/knowledge nexus are apparent in this egalitarian educational endeavour. In addition, there are international associations and conferences where participants receive recognition and acclaim, and participate in creating and recreating this regime of truth. There are prizes for emerging scholars and for those who have contributed the most in the field.1

Given my concerns regarding "insidiously twisting" students, I searched for those who may share my fears. There is excellent and informative research regarding critical service-learning (Mitchell 2008), critical reflection for optimal outcomes through service-learning (Ash and Clayton 2009), and the promotion of community benefit (Stoecker and Tryon 2009). This literature questions service-learning practices and outcomes. Morrison's (2015) description of her own experience in service-learning research was particularly revealing. She argued that we need to be reflexive in our service-learning research, aware of our stance and how that serves to construct particular kinds of truths: "who is the I that shapes the eye? and How does the I shape the eye?" (2015, 54). The critical eye I was looking for would "trouble" the water that we service-learning practitioners swim in, so that I could become aware of the water. I thus went in search of a conceptual framework to supply a lens through which I could examine service-learning processes and practices. Foucault's tools were most useful for this kind of conceptual work.

 

Conceptual Framework

Michel Foucault (1926-1984) was a French postmodern, poststructuralist philosopher whose books, articles, lectures and interviews have sparked much controversy by challenging the Western philosophical tradition. Through his work, he tried to demonstrate that what is viewed as absolute and universal is frequently the product of historical development. His perspective opens up new possibilities of being, by revealing that current reality is not a given, and challenges us to think about how things might be different. Foucault's "ontology of the present" involves investigating who we are today, and how that has been constructed by a) the forms of knowledge (discourses) that we have of ourselves, b) political forces and how we are controlled through disciplinary practices, or c) the relationships we have with ourselves (McHoul and Grace 2002, viii). Foucault tried to alert us to the ways in which things could have been, and can be, otherwise.

I found Michel Foucault's notion of power as a productive force and as an act, not a possession, helpful in trying to understand what might be occurring in service-learning (Foucault 1980b, 119). When I explained to a former student that I was considering using a Foucauldian perspective, he exclaimed "but we felt so agentic in service-learning". Understanding power as a transaction helps to explain this sense of agency, while at the same time being governed in some way (Foucault 1990).

Being governed, by ourselves or others, is central to the concept of governmentality.

 

Governmentality

The issue of governmentality emerged in Foucault's work during the late 1970s where he focused on the "problematic of government", or how people are governed in modern societies (Smart 2002, xiv). Governmentality can be understood as "the whole range of practices that constitute, define, organise and instrumentalise the strategies that individuals in their freedom can use in dealing with each other" (Foucault 2000, 300). Governmentality is concerned with both the conduct of the population, and how we conduct ourselves. In everyday life, our conduct is managed by experts in various institutions (e.g. the family, medical personnel, psychologists, marketers) who have authority as a result of their expertise, which is accorded the status of truth.

Dean (2010, 20) explained that an analysis of governmentality involves examining those practices "that try to shape, sculpt, mobilise and work through the choices, desires, aspirations, needs, wants and lifestyles of individuals and groups". Governmentality presupposes subjects who are free to choose to respond in a variety of ways, and it attempts to mould these choices to secure the ends of government.

Also, key to governmentality is the regime of truth within which these processes are constructed and exercised. As Foucault observed,

Truth is a thing of this world: it is produced only by virtue of multiple forms of constraint. And it induces regular effects of power. Each society has its regime of truth, its "general politics" of truth: that is, the types of discourse which it accepts and makes function as true; the mechanisms and instances which enable one to distinguish true and false statements; the means by which each is sanctioned; the techniques and procedures accorded value in the acquisition of truth; the status of those who are charged with saying what counts as true. (Foucault 1980b, 131)

Foucault used the term "apparatus" or "dispositif' to refer to the network of structures and processes that are employed to maintain power relations and to promote a particular regime of truth. He explained:

What I'm trying to pick out with this term is, firstly, a thoroughly heterogeneous ensemble consisting of discourses, institutions, architectural forms, regulatory decisions, laws, administrative measures, scientific statements, philosophical, moral and philanthropic propositions-in short, the said as much as the unsaid. Such are the elements of the apparatus. The apparatus itself is the system of relations that can be established between these elements. (Foucault 1980a, 194)

Foucault further explained that an apparatus has a dominant strategic function and emerges in response to an "urgent need" (Foucault 1980a, 195). This specific strategic response is rationalised over time and turned into a technology of power in other situations (Rabinow and Rose 2003, 11). As Nicoll and Fejes (2009) explained, an apparatus is not put in place by any particular interest group, but is rather the outcome of the confluence of dispersed activities and ideas that then operate as a strategy.

Governmentality is concerned with how we are governed, both at the strategic level, as in regimes of truth and the dispositif, and also with how we govern ourselves.

 

Pastoral Power

One of Foucault's expositions of power was in the form of pastoral power. This understanding of power was most congruent with my experiences in service-learning, especially in respect of my relationships with my students. According to Foucault, this form of power stems from Judeo/Christian traditions and is concerned with the relationship of the shepherd and the flock. It is through the care of others that they are dominated, by instilling in them the need to care for themselves. Pastoral power is a beneficent power-Foucault emphasised "pastoral power is, I think, entirely defined by its beneficence; its only raison d'etre is doing good, and in order to do good" (Foucault 2007, 172).

Pastoral power is analogous to the complex reciprocal relationship of the shepherd and the flock, and revolves around salvation, obedience and truth. The shepherd is responsible for her/his flock and accountable, not only for their actions but also for their thoughts and attitudes. The duty of the shepherd is the salvation of the flock-even to the point of self-sacrifice. The shepherd guides and protects her/his flock in order to ensure their well-being. S/he maintains a vigilant surveillance over each individual and the whole flock, as s/he will have to account for them. The flock in turn is required to submit to the guidance of the shepherd, to whom they owe total obedience. This individualised submission to the shepherd is necessary to arrive at a state of obedience. In terms of the problem of truth, the shepherd needs to teach the flock, through the examination of their conscience (spiritual direction), the truth about themselves.

Confession

The relationship of submission and obedience that characterises pastoral power highlights the importance of the technology of confession. Indeed, the shepherd needs to know the minds of the flock, and confession is central to the workings of these power relations. The importance of confession is its usefulness as a technology of individualisation: "The truthful confession was inscribed at the heart of the procedures of individualisation by power" (Foucault 1990, 58). Through confession, individuals are actively involved in self-governance-they are obligated to tell the truth about themselves and act upon that truth. Techniques of the self are those actions that are employed to govern the self in accordance with that truth. Thus, confession serves as a technology to engage individuals (us) in defining themselves in accordance with social norms (subjection), in the guise of a liberatory practice, which helps us to unlock the truth about ourselves.

Freedom and Resistance

Although we can never be outside power, in discussing the exercise of power, Foucault emphasised the importance of freedom. He proposed that power could only be exercised "over free subjects, and only insofar as they are free" (1982, 780). Foucault emphasised the centrality of freedom to the operations of power. He also differentiated between freedom and liberation and domination. He was primarily interested in the practices of freedom, in how subjects adopt strategies and tactics to free themselves from the constraints placed upon them by regimes of truth. This freedom is not about being left alone but about "re-making ourselves into what we would like to be: freedom for, not just freedom from" (May 2011, 79; italics in original). It is about choosing by whom we wish to be governed and to what end (Foucault 2007).

Given this quick and rudimentary overview of some of Foucault's ideas, the next section tries to provide a brief outline of the "genealogy" of service-learning in our context.

Service-Learning in South Africa (Briefly)

Service-learning in South Africa was mainly driven by the CHESP project (in 2000), which was funded, in part, by the Ford Foundation and the Department of Education. CHESP sought to increase community engagement at South African higher education institutions by selecting "pioneer" universities and then training and encouraging core group members to promote the initiatives in their contexts (e.g. higher education institutions [HEIs], service-organisations, communities).2 While the CHESP initiative funded more than 100 service-learning courses across eight HEIs, many activist academics had been engaged in community-based initiatives prior to this, and during the apartheid years.

The CHESP project occurred in the context of Department of Education (DoE) mandates to transform higher education (i.e. Education White Paper 3 [DoE 1997] and the Higher Education Quality Committee [HEQC 2001]). Thus, South African HEIs were fertile ground for the CHESP initiative-Department of Education policies, international donors and experienced academic activists ensured that the programme was successful during its tenure. Since 2007, when the funding period ended, there has been a lull in these kinds of activities (Stanton and Erasmus 2013). Although many academics still continue with service-learning programmes in a variety of disciplines, these are largely unfunded and unsupported by the HEI. Research and publications regarding service-learning in South Africa are still robust, and debates regarding its origins, relevance and effectiveness continue.

Service-Learning through a Foucauldian Lens

Foucauldian approaches generate many questions. This exercise does not aim to provide the answer; Foucault would argue that that is not possible. Instead, I am interested in what questions can be asked and with what effect. The objective of this exercise therefore is to make explicit our service-learning discourses and practices, in order that we may have new insights and perhaps adjust our strategies. Critical for this exposition is the notion that we are always operating within a field of power/knowledge and can never be outside it; that is, "there is no absolute outside" (Foucault 1990, 94).

While other authors (Gilbride-Brown 2011) have employed Foucault to reflect on aspects of the service-learning endeavour as a "transformative regime of truth" (Olson 2015, 42) or as located within the governmentality of the university (Preece 2016), there does not seem to have been any analysis of service-learning as a regime of truth (barring Butin, below), or as a dispositif. This is attempted below.

Service-Learning as a Regime of Truth

Foucault (1980b) pointed out that each social formation has its own regime of truth, its own politics of truth, and notions of what counts as true. Dan Butin is one of the few service-learning researchers who have employed a Foucauldian perspective. He observed that "service learning, as any other educational reform model, has its own blind spots, its own unacknowledged and unexamined assumptions, and its own impositional narratives" (Butin 2006, 1). If liberatory practices often impose their own regime of truth (as Foucault claimed), there is a need to examine more closely what is happening in service-learning.

The discourses evident in the service-learning literature have to do with transformation, mutual benefit, partnerships, egalitarian approaches, and community empowerment. Different factions within service-learning privilege certain discourses, with gentler approaches speaking of citizenship and learning outcomes for students, and more radical approaches calling for activism and student transformation. There is a service-learning vocabulary of terms that practitioners in the field participate in and create. Researchers talk of civic engagement, social justice, critical reflection, reciprocal relationships, and stages of learning, which all construct a form of "truth" about service-learning. There is talk of different forms of knowledges, local knowledge and disciplinary knowledge (i.e. stemming from a particular academic discipline), which each have their own power/knowledge nexuses. Once again, depending on the approach favoured, these differing forms of power/knowledge are privileged or subjugated.

As a regime of truth, service-learning also has various elements and networks of structures and processes, which constitute an apparatus that is employed to direct and maintain power practices. Three elements of this ensemble-policy, notions of participation and empowerment, and critical reflection-are discussed below.

Service-Learning as an Apparatus

Foucault explained that an apparatus usually emerges in response to an urgent need and serves a strategic function. Stanton and Erasmus (2013) compared the emergence and operation of service-learning in the United States of America (USA) and South Africa (SA). Stanton noted that, in the USA, service-learning emerged as a grassroots activist movement in favour of educational reform to ensure higher education institutions "thr[ew] open their windows" to their communities (Stanton, Giles, and Cruz 1999, 132). This bottom-up movement has subsequently been supported by government initiatives and corporate funding. Erasmus noted the importance of South African government policy in driving a community engagement agenda (Stanton and Erasmus 2013). This policy imperative is discussed below.

Policy Imperatives

Miller and Rose (1990) highlighted the function of policy as a programme for reforming reality. They highlighted that policies are evidence of the belief that reality can be directed differently and more effectively. The Department of Education's White Paper 3 (1997) outlined "A Programme for Higher Education Transformation", which offered the optimistic perspective that higher education institutions can, and should, contribute to the reconstruction of South African society through community service programmes. It is important to consider the context of this policy, which was published soon after the first democratic election, and in the light of the ANC's reconstruction and development programme. The White Paper highlighted the problematic context the apartheid years created and emphasised the "urgent need" for reconstructing "domestic social and economic relations to eradicate and redress [the] inequitable patterns of ownership, wealth, and social and economic practices" (DoE 1997, 9). As an instrument of social reform, higher education institutions were further tasked with producing students who are socially responsible and aware.

From a Foucauldian perspective, the role of this policy in trying to develop a society that is different to that which existed prior to 1994 is clear. The arguments for action are convincing, drawing on notions of injustice, inequality, and disparity to highlight the urgent need for reform. The policy even outlines the mechanisms for enacting this change-through community service programmes and the production of certain kinds of students. Following the development of the policy, more structures were put in place to ensure the implementation of the policy. The Council for Higher Education and the Higher Education Quality Committee created criteria for institutions to demonstrate their compliance with the policy imperative.

An addition to the ensemble, in South Africa, was the creation of the CHESP initiative, which sought to assist with the implementation of the mandate in higher education.

CHESP's power/knowledge nexus was strengthened by state and overseas donor funding, access to US academics/faculty and service-learning resources, and persons of influence in South African education. Through offering grants and immersion training (for selected universities), CHESP provided incentives for already committed individuals to strengthen their activism in the field of community engagement. As a governmentality project, CHESP promoted a particular model of community engagement, through service-learning in the context of a community-higher education-service partner arrangement (Stanton and Erasmus 2013). Although this model did not suit all contexts and forms of community engagement (Mitchell and Humphries 2007), compliance was encouraged through reward (grants for service-learning modules at universities) and through participation in a community of practice (CHESP core groups), where discourses were created and reinforced during contact sessions. In Miller and Rose's (1990, 4) terms, allies were enrolled and subjected to a process of "interessement". CHESP core group participants were expected to take their learning back to their institutions and promote uptake of service-learning through various micro-level activities, for example, seminars, workshops, consultations, and community meetings. (Mitchell, Trotter, and Gelmon 2005).

Through the policy imperative, and the structures created to support the implementation of the policy, higher education institutions and particular academics/faculty were responsibilised. Rose's (1999, xxiii) notion of "government through freedom" is relevant here. Rose (1999) highlighted the interplay between being governed by the state and governing oneself, taking cognisance of opportunities for contestation and resistance. As highlighted earlier, many academics who responded to the call for service-learning programmes were already involved in community engagement or activist initiatives. Their participation may have served self-interest (resistance or freedom) in terms of receiving funding and support for work that they were already engaged in and responsibilised towards, as well as contestation, by continuing to pursue models of engagement that did not necessarily fit the CHESP model (cf. Mitchell, Trotter, and Gelmon 2005).

Regardless of the motives or intentions (which Foucault [ 1980c] advises us not to focus on), the power effects of the policy for the transformation of higher education (and its subsequent structures for implementation) have resulted in forms of government over the community engagement activities of higher education institutions and their staff. This governmentality is expected to further permeate into the kinds of students these institutions and practices produce.

Mechanisms of Participation and Empowerment

At, what could be perceived as, the opposite end of the spectrum of coercive power practices are the notions of participation and empowerment that are central to the service-learning endeavour. Participation and empowerment are generally considered tools for more democratic and egalitarian practices and favourable outcomes. They are appropriated in various domains because of their seemingly neutral or even beneficent nature. But, even these seemingly innocent tools are places where power effects are exercised.

Student and community participation is key for the success of any service-learning endeavour. Writings on partnerships in service-learning have underscored the importance of mutually beneficial and empowering relationships between community partners and their higher education partners and students. In discussion of best practices, care is taken (Bringle, Hatcher, and Games 1997) to underline how community partners need to be consulted at every step of the process. Service-learning, by definition, requires students to participate in community-based activities as part of their academic curriculum. The participation of communities is also assumed in the creation of the service-learning activity-communities, at the very least, need to participate by hosting students at their sites.

The idea of participation per se is not problematised in the service-learning literature. Participation in partnerships and the dynamics of these relationships between communities and higher education institutions have been reflected on (Mitchell and Humphries 2007). Some authors have also described students' varying levels of engagement in service-learning over the course of a module (cf. Kiely 2004). However, there does not seem to have been any reflection on the assumption of participation in service-learning.

Assumptions about participation position it as a neutral activity (Masschelein and Quaghebeur 2005), and that it encompasses choice and individuals exercising their freedom to choose. After all, students choose to enrol for a service-learning course; they choose to be active in a community; the community partner chooses to have an arrangement with the university, and so on. From a Foucauldian perspective, participation can be regarded as a form of governmentality, whereby participation prescribes a certain way of being; it promotes a particular kind of subjectivation and a way of demonstrating one's freedom. Masschelein and Quaghebeur (2005, 68) explained it as follows: "participation acts upon individuals by getting them to act in and on their own interests, by getting them to act as self-determining, self-controlling, self-reliant, competent and autonomous actors". Paradoxically, in participating, one is constructing oneself through techniques of the self. In other words, when we think we are freely participating, we are actually subscribing to the governing mechanisms involved in being a participating subject.

In the main, the service-learning literature has not problematised the notion of participation (of students, communities, faculty). Participation is a fundamental prerequisite for the pedagogy to function (the subjects involved in the process need to act in some way) and many researchers have failed to recognise that participation (as an act of self-governance) itself is "part of an operation of power, governing people to behave themselves in a particular determined way" (Quaghebeur, Masschelein, and Nguyen 2004, 154). It is important to remember that Foucault does not assign judgement or evaluation to these practices; rather he asks how things could be otherwise. Asking service-learning practitioners how practice would be different if participation were not taken for granted exposes the operations of power in the endeavour.

Similarly, empowerment is also assumed to be a beneficent practice. How can there be anything wrong with ensuring another also has3 power? Service-learning aims to empower both students and communities to effect change. Service-learning literature has emphasised the numerous benefits to students that service-learning claims to yield. These benefits of skills, knowledge, attitudes and behaviour are considered empowering.

A brief sojourn into other fields can help to problematise this. Ellsworth (1989) and Gore (1990) both found themselves caught up in the circularity of being part of the apparatus they wished to challenge and change. In her article "Why Doesn't This Feel Empowering?", Elizabeth Ellsworth (1989, 298) argued that critical pedagogical concepts and practices such as "'empowerment,' 'student voice,' 'dialogue' and even the term 'critical'-are repressive myths that perpetuate relations of domination". She described the radical educator as one who attempts to help students recognise injustice and empower them to act against oppression, while at the same time transforming her understanding in response to her students. Her experience in running an anti-racism class demonstrated the impossibility of neutralising oppression in classroom practices, even when trying to employ a critical pedagogical approach as an alternative to more normative practices. She explained that she failed in her attempts to radicalise the educational process, and observed that "[c]ritical pedagogues are always implicated in the very structures they are trying to change" (Ellsworth 1989, 310).

Jennifer Gore (1990) used a Foucauldian lens to reflect on critical and feminist pedagogical practices and found herself in a similar dilemma. Her main concerns centred on perceptions of power and agency. When the teacher is positioned as the "empower-er" it implies an omnipotent agentic position, where the teacher is able to share her power or give it away. "To em-power suggests that power can be given, provided, controlled, held, conferred, taken away" (Gore 1990, 9). Gore contended that empowerment discourses set up an agent (teacher) who empowers others (students), resulting in distinctions between "us" and "them". She argued that when the focus is on others, we may neglect to examine our own role in the conditions we seek to change:

In attempts to empower others we need to acknowledge that our agency has limits, that we might "get it wrong" in assuming we know what would be empowering for others, and that no matter what our aims or how we go about "empowering", our efforts will be partial and inconsistent. (Gore 1990, 15)

In the end, Gore (1990, 10) concluded that empowerment is better conceptualised as "the exercise of power in an attempt (that might not be successful) to help others to exercise power".

Our service-learning practices of dialogues between students and academic staff, between community members and academic staff, and between students and community members, have the intention of being empowering. After all, one does not effect real change without ensuring those who are responsible for it have a sense of agency. Yet Gore's (1990) dilemmas become ours when we recognise the circularity of participating in perpetuating those power effects. By way of very simple explanation: We use our authority (in the nicest way possible, e.g. a team talk) to instruct our students (others) that their interactions with communities should be empowering. What we model for them is the use of power effects to convince others to change. My argument here is not that we should avoid the exercise of power through these techniques, but rather that we should recognise them for what they are, instead of assuming they are neutral and beneficent practices. We are never outside power (Foucault 1990).

Foucault (1980c) advised that we should study the exercise of power at its extremities, as this is where it produces real effects. The critical reflection process in service-learning is where this kind of micro-analysis of instances of power is possible.

The Process of Critical Reflection

A central part of the service-learning apparatus is the critical reflection process. While critical reflection is common in other educational endeavours, and involves the same technologies of the self, it is positioned as key to the learning process in service-learning (Eyler and Giles 1999). The extent and reach of critical reflection depend on the model of service-learning employed. Service-learning endeavours differ vastly, and can be located on a continuum. So once-off visits to communities and international immersion experiences may both be categorised as service-learning, although they are likely to have different processes, aims and expectations. Models that aim for transformation in students are likely to offer much more intensive experiences for students than superficial exposure or awareness visits.

Reflection and critical reflection take a variety of forms in service-learning, from face-to-face small discussion groups, to online discussion boards, peer conversations and interviews, critical incident journals, reflective essays, and learning logs, among others. Reflection can be oral or written; it can be individual or group based; and it can be for assessment or personal purposes. The common aspect to these reflection activities is that they require the individual to make the private public, even if that public is an internalised other. From a Foucauldian perspective, it involves the individual in technologies of the self, in a form of telling the truth about the self and constituting that self. From this perspective, these various tools can be understood as different forms of self-regulation and self-governance.

From a governmentality perspective, reflection can be viewed as a technique of the self, where through internalising the other, the student subjects her/himself to scrutiny and self-governance, always aiming to achieve the desired norm. From the perspective of pastoral power, reflection can be viewed as confession-making the private available for public scrutiny, appraisal and judgement, requesting absolution and shaping oneself into the desirable subject.

Foucault's conceptualisation of the confessional is useful here. Service-learning places the academic in a position of authority, which allows her/him to insist on the students submitting to some kind of confessional process (reflective tool). Devas (2004) noted that this position of authority allows the authority to decide how the confession should take place, what needs to be confessed, and what will count as truth. These power effects are strengthened when evaluation (or assessment for credit) is allocated to the product of confession. Foucault (1990) highlighted that the potential for the extraction of truth is strengthened by the intimacy of the relationship between the confessor and the authority/listener. The service-learning literature abounds with extracts from students' journals or reflective essays where they confess and construct deep aspects of their selves to the reader (see, for example, Bursaw 2013; Carrington 2011; Kiely 2004). They make public thoughts, attitudes, behaviours, responses, and feelings in raw ways, where they expose their shadows and their light. I would posit that it is the intensity of the service-learning experience that makes this kind of intimacy and confession possible. Service-learning aims to throw students into disequilibrium, to have them experience disorientating dilemmas, as the assumption is that these will lead to transformational learning (Kiely 2004; 2005; Mezirow 1997). These experiences of dissonance often result in students requesting assistance from a more expert other, the shepherd, who also provides guidance and emotional support.

My argument is that often service-learning intentionally places students in contexts which render them vulnerable and more malleable and open to forms of governance, including governance of the self. The academic/authority/shepherd participates in this process by making her/himself accessible, through confessing her/his own shortcomings, and her/his own dedication to the process of becoming. The intensity of these power effects will differ in various contexts and different forms of service-learning, with, for example, a written one-page descriptive reflection demanding less of the participants than an immersive group experience, but I contend the strategies and tactics are the same. The one-page reflection still requires the private be made public, submission to an authority for approval or redemption, obedience and submission on the part of the student, and at least some self-regulation is enforced.

These differences in the power effects alert us to the possibilities of freedom and resistance. From a Foucauldian perspective, power and resistance co-constitute each other; there cannot be the operation of power without the operation of resistance and the existence of free subjects (Foucault 1982). Foucault was interested in the strategies and tactics that subjects adopt to free themselves from the power effects of regimes of truth-how subjects make themselves into what they would like to be. Within the service-learning field, we need to examine how students (community members/faculty) resist the forms of subjectification they are exposed to as well as how they use their experience to practise their freedom by experimenting with alternative ways of being. Though some would argue that freedom is another form of being governed (Rose 1999) and an illusion of choice (Graham 2007), it is worth attending to the freedom practices that the participants employ within a regime of truth.

Within the service-learning sphere, it is possible to imagine that student resistance would be evident in refusals, silences, or even alternative courses of action. For example, a student may refuse to make submissions-either at all, or in the form required-or to work in a particular community or in a particular way, or to participate in group or online discussions. Resistance may also be evident in silences and withdrawal, either in class or on paper or in community sites. Resistance may also be evident in proposing and motivating for alternatives. Practices of freedom may be evident in students taking on different identities to those proffered by the regime of truth, challenging established practices, realising the rules of the game (Macfarlane and Gourlay 2009), and complying in order to achieve credit or praise. Participants may practise their freedom by choosing to participate in a manner that best suits them, in Foucault's words by asking, "By whom do we consent to be directed or conducted? How do we want to be conducted? Towards what do we want to be led?" (Foucault 2007, 264). Likewise, communities and academics may also resist the subjectivities constructed in a particular regime of truth and, in practising their freedom, choose to be otherwise.

It is easy to be lured by an exploration of motives and intentions in this kind of analysis, or to make judgements about what is good or bad. Neither of these avenues of enquiry yields useful results, as these results always depend on whose version of the truth is privileged. It is therefore more useful to examine what people actually do-their practices.

As children we used to say "one, two, skip a few, ninety-nine, one hundred". The reader should bear this in mind as I now leap to provide some "evidence" of how I used the notion of the confessional in my own service-learning practice.

 

A Micro-Analysis of Practice

This section bypasses discussions of methodology, explorations of the contradictory subjectivities constructed in the context of a service-learning course (available from the author), and skips to an analysis of what actually happened in the critical reflection session (verbal discussions) in one of my classes. It is useful for the reader to know that the excerpts presented are from a postgraduate course in community psychology, which five students elected to participate in.

As described above, Foucauldian critiques of critical reflection draw attention to the possibility that this taken-for-granted everyday practice is actually a device to promote governmentality, both through the pastoral power practices of the facilitator and the technologies of the self, which bring one's conduct in line with what is desirable within a particular regime of truth. The excerpts presented here are an attempt to explicate two of the strategies and tactics used in the talk. They focus on the talk in context. I utilised Wetherell's (1998) strategy of considering the contexts of conversation, alongside the repertoires and positioning made available in the talk (a form of Foucauldian discourse analysis).

Upon working with and analysing the recordings and transcripts, it became apparent that preserving relationships in the service-learning process was paramount for all the participants. As there were only six participants in the course, the intimacy of the relationships was intensified. Employing Foucault's notion of pastoral power, it is the relationship between the shepherd and the sheep that effects change, that produces subjects who are able to care for themselves and others. As facilitator, it was therefore vital to promote this kind of relationship with the students. Two examples of the way in which this was achieved are discussed below.

Humour

What was noticeable upon immersion in the data is the frequency of laughter within the sessions and the group. There are many studies on the purposes of humour and laughter in interaction. Jefferson's (1979) studies on laughter demonstrated that it is deployed to manage interactions, and is not spontaneous and involuntary, as is often presumed. Similarly, in the current study, I found that humour and laughter were used in a variety of different ways in the talk, to diffuse tension, to soften discipline, to ease disagreement, and to indicate solidarity.

In the excerpt below, humour was used to diffuse feelings of helplessness and frustration, both with the context, and with my inability (unwillingness) to provide solutions.

812 Lisa: Like community psychologists (.) if that's what you doing (.) because the

813 societal structures are (.) poverty racism (.) all of that (.) can you really do that

814 (...) I don't know I have lots of questions

815 Carol: Great

816 Elle: As well

817 Anna: BUT I WANT THE ANSWERS:: (.) CAROL ((Bangs table like a child

818 having a tantrum)) [ha ha ha ha ha ha ha and I]

819 Carol: Ha ha [ha ha ha (.) whatever made you think] I had answers he he he

820 ((Overlapping talk and laughter-unclear))

821 Anna: That's what's frustrating is there (.) there aren't (.) like (.) [and you can

822 read millions]

823 Elle: [The answers

824 are within you]

825 Group: OOOOOOOOOOOOOOH (Session 4)

In the extract, Lisa made a plea for assistance, which I refused to offer. Humour was used to manage the tension this evoked. In lines 812-814, Lisa expressed her sense of helplessness and uncertainty at what can be achieved in a context of structural inequality ("societal structures are (.) poverty racism" [line 813]). My response to her statement that she had "lots of questions" was "Great" (line 815), in other words, celebrating her uncertainty and confusion. Elle's "as well" in line 816 appears to be a statement of agreement with Lisa's uncertainty. Elle identified with Lisa's positioning. My unexpected response of "Great" (as opposed to a more likely sympathetic stance) was not well received by Anna whose verbal "BUT I WANT THE ANSWERS:: ()CAROL" and her non-verbal banging of hands on the table, reminiscent of a recalcitrant child, were softened with her laugher (lines 817; 818) and with her exaggeration of the behaviour, which indicated that the "tantrum" was deliberate.

Humour was used here to diffuse the tension between what the students wanted me to provide (answers-as could be the norm in other psychology courses), and what I was able and willing to offer (my own ignorance-"whatever made you think] I had answers" [line 819]). My not being able to provide solutions, combined with my pleasure at their questions and uncertainty ("Great"), had the potential for dissatisfaction towards me. This was negotiated through the use of humour by Anna and me. Anna stated that the literature did not hold answers either ("and you can read millions]" [lines 821 -822]), demonstrating further frustration. In her statement, she deflected the blame for their uncertainty away from me, indicating that even millions of readings could not provide the answers they were looking for. Elle added to the group frustration by suggesting that they already knew the answers ("The answers are within you" [lines 823 -824]). This statement was also an act of collusion with me, as it advised the other students not to look to me for solutions. The group responded with a combined and loud "OOOOOOOOOOOOH", a joking, mocking expression in response to Elle's statement, and her collusion with me.

Self-Disclosure and Leading by Example

Foucault (2007) emphasised that the example that the shepherd sets is not one of perfection. It is important that the shepherd makes her/his failings known to the flock so that they may learn through her/his mistakes. Part of the exposure of such imperfections is through repentance and humility. The data revealed many occasions where I shared my own examples of experiences of working in communities, and my failures.

722 Lisa: Like when you went to that (.) the story that you told [us (.) that you

723 went to] the school ((talking to Elle))

724 Anna: [Oh (.) that's toilet]

725 Lisa: And the school and the bucket and so many kids (.) and even though (.)

726 you are this one person (.) and it's obviously not just that school that's um

727 Carol: But I didn't make any difference

728 Lisa: But how do you know that you didn't make a =

729 Carol: = I didn't make any di nothing's happened nothing's changed

730 Lisa: But still you made the effort to (.) if nobody makes the effort then there

731 will be [(.) somewhere along the line]

732 Mary: [Cos there'll never be change]

733 Lisa: Someone's effort is making a difference and is trying =

734 Anna: = And someone might [think (.) Carol]

735 Carol: [Let's keep] believing that (.) no I'm not being

736 sarcastic we have to hold on to that (Session 6)

What is interesting about this talk is that the roles of shepherd and sheep were reversed. In the talk, the students tried to offer me reassurance about my failed intervention. I had previously told them about the difficulties of intervening in a system and disrupting relationships, and I had used an example from my own experience to relate this lesson. Here Lisa referred back to that story (where the children had a bucket in the corner for a toilet) and reassured me, reminding me "you are this one person" (line 726). I refused her reassurance with "[b]ut I didn't make any difference" (line 727). There was then a rapid exchange of further reassurance and refusal ("Lisa: But how do you know that you didn't make a = Carol: = I didn't make any di nothing's happened nothing's changed") (lines 729-729), whereupon Lisa changed her tactic to commending my effort: "[b]ut still you made the effort" (line 730). She was joined by Mary and Anna in trying convince me that having tried was better than no effort at all. My overall scepticism was evident in my comment "[Let's keep] believing that (.) no I'm not being sarcastic" (lines 735-736), as I had to reassure them that I was not being sarcastic when I spoke about maintaining belief (keeping the faith).

This piece of talk tried to deal with a problem of disillusionment. The students assumed the role of shepherd here, comforting and reassuring me regarding my failed attempt at an intervention. Together, they took care to commend me for my efforts. The message that was conveyed here was that one must persevere against the odds, and that even one person can make a difference. They carefully used questioning "how do you know" (line 728) and suggestions of alternative outcomes to try to convince me that my attempts had not been futile. Thus, the confession of the failing of the shepherd indeed evokes renewed commitment to the cause from the flock. In their reassurance of me, they produced an argument for themselves to remain dedicated in the face of failure.

As a tactic, self-disclosure models the desired behaviour and encourages self-governing confessional practices. Modelling creates a norm for the flock to follow. This sets the standard for the behaviour of the sheep, which they are expected to achieve through techniques of the self, disciplining themselves to achieve the aspirations of the shepherd and supporting each other as each sheep struggles towards the goal.

I hope that these two excerpts have managed to demonstrate, firstly, how the relationship is prioritised because it is through this that the effects of pastoral power are most powerfully achieved and maintained. Within this particular service-learning context, the strategies and tactics seemed to converge around the goals of promoting learning, preserving the relationship, fostering solidarity and promoting group cohesion. From the perspective of pastoral power, cohesion ensures the flock stays together and that the members are obedient to their calling. Solidarity is also about remaining true to the cause and operating within group norms. In addition to humour and laugher, this was also promoted through other tactics (not reported here). By rendering the work significant and worthy of attention, it ensured the sheep remained focused on their goals. A further goal in this service-learning context was to encourage commitment to "the work", ensuring appropriate and responsible community engagement was sustained. Self-disclosure and modelling by the shepherd can also be understood as a strategy for ensuring renewed or sustained commitment, where the sheep assist the shepherd to remain true, even when the shepherd fails. This modelling of the desired behaviour and confessional practices can also be seen as encouraging self-governance.

Conclusion and Implications for Research and Practice I have found that conceptualising service-learning as an apparatus, and understanding the elements of that apparatus, has promoted my awareness that I am part of this apparatus, and provides cause for me to reflect on my practices in this context. I hope that this article encourages others to do the same.

Likewise, considering the service-learning field as a regime of truth also exposes how certain activities come to be normalised and promoted as "good", and how people and processes come to be reified and viewed as beyond question. Foregrounding this through a poststructural lens should hopefully remind us of our (radical) roots and prevent us from becoming complacent about our everyday ways of being.

I imagine that those who are drawn to service-learning because of its possibilities for resisting and challenging the status quo in the academy will be dismayed at my analysis of my practice. I would argue, however, that this study provides opportunity for hope, that if we regard students as active participants in the service-learning process, if we provide space for resistance and freedom, students may be more enabled to choose the kinds of subjects they wish to become. It is my hope that precisely because we are drawn to service-learning, we would be open to exploring these spaces.

Lastly, if we recognise that we are always within power and we can never be outside of it, and that power is a productive force evident in the interactions between people, then we can be liberated to identify how power flows in the service-learning context, and what we can do to mediate that flow. Being aware that we are not engaging in a neutral practice, and that we are always promoting some kind of agenda (even when we may not be aware of that agenda), requires us to engage in our own self-governance. It demands that we reflect on our practices, that we confess the "truth" to ourselves, and that we shape our future selves and practices around that truth.

If service-learning practitioners can embrace this kind of lens, it opens up the possibility of problematising our other taken-for-granted practices: assumptions regarding community participation, voice, benefit (cost); considering student or systemic resistances to service-learning; exploring the power effects described above across different models of service-learning; further critiquing the goals or outcomes of service-learning and other educational practices. If we consider that our assumptions and everyday practices may be dangerous, then we have work to do.

 

Acknowledgement

I would like to thank Professor Kevin Durrheim for his guidance and support in this study. Further, I would like to thank the students who participated, and the service-learning pioneers who willingly shared their learning with me.

 

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1 See http://www.researchslce.org/.
2 For more on the CHESP initiative, see Lazarus et al. (2008).
3 In Foucauldian terms, power cannot be possessed or "had"-it can only be exercised.

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ARTICLE

 

Self-Directed Education in Two Transformative Pro-Environmental Initiatives within the Eco-Schools Programme: A South African Case Study

 

 

Jill Kruger

University of Johannesburg, South Africa jillkruger007@gmail.com https://orcid.org/0000-0003-3332-7731

 

 


ABSTRACT

The international Eco-Schools programme promotes Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) through introducing and stimulating pro-environmental initiatives by school learners and staff. This enabled learners in the Eco-Clubs at a resource-poor primary school to identify and undertake transformative pro-environmental initiatives in 2011 and 2014 through Self-Directed Education (SDE). An educative approach encouraging critical thinking at the school provided the foundation that made this possible. In discussing and working through their strategies to undertake research and challenge authorities about noncompliance in regard to municipal responsibilities that led to environmental degradation, Eco-Club members liaised freely with teachers and other learners. This process, together with local support for the eco-school initiatives, stimulated widespread interest and generated hope among learners by showing that another way of being is possible.

Keywords: Eco-Schools; Education for Sustainable Development; pro-environmental action; Self-Directed Education; Self-Determination Theory


 

 

Introduction

In 2002, the concept of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) was introduced at the World Summit for Sustainable Development (WSSD) hosted by South Africa. States proclaimed a collective responsibility to amplify the integration and mutually reinforcing pillars of sustainable development: environmental protection, economic development and social development, and affirmed that across-the-board partnerships should encompass civil society, including youth (UN 2002). In 2003, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) identified the international Eco-School programme offered by the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE) as a model initiative for ESD. This programme enables learners to contribute to the environmental policies of their schools and to grow actively aware of environmental issues and sustainable development (FEE 2017). Eco-Schools are encouraged to develop partnerships with local communities and organisations to enable shared insights on sustainable and environmentally responsible behaviours (FEE 2017).

 

Eco-Schools in South Africa

The Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (WESSA 2018) has driven the Eco-Schools programme in South Africa since 2003. Although school registration is optional, over a million South African learners were involved by 2018. In emphasising the importance of a learner-driven process, FEE and WESSA strive to capacitate a deepened association with the local while not neglecting the global. The Eco-Schools programme provides a seven-step framework, which partnering schools throughout the world follow in the pursuit of excellence in environmental education (FEE 2017). It complements the Department of Basic Education's Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS) in South Africa, which promotes the principle of a healthy environment, social and environmental justice and human rights. When schools integrate eco-curricular lessons, activities, and whole school environmental projects with contemporary Eco-School themes successfully, they are awarded an International Green Flag by the Eco-Schools programme. In South Africa, intermediate Bronze and Silver Eco-School awards encourage schools to continue their progress toward the Green Flag (Rosenberg 2008). After 10 years of sustained action an Eco-School receives a Diamond Decade award (Dzerefos 2015). Committed engagement by the school principal is crucial for an Eco-School programme to function effectively (Haingura 2009; Rosenberg 2008). A loose network of local supporters enables many Eco-Schools to undertake inspiring initiatives; these are challenging to sustain and supplement when the support ends (Rosenberg 2008).

Environmental education seems seldom to have been included in teacher training. Consequently, many teachers institute self-designed practices, or add "environmental education" as a stand-alone subject, or fail to address it (Haingura 2009; Mokhele 2011; Rosenberg 2008). The quality of curriculum policy implementation is powerfully influenced by available resources, teacher support and the beliefs and experiences of teaching staff (Maluleke and Motlhabane 2015). Certain teachers and education officials find the Eco-Schools programme helpful for integrating environmental education with the education curriculum and have requested Eco-School support "to implement what [the education departments] are trying to achieve" (Rosenberg 2008, 35). Factual teaching about environmental issues generally fails to stimulate pro-environmental action of any kind (Dutta and Chandrasekharan 2019; Maluleke and Motlhabane 2015; Sethusha and Lumadi 2013; Wals 1990).

 

Formative and Transformative Pro-Environmental Initiatives

Eco-School registration increases the status of community schools and Eco-School guidelines commonly enhance teacher competence, the school curriculum, and school management. Some schools focus on attaining these benefits but pay minimal attention to engendering pro-environmental action by learners. Registration as an Eco-School requires environmental issues at the school itself to be addressed. Hence learners are encouraged to recognise the importance of routine and daily environmental care, frequently in the form of water and electricity conservation, soil and wetland rehabilitation, non-littering and recycling (Cincera and Krajhanzl 2013; Mogensen and Mayer 2005; Rosenberg 2008). An evaluation of Eco-Schools in 13 countries revealed a tendency to focus on the physical improvement of school environments at the expense of wider environmental learning (Mogensen and Mayer 2005, 86). Pro-environmental initiatives that hinge on the utilisation of resources have been identified as reformist, in contrast to those that "seek to achieve major structural or systemic changes for sustainability" and which are identified as transformative (Flowers and Chodkiewicz 2009, 6).

Reformist initiatives constitute a form of "behaviour modification" (Jensen and Schnack 1997, 163) about which many young people feel ambivalent (Ojala 2017), but which leads others to introduce school-learned environmental practices in the home locality (Cincera and Krajhanzl 2013; Haingura 2009). In Mitchells Plain (South Africa), for instance, learners have shared gardening skills and water-saving methods locally (Haingura 2009). Role modelling such as this stimulates small changes in lifestyle that aggregate and generate a sense of personal agency, increasing hope (Ojala 2017). Transformative initiatives require social and political engagement (Chawla and Cushing 2007; Flowers and Chodkiewicz 2009), which is driven by action competence (Rathzel and Uzzell 2009). This concept, generated by Jensen and Schnack (1997), requires a sufficient grasp of identified problems to formulate strategic action plans and "a positive approach to co-operative decision-making, a respect for democracy and an understanding of participatory processes leading to sustainable actions within the context of people's own lives and environment" (Rathzel and Uzzell 2009, 18). Enabling learners to be pro-active on school governing bodies stimulates the development of action competence (Cincera and Krajhanzl 2013; Reyneke 2013; Shushu, Jacobs, and Teise 2013).

In many countries a sense of hopelessness and helplessness prevails among young people about addressing the enormity and complex nature of environmental problems (Kelsey 2016; Ojala 2017; Sheppard 2004; Wilks and Harris 2016). A sense of hope appears to underpin young people's strong endorsement of individual, formative, pro-environmental action, while a sense of hopelessness seemingly pervades "their low endorsement of political action" (Wilks and Harris 2016, 690). Adverse responses to young people's environmental sustainability efforts by those in positions of power may generate feelings of powerlessness and indifference among learners but also potentially stimulate their realisation that there is a need for collective action (Jensen and Schnack 1997). Hope can be cultivated "by showing that another way of being is possible, by encouraging trustful relationships and by giving young people the opportunity to concretely work together for change" (Ojala 2017, 82). This process requires transformative learning through critical hope and constructive hope, a process that is not purely rational. Emotional investment is required for students to revise internalised assumptions by divesting themselves of "unsustainable habits, norms, and practices" and to stimulate "critical awareness and disruption of 'unsustainable' ways of regulating emotions" (Ojala 2017, 82). The Education Sector of UNESCO offered reflections on traditional schooling and lifelong learning in 2012 (Wals 2012).

 

Self-Directed Education (SDE) in Education for Sustainable Development (ESD)

In 2012, the UNESCO Education Sector concluded that characteristics important in Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), such as "interdisciplinary and collaborative student participation and learning", were hampered by the national curricula of schools with "standardized and prescribed teaching content and materials" (Wals 2012, 24). In this context, FEE's Eco-Schools programme was identified as structured yet flexible, and with integral student involvement (Wals 2012, 45).

UNESCO concluded that

[t]he greatest gift a school head teacher can give to his/her students ... is the gift of freedom for self-directed and purposeful learning, supported by structures and processes that empower and engage with real life ecological issues. (Wals 2012, 61)

In 2015, world leaders adopted the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. These came into force on 1 January 2016. The fourth Sustainable Development Goal (SDG4) is to "[e]nsure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all" (UNESCO 2017, 6). To promote competencies in sustainable development, UNESCO urged

a shift from teaching to learning. It asks for an action-oriented, transformative pedagogy, which supports self-directed learning, participation and collaboration, problem- orientation, inter- and transdisciplinarity and the linking of formal and informal learning. (UNESCO 2017, 7)

Self-Directed Education (SDE) enables young people to shape their own education entirely, as shown by the Sudbury Valley School in Framingham, Massachusetts, which opened in 1968. Educational resources are provided for optional use in supportive, non-intrusive ways. The school is run democratically by staff and students. Age-mixing is normal; in finding that their opinions matter, students grasp that they have relevance within the larger community (Gray 2013; Gray and Chanoff 1986; Greenberg 2016). Sudbury represents a full expression of SDE when it permeates every part of that school's operations, but even when SDE is introduced into one part of a school experience, such as transformative pro-environmental action, it could conceivably have significant positive effects on learning.

SDE embodies the principles of Self-Determination Theory, which defines an inherent human tendency to learn and be creative as "intrinsic motivation" (Ryan and Deci 2000, 69). Personal autonomy, competence, and relatedness-which comprise the extent to which students relate to others in authentic, caring, reciprocal ways-foster this self-motivation. Social and environmental conditions can profoundly promote or hinder it (Ryan and Deci 2000). The theory "explains why autonomously-motivated students thrive, and ... why students benefit when teachers support their autonomy" (Reeve 2002, 199). Nevertheless, traditional schooling is not an ideal setting in which to stimulate autonomous learning. Here, learners self-regulate their learning within a curricular system created by adults:

Integrated regulation approximates intrinsic motivation in its degree of self-determination, though the two motivational constructs clearly differ, as integrated regulation is based on the importance of the activity and requires considerable reflection and self-awareness, whereas intrinsic motivation is based on interest in the activity and emerges spontaneously. (Reeve 2012, 155)

Riley (2016) examined the perceptions of young adults on their homeschooled or traditionally schooled educative experiences in terms of Self-Determination Theory. She found, as others had, that the homeschooled group experienced higher levels of competence and autonomy satisfaction than the traditionally schooled group. Relatedness satisfaction was equivalent for both groups, despite the fears of educationists that socialisation will suffer in Self-Directed Education environments. Riley concluded (2016, 5) that "[stakeholders within the realm of education should take note, as intrinsically motivated, self-directed learning truly seems to be the future of education itself".

The following case study, ranging from 2008 to 2014, identifies formative and transformative pro-environmental initiatives undertaken in a single location through the Eco-Schools programme. It takes particular note of a naturally occurring process of Self-Directed Education in learners' transformative pro-environmental initiatives.

 

Case Study

Setting and Phases

The Ennis Thabong primary school enrols learners from Grade RR (a preschool year) until Grade 7, after which they attend high school. The case study concerns learners in Grades 6 and 7. The school is in Hartbeespoort, a small town and holiday resort on the slopes of the Magaliesberg mountain in South Africa's North West Province. The Hartbeespoort Dam provides water for the irrigation of agricultural land and for purification as potable water. The school was established in 1981 by the apartheid government, but had virtually no resources. Andrew Ngoma, the school's vice-principal and Science teacher, arrived on the opening day. He discovered with dismay that there were few trees, bare grounds, a basic water supply, and learners who stood about throwing stones at birds and lizards. "So I realised", he told me 30 years later in 2011, "that children explore nature even while they damage it. They want to see what living things do when they are threatened. And I thought, 'we should introduce these children to nature' because they live in cramped places and many of them don't even know much about their own culture".

Currently, three to four hundred learners attend the school annually from shack settlements, small farms and subsidised townships. Since the school serves low-income communities, the Department of Basic Education (DBE) has categorised it as a quintile 1 school; this exempts learners from paying school fees. In 2008, Ngoma successfully urged the importance of registration as an Eco-School. He then led the Eco-School programme, but no staff member was available to do so when he left the school voluntarily in 2015.

Between 2008 and 2015 learners aged 11 to 15 years from Grades 6 and 7, and who chose to do so, undertook three pro-environmental initiatives through the Eco-School programme:

a) in 2008, a school food garden was established; this was subsequently maintained by other learners as an integral part of school activities;

b) in 2011, quality of life issues for children in the Popo Molefe shack settlement close to the school were researched and addressed; and

c) in 2014, the quality of the Swartspruit river closest to the school was tested monthly by using the miniSASS, a nationwide citizen science monitoring tool, which enabled learners to log their data on an interactive Google Earth map that depicts the quality of rivers throughout South Africa.

Different learners participated in each initiative since those previously in Grades 6 and 7 had moved on to high school. In 2011 and again in 2014, six to eight learners were members of an Eco-Club that formed the core of a far larger, loosely structured body of learners who were engaged in Eco-School activities. The creation of the school garden in 2008 constituted formative pro-environmental action, whereas leaners' self-directed actions in Popo Molefe and in miniSASS were transformative.

 

Aim and Methodology

Aim

This article aims to share retrospective insights from the three above-named initiatives at the Ennis Thabong school. In this regard I borrow from Karen Barad's notion of "returning" the past, not in the sense of going back to it, but of "turning it over and over again ... as a multiplicity of processes, such as the kind earthworms revel in while helping to make compost" (Barad 2014, 168).

Methodology

I was not engaged in research at Ennis Thabong; I partnered Andrew Ngoma in the Eco-Schools initiative as an external support partner. My methodology was qualitative and grounded in phenomenological anthropology, which harnesses the tools of sensory ethnography (Desjarlais and Throop 2011; Pink 2009; 2010; 2011). This requires the suspension of theoretical and commonplace assumptions about children so as to enable a focus on their embodied, lived experience (Mackley, Pink, and Moroçanu 2015). Tim Ingold's (2011, 151) identification of the constituent strands of life's mainstream as meshworks-the "paths along which life is lived"-was helpful in guiding my perceptions away from standardised notions of linear developmental paths among school learners.

My meetings and discussions with Ngoma, and ours with Eco-Club members, were held in classrooms after the school day. Learners spontaneously used the blackboard to record ideas and identify their emotions and decisions. I documented these deliberations since they were jointly construed. I provided other materials if needed, from my personal stock. I liaised with the school principal in regard to planning and permissions, as necessary. I documented Ngoma's shared viewpoints and information from focused discussions. Talking and walking with others in the miniSASS initiative stimulated sociability and spontaneous communication. Such activity is both embodied and participatory; it presupposes a degree of rapport since it is "grounded in shared circumstances" (Lee and Ingold 2006, 67). I harnessed reflexivity in the field and in my analysis of documentary records since self-reflection assists effective analysis (Pink 2009; Procter 2013). In this particular case, my analysis comprised the location, identification, retrieval and analysis of data from interview transcripts, field notes, minutes of meetings, observant participation, and records of children's interactive discussions.

 

Ennis Thabong Food Garden, 2008

The creation of the school food garden preceded my involvement in the Eco-School programme. Andrew Ngoma's communications about the garden are the first of three records, which together informed the case study of pro-environmental initiatives by learners through the Eco-School programme. He envisaged the garden as providing vegetables for a nourishing midday meal for learners, and it did eventually do so. At first, learners resisted personal involvement, but they soon became enthusiastic. When very busy at school, Ngoma reported, "They would ask, 'When are we going to plant?' And I began to see real interest among the teachers who realised that this was different than using children for labour. The outdoors was like a classroom where the children learnt with nature."

Food gardens are radically different from structured classes and lessons; they offer considerable freedom to explore, experience, and grow with peers, adults, and the natural world. This, in contrast to the adult-structured classroom, is clearly a nonlinear process of personal learning and becoming. Whole body involvement accentuates "the immediacy of experience, along with a growing sensitivity to anticipated changes in the surroundings" (Dutta and Chandrasekharan 2019, 2). Being outdoors urges the body "into conscious awareness" in a way that is neither bounded nor confined (Doddington 2013, 55); embodiment in nature triggers joy, enchantment, anger, pain and frustration, which bring immediacy to children's personal experience (Dutta and Chandrasekharan 2019). Learners often lost track of time as they urged the garden into being through collective skill and eager desire for growth. Discovering earthworms in the once barren soil brought enchantment; Ngoma described this event:

... they were shouting "Monopi! MonopiV (Setswana: Earthworm!). Some began to collect them to sell to fisher-folk at the dam. If they tried to escape, they dug them up again. They learnt many things that day because of the worms. Not from textbooks, but they discussed with their favourite teachers. They had no cell phones, computers, laptops, or tablets. I looked for information and shared it with them. The small computer lab at school was for training adults and children in the final grade, in basic computer use.

Learners displayed a clear sense of ownership over the garden when they discovered a flock of mokuê (Setswana: grey lourie) eating the leaves of their vegetables. They chased them off furiously, but the birds returned the next day. When a learner brought a pair of old overalls from home to create a scarecrow, this stimulated awareness and the discussion of local bird lore. As they worked together to create the scarecrow, a learner shared her grandmother's information: when a mokuê arrives, calling stridently, it warns of the presence of evil forces, such as demons, which could harm people. If you catch sight of thepupupu (Setswana: African hoopoe), however, your year will go well. And Ngoma shared that the call of the ngwafalantala (Setswana: red-chested cuckoo) heralds rain. He anticipated that learners would be enriched through environmentally focused narratives and other cultural matters when parents helped periodically with the garden.

Importantly, the garden stimulated an ongoing interest and enthusiasm for Eco-School activities. Although teachers were aware that it was frustrating to learn about nature from textbooks, the school lacked resources to take learners off-site. To compensate, Ngoma set up outdoor experiments with soils in the school grounds and enabled learners to explore the functions and efficiency of a solar cooker donated by WESSA. He continually sought some means of widening their direct explorations of nature. A solution presented itself in 2010.

Xanadu Nature Conservancy and Popo Molefe Shack Settlement, 2011

In May 2010, Ngoma approached the Xanadu Nature Estate on the eastern border of the Ennis Thabong school to request permission for leaners in Grades 6 and 7 to be granted access for the purpose of learning about the fauna and flora there. At the time, negotiations were underway to register the Magaliesberg mountain range and the surrounding areas, including the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage site, as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. As an important buffer zone for the Biosphere Reserve, Xanadu committed to ensuring ecologically sensitive management, conserving biological diversity, and sustaining environmentally sensitive land use. Since the Xanadu Eco-Committee promotes scientific research, information exchange and education as required by UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere (MAB) programme, the application for access was granted. Responsibility for arranging and supervising learner excursions was assigned to the author, a social anthropologist and member of the Xanadu Eco-Committee. This commitment required reporting at monthly Eco-Committee meetings and liaising with Xanadu, WESSA, and the Ennis Thabong school. I took part in certain of the learners' walks on-site but not on their game drives. Ngoma and Xanadu's ecological officer accompanied learners on all site visits. This enabled Ennis Thabong learners to explore the various habitats, fauna and flora, and the South African Weather Service's (SAWS) ambient air quality monitoring station at Xanadu. These excursions do not form part of the case study since its focus is on pro-environmental action by learners.

In March 2011, 26 learners on an excursion to Xanadu to locate "life in water" were delighted to discover minute creatures, which they scooped into fine nets, examined in large jars, then returned to the water. This stimulated their urgent desire to address longstanding issues of local water pollution, inadequate sanitation and irregular waste collection. Learners identified Popo Molefe, a shack settlement near the school and where some of them lived, as a site for pro-environmental action. They were keen to develop and drive the process, using the word laola (Setswana: conduct, direct, dominate, lead). This introduced Self-Directed Education to the Eco-School process and identified it as transformative rather than a formative pro-environmental action. They named their project Bolokang Metsi re Ipoleke / Save Water Save Ourselves. Parents consented willingly to their children's involvement, and Ngoma validated the topic as

a good fit with the Eco-School theme, "Local and Global". Access to clean water and sanitation is also an international Millennium Development Goal because it brings dignity to everyone. Here in North West, we say Noka e tlatswa ke dinokana (Setswana: The river is filled by tributaries). This means that what we do today might seem useless, but our actions together lead to something greater tomorrow.

Eco-Club members gained confidence while gradually shaping their initiative with each other, in discussion with other learners-regardless of age, gender and academic skill- and through shared insights with Ngoma, favourite teachers, and with me. Ngoma arranged meetings when learners said they were necessary.

Six Eco-Club members saw the project through from inception to completion, but an unknown number of learners were involved for part of the journey since Eco-Club members welcomed learners of any age who sought inclusion in part of the process. Self-Directed Education promotes fluidity such as this in children's interactions and is natural in children's everyday learning (Clements 2017; Gray 2016). The negotiation of possible conflict is engendered by such consultation and enables young participants to unite around environmental goals of mutual significance (Chawla and Cushing 2007). In two discussion and planning sessions held after school and termed "workshops", learners portrayed "Things that make me sad or happy where I live" in drawings. They discussed the issues vigorously, then selected critical matters to address in Popo Molefe. Potable water, sanitation, littering, and the seeming unconcern of adults regarding hygiene on-site, were key concerns. They were apprehensive about approaching adults and role played how they would do so. This led them to consider the importance of protocol: "You must not forget to greet the adults politely when you ask to speak to them". In discussing whom to approach, and in what way, they decided to practise this: "We must agree what it is important to say to the adults, or we will go away without knowing what they think". The child-friendly workshop co-facilitator, drawn from the Hartbeespoort community, agreed to be a surrogate resident to enable them to practise their approach and questions in Setswana.

During the third term of the school year, Eco-Club members visited Popo Molefe with other learners who were keen to join the three investigative teams of two Eco-Club members each. Ngoma had apprised residents that learners wished to undertake research there, and of the date, and they had approved this. Nevertheless, he hovered at the settlement to ensure that all went well. Their research enabled learners to experience the investigative process personally and to hear the direct responses of adults. The investigating teams recorded adult responses in notebooks and site problems on camera. In analysing their evidence, they shared their photographs and notes while speaking emphatically about embodied reactions to the pervasive unhygienic conditions on-site. Because the municipal skip at the entrance to Popo Molefe was seldom emptied, litter blew everywhere. They described the location, even the spaces where they sat or played, as fetid and visually offensive. They were angry that the stench from the bushy area bordering the settlement was often overwhelming because the municipality provided insufficient portable toilets. Only one of six taps on-site worked and the water tasted bad and looked murky. Children were upset and angry that staff at the Rietfontein Wastewater Treatment Plant, claiming that Popo Molefe residents wasted water, switched off their borehole pump without warning, "from early till late". Adult residents then required children to fetch water from the local nursery. Heavy containers hurt their necks, backs, arms, and legs. They were annoyed and resentful when "adults put their mouths right on the tap to drink" or women threw out "dirty [laundry] water where they wash". They viewed these practices as unhygienic but dared not speak, fearing adult censure. They worried because preschool children were "always sick".

Eco-Club members wanted to share their concerns with "important officials" and to find supporters who would work with adults in Popo Molefe to remedy problems. They pointed out that children have no power to implement change, or to access officials: "Adults will not listen to us. Who will be with us to speak to them?" This is a critical issue that many children face (Hart 1992). Agency for children is interdependent in the everyday (Abebe 2019). Chawla (2009, 75) found that "[partnerships between the generations can create opportunities for capacity building for adults as well as young people if adults hold themselves open to young people's insights, energy and creativity". And Nsamenang (2015, 842) reminded us that in African tradition,

[c]hildren extort the social, emotional, practical, cognitive, relational values and other norms ingrained in the activity settings of the home, society, and peer cultures more through their contextual embedment and active participation and less through explicit adult instruction or prodding. In so doing, they "graduate" from one activity setting and participative sector of the peer culture to another, steadily maturing toward adult identity and roles.

Representatives from Xanadu, the Ennis Thabong school, and Popo Molefe were willing consultants. Learners then requested help with leaking taps, laundry tubs with proper drainage, and a noticeboard that listed and pictured human errors on-site. The school assisted Popo Molefe residents to appoint a committee to hear and discuss the problems of young residents. Xanadu fixed leaking pipes, installed two laundry tubs and thick piping that drained away the water that commonly stood about in furrows, and arranged for a professional water analyst to test the water quality. He willingly engaged in a mutual learning process with the children, discovering the challenges of daily life in a shack settlement and answering their queries about his area of specialisation. Such learning, undertaken in a spirit of mutual trust and "by doing, living and experiencing the subject matter", is intrinsic in indigenous learning systems (Omolewa 2007, 603). Nsamenang (2006, 294) observed that human knowledge is not shred into "discrete disciplines" in Africa south of the Sahara; "all strands of knowledge are interwoven into a common tapestry . which is learned in a participatory curriculum" (2006, 294). All water samples from Popo Molefe, including those from the borehole that provided drinking water, were found to be heavily polluted. E. coli (Escherichia coli) bacteria counts were over 2,400 units, whereas the official limit was 0-130 units. The long furrow that criss-crossed the settlement and had sections of broken, rat-infested piping, was the most likely source for constant diarrhoea among preschoolers who played there in stagnant water and mud.

In September 2011, the Popo Molefe committee shared the learners' findings with residents, who decided to ask the municipality to chlorinate the water. Boiling it daily would be costly and there was no place to cool and store it. Putting bleach in the water would be too expensive. Learners requested that Ngoma and Xanadu jointly inform the Madibeng mayor of their findings, by letter. This led to an unexpected mayoral visit to Popo Molefe. The mayor and a small work team brought equipment and assisted in clearing litter. Extra portable toilets were promised, but no solution was offered for purifying the water. Xanadu then shared information about the solar disinfection of drinking water (SODIS), an effective and cost-free method to purify water (Conroy et al. 1999; Du Preez, McGuigan, and Conroy 2010) and subsequently erected a noticeboard in Popo Molefe that portrayed five critically important "rules", which the Eco-Club had compiled in consultation with other learners who lived at Popo Molefe: "No littering; No waste of water; No drinking from taps by mouth; No fighting; No beating children".

In their assessment meeting, the Eco-Club members expressed frustration and disappointment about the municipal response. Extra toilets had been provided, but were later removed without warning. Waste removal and polluted water remained a problem. However, working as a group to formulate strategies, and acquiring expertise to liaise with adults, had been enriching. Their mastery in this regard could be interpreted as gains towards future "authentic democratic citizenship" (Chawla and Cushing 2007, 450). They concluded: "We learnt much about making a protest action" and "[s]uch a thing is too big to do alone. You have to stand together."

They asked for the short project report, which they received as a memento, to be sent to "the government". Copies were then forwarded to the Madibeng local municipality, the provincial premier, and the national Minister of Human Settlements. Some weeks later, a ministerial task team arrived, without forewarning, to examine the situation at Popo Molefe. The Madibeng local municipality subsequently informed residents that they would be relocated to proper housing. Relocation was effected in June 2014, but water and sanitation provision was problematic there too, as was the case in most low-income municipal locations in the area. The municipality was placed under administration in 2011 and again in 2014 due to its failure to meet minimum standards of service delivery.1 In 2014, Eco-Club members of that time were afforded an opportunity to explore water issues through a project to map South Africa's polluted waterways.

miniSASS River Health Monitoring, 2014

South Africa is a water scarce country with an uneven distribution of water and increasingly polluted waterways. WESSA therefore suggested in 2014 that Eco-Schools consider taking part in a nationwide assessment of waterways. This would require each participating school to test the water quality of a nearby river, on the same date each month, for one year, using the miniSASS citizen science biometric monitoring tool (WESSA Eco-Schools 2014). The Ennis Thabong Eco-Club joined this project in June 2014. The mini Stream Assessment Scoring System (miniSASS) enables learners to identify, record and score five types of macro-invertebrates and to enter the data on an interactive Google Earth map (Graham and Taylor 2018). Xanadu approved a request for sampling to be done on-site at three locations on the Swartspruit. Together with Ngoma and the Xanadu ecological officer, I accompanied them on the days they took and analysed water samples.

Learners arrived chattering excitedly on the first day. At the water's edge they huddled together, seemingly concerned. Ngoma grasped that they were afraid of slipping on the large, mossy green rocks near the riverbank and assured them of immediate help if needed. Each capture and identification brought enchantment as they emptied the minute creatures onto their hands from their nets and everyone clustered around to ensure correct listing on the identification sheet. Subsequently, Xanadu's ecological officer provided a round tray for decanting their finds. The Swartspruit entered Xanadu here and the team analysis showed the water as fairly healthy. Tshiamo2 confessed shyly that she was glad there were no crabs; they hid under stones and might pinch you if you tried to chase them out. Ngoma explained later that Tswana adults tell children: "Crabs are dangerous. If a crab scratches you as a child, your gender will change to that of the opposite sex. This myth is to prevent children from playing in water."

At the second location, learners recoiled from the scum and bubbling froth on the surface of the river, describing it as "sick" and smelling "like a toilet". They stepped back from the soft, muddy soil, scraping foul smelling mud from their school shoes on stones near the road. Xanadu's ecological officer explained that the Rietfontein Wastewater Treatment Plant discharged treated water into the Swartspruit, that it was cleaned further along the river by reeds, and that it ended up in the Hartbeespoort Dam. Horrified, they stepped further back from the water. Ngoma summarised their comments: "These excretions from the body are poisonous! If we eat fish from the dam, we will be very ill!" They vetoed the location for miniSASS sampling. Learners were sombre at the third location. The putrid smell was gone but the water was opaque, and they found only one small snail. The miniSASS team shared their experiences informally at school and many learners clamoured eagerly to join them. The team then swelled rapidly to include 12 to 15 learners (when the school schedule and available transport so allowed). Meanwhile, the Eco-Club called an urgent meeting. Although junior at the time to the Eco-Club members who had taken action about the situation at Popo Molefe, they remembered it well, and engaged in their own self-directed educative process. They were keen to initiate transformative pro-environmental action:

We have learnt many things that we did not know about. We see that creatures show us if water is healthy. The water from Rietfontein in Popo Molefe was bad and nothing has changed. We must find a way to do something about this pollution that affects children and animals and creatures that live in water. The adults protest in many places but it has not made a difference.

Anger about the polluted water fuelled their determination and further actions. In meeting to develop a plan of action, the Eco-Club noted that the South African Constitution promised children a healthy environment. They described the deaths of three young children in the Bloemfontein municipality from severe diarrhoea due to polluted water as kgakgamatsô (Setswana: shocking). They decided to become Young Water Ambassadors (YWAs) "to fight this thing for all the children in South Africa" and to send a formal complaint about polluted municipal water to the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC). Using a Setswana copy of the Constitution, the YWAs prepared the SAHRC complaint during three afternoon discussion sessions in which they clarified their thoughts and the nature of the actions they proposed. They discussed everything they knew about the problems with water and identified key points to raise. They listed strongly felt emotions on a whiteboard, followed by statements on "why we feel like that". They finalised it on 28 August, requested help to word their concerns "in proper English", and approved the final version for submission to the SAHRC:

It is very important for them to fulfil their responsibility for sanitation and clean water provision for the children of South Africa. To neglect this is a criminal act. We would like to see such officials

get red cards that show they must be banned from taking other responsible official positions;

dismissed without golden handshakes;

charged with a criminal offence of child abuse and neglect;

listed on a national child abuse and neglect register; and

publicly named and shamed, including to international child rights bodies such as the United Nations which monitors adherence to the CRC (Convention on the Rights of the Child) and the African Union which monitors adherence to the ACRWC (African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child). South Africa has ratified the CRC and the ACRWC and is responsible for adherence to child protection clauses.

The very important services of sanitation and clean water provision by municipalities should be monitored by agencies assigned by parliament and which are empowered to enforce penalties that will benefit, and not harm, the communities they should serve. Fines will not serve this purpose.

Their action was widely endorsed. Parents proudly signed consent for the complaints to be submitted and Xanadu provided a list of officials who were contacted from 2011 to 2014 about pollution at the Rietfontein Wastewater Treatment Plant. This was added to their SAHRC complaint. WESSA issued a press release when the YWAs' complaint was delivered to the SAHRC on 11 September. Thereafter the YWAs continued to test the Swartspruit monthly until July 2015, since reporting was required once monthly for 12 months. Meanwhile, they were honoured at their school's morning assembly on 22 September. Here, learners aged 8 to 15 years old from Grades 4 to 7, most of whom were not involved in miniSASS, heard of their continued research at the Swartspruit as well as the SAHRC complaint on behalf of all South African children. Because learners were keen to know more, the school approved the miniSASS research and the SAHRC complaint as topics to be pursued in English classes at school. This would enable peer-to-peer learning on an issue of environmental importance and would also meet the English language curriculum requirements. The SAHRC later informed the Eco-Club by letter that they had other complaints pending and were investigating the issue. A friendly SAHRC representative subsequently visited the YWAs at school. They were so overawed by this honour, and the fact that everyone met in the computer lab, which was normally out of bounds, that they remained virtually speechless throughout his visit. One Eco-Club member shyly shared that they were "afraid to say the wrong thing".

On 23 September, at the invitation of Xanadu and certain local politicians, the YWAs shared their miniSASS findings with the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on water and sanitation and a large group of other delegates who paid an oversight visit to the Swartspruit at Xanadu. The delegates had already visited the Rietfontein Wastewater Treatment Plant to identify the problems there (PMG 2014). Later, in an assessment meeting, the YWAs spoke of their nervousness in meeting the dignitaries and their appreciation of the courtesy and interest shown by the Portfolio Committee chairman. They valued his warm thanks.

He understood us well. They all saw the problems, that the water was polluted, so it was dirty. The day ended well. But some spoke to us in their own languages and we could not understand them. Some of them were not listening to us because they are not the ones who drink polluted water. They looked at other things while we were talking. Some of them thought we are doing Xanadu a favour, but we explained that the dirty water goes into everybody's drinking water. It was very painful to us to see so many fish and other creatures floating lifeless on the water, with [faeces].

During this single event the YWAs experienced a range of typical adult responses to children's communications on issues of importance: rejection by those who spoke in languages the children could not understand or who showed that they were not listening; denigration by a senior local official who suggested that matters at their homes were a more appropriate focus for children; tolerance and indulgence by those who listened but discredited their communications as initiated by Xanadu; and appreciative acceptance of their contribution by the chairman and other officials. The YWAs chose to accept the response of the chairman as indicative that their contribution was worthwhile and to discount the disparagement. They were proud to have taken part and appreciative of those who had invited them to do so since they considered this to show "respect for our work".

 

Outcomes: 2008-2015 Ennis Thabong Eco-School Pro-Environmental Initiatives

Ennis Thabong's registration as an Eco-School legitimated Ngoma's encouragement of learners' embodied engagement in the natural environment. He had committed to accomplishing this on his first day at the school. "And now", he said, "we find that otlhala jwa Phala bo tswa Phalaneng" (Setswana: the wisdom of the impala comes from its calf).

Learners who engaged in Eco-School activities were not competing for Eco-School awards, although they were delighted if their efforts were acknowledged in this way. In 2014, the school won the miniSASS prize for the North West Province, was in the top three schools for the miniSASS national research competition, and finally won the 2014 national Eco-Schools prize. These were all awarded by the Department of Water Affairs. In 2015, Andrew Ngoma received a Silver Eco-School award as "Dedicated Teacher" for the miniSASS aquatic science project and the Ennis Thabong Food Garden. Then, during a Water and Sanitation Youth Summit convened by the Department of Water Affairs in 2015 and attended by over a thousand learners, two YWAs won a Gold Medal each for the miniSASS river analysis, which summit participants carried out at the Klipriviersberg Nature Reserve (Ratau 2015). Their prize included bursaries to study water affairs at a tertiary institution when they left school.

No immediate improvement followed the learners' transformative pro-environmental interventions in 2011 and 2014. This could be attributed to municipal neglect since the Madibeng municipality was placed under administration three times between 2011 and 2019 for failed service delivery. Barnes (2018, 544) recorded that officials undermine, vilify, and dismiss "activist efforts" in low-income communities to secure water, sanitation and household power provision; they argue that "backlogs and high infrastructural costs" prevent this and that the South African Constitution provides for the "progressive realisation of rights". When Ngoma left Hartbeespoort in 2015, the school was unable to assign a teacher for the Eco-School programme. He had added the role to his already full schedule and Xanadu proved to be a valued support partner. He identified the "biggest outcome for the children" who engaged in Eco-School initiatives, as

self-esteem. You could see them change before your eyes. It came from learning by experience, by doing and sharing, and discussing with other children and with grownups, in their own time. Not from learning in the classroom through teachers and schoolbooks, although they got on well with their teachers. Three things that I noticed especially about miniSASS, the learners felt very special about doing real research; they saw themselves as involved with life science; and their report-back to other children, parents and the community was published in a local newspaper. These all increased their self-esteem.

Roger Hart identified self-esteem as "perhaps the most critical variable affecting a child's successful participation with others in a project. It is a value judgment children make about self-worth based upon their sense of competence in doing things and the approval of others" (Hart 1992, 31). Ngoma concluded the following regarding the importance of action competence and anticipatory hope:

Learners would never have challenged adults, especially dignitaries, before we registered as an Eco-School. They grew confidence. In working together, they shared equally in discovery and didn't have to worry about competing, and so they learnt that there are ways you can challenge officials about things that are wrong in the country. And what was most interesting of all is, it was not only them. It rubbed off on the community and on other children. It gave them hope.

In South Africa, school fees are intended for improving the quality of education for learners. Resource-poor schools without income from school fees require supplementary assistance in finance or provisioning from other sources. To engage fully in the Eco-Schools programme requires financial support for part-time assistance, transport, and other incidental costs. By 2011, public no-fee schools such as Ennis Thabong comprised an estimated 60% of all South African schools (Sayed and Motala 2012). More such schools would possibly register as Eco-Schools if resources were available.

 

Discussion

The Children's Bill in the South African Constitution (RSA 1996) and the Children's Act, No. 38 of 2005 (RSA 2006) both enshrine the right of children to be consulted on matters that affect them. In 2016, African countries, including South Africa, re-envisioned the situation of children regarding Education for Sustainable Development through "Africa's Agenda for Children 2040: Fostering an Africa Fit for Children".

"Aspirations" for Agenda 2040 include "African children's views matter" (ACERWC 2016). In light of these national and continental commitments, self-directed transformative pro-environmental initiatives such as those of the Ennis Thabong learners deserve wider recognition.

Ngoma's approach to education provided a firm foundation for learners' Self-Directed Education in their transformative pro-environmental initiatives in 2011 and 2014. Observant participation and interviews revealed that he encouraged children to learn by doing, in contexts that reflect their own experience. He stipulated that they should "ask for and discuss information, just like other people can, because it leads to critical thinking". In their transformative pro-environmental initiatives at Popo Molefe and through miniSASS, learners were accorded all the time they wanted to think things through and to discuss them. They shared their anger about the way the environment was treated but, at first, they did not feel competent to do anything about it. In terms of Self-Determination Theory, learners' identification of their two transformative pro-environmental initiatives, and their decision to self-direct them, reflects autonomy. Although their efforts did not generate immediately successful outcomes, their evaluations on conclusion of their efforts reflected gains in competence. The Eco-Club members not only worked together companionably but also consulted with and inspired other learners, showing a capacity to relate to others in authentic, caring and reciprocal ways, hence a capacity for relatedness. The eagerness of other learners to share their experience enriched the schooling process. In this regard, the learners served "as role models for political action", revealing to peers that they could do the same (Chawla 2009, 73). It could be argued, therefore, that when Self-Directed Education is enabled through the Eco-School programme, it provides grounded experience that will be of value for learners both in the present and the long term and in many facets of life. It not only prepares learners to adapt and problem-solve in changing societies, but is also crucial to ensure a healthy environment for people and the life of biodiverse ecosystems.

 

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1 Section 139 of the South African Constitution (RSA 1996) provides for the dissolution of a dysfunctional Municipal Council and the appointment of an administrator to fulfil executive obligations until a new Municipal Council is elected.
2 Names for learners are pseudonyms.

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EDITORIAL

 

Themed section 1: reclaiming commitment to social justice in poor communities

 

 

Guest Editor: Mutendwahothe Walter Lumadi

University of South Africa Lumadmw@unisa.ac.za https://orcid.org/0000-0003-0121-7386

 

 

In this collection of articles (Themed Section 1), we present some of the dilemmas faced by school managers, teachers, learners, parents, and the broader community in their quest to reclaim schools as beacons of hope and possibility. The four articles in this short compendium suggest that there is an increasing distance between educational stakeholders on the ground-school managers, teachers, students/learners and parents-and educational policy makers. Three South African case studies and one Chinese case study are drawn on to make a collective case for educational reforms that might bring to fruition the educational promise of "education for all".

In "Reimagining Community Schools as Beacons of Hope and Possibility in the South African Context", Bruce Damons and Avivit Cherrington use the findings of their respective doctoral studies to argue for "values-driven" community schools. The authors present a case for schools to be seen not merely as places of formal learning, but also as places of social learning. Schools are social units and an integral part of the community in which they function. Arguing against the "deficit definitions" of community schools, Damons and Cherrington present a reimagination of partnerships between communities and schools.

Locating their study in the "nexus of critical discourse analysis" and "ethnography", Jiayi Shi and Peter Sercombe assess the School Consolidation Policy of the People's Republic of China. In their article, "Poverty and Inequality in Rural Education: Evidence from China", the authors reveal the effects of this policy on school children in the village of Jikan, which is in Shaanxi Province, north-western China. The article reviews trajectories and critical junctures shaping educational change in one rural community as an example of broader changes that have been occurring across the country. While education is widely considered among the most important policy instruments to improve economic mobility of learners from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds, Shi and Sercombe argue that the Chinese state, with its urban focus, is not succeeding in making prosperity more equitable. In tandem with the idea of "modernity", rural education has become a low priority for the state.

In a departure from conventional "theoretical frameworks", Mutendwahothe Walter Lumadi frames his study, "Fostering an Equitable Curriculum for All: A Social Cohesion Lens", with the injunction, "Education for All". This implies a global commitment to provide quality basic education for all learners. An equitable curriculum, he argues, should empower all learners to "talk back" to the world. Learners must learn to pose critical questions such as: Whose word is final in decision-making? Who is excluded from such decisions, what is the rationale and why? Who stands to gain and who feels the pinch? Why is a given policy fair or unfair? What are its origins? What is required to create change and how can it be addressed? Ultimately, learner work must move outside the school premises, so that scholarly projects are linked to real world challenges.

Rudzani Israel Lumadi, in "Turnaround Learner Discipline Practices through Epistemic Social Justice in Schools", uses an interpretivist qualitative approach to investigate disciplinary practices in a small sample of South African schools. The author explores the impact that discipline has on disadvantaged learners and their families. As part of a disparate impact analysis, the study examines whether frequent disciplinary exclusion from school is educationally justifiable. In contrast to zero-tolerance policies that emphasise punishing instead of positive consequence, Lumadi stresses the need for positive incentives that will motivate learners to behave. When schools develop disciplinary actions, parents should be involved at every stage of the process to obtain their input and to give them a sense of responsibility.

What Is a Community School (and What Is It Not)?

A survey by the National Center for Community Schools (NCCS 2011) found that the term "community school" has been adopted and adapted in more than 69 countries across the globe, including South Africa. Although definitions of the term vary, a common characteristic is the principle of complementary learning that requires systematic, multi-sector collaboration to ensure successful learning and effective schools (Bouffard and Weiss 2008).

In the United States of America and now in some European countries, the concept of community schools is mostly focused on government-funded schools that have opened their doors to community engagements that strive to actualise the full potential of the child (Blank, Melaville, and Shah 2003). As such, the community aspect entails mostly in-school and after-school programmes aimed at supporting learners' academic as well as psycho-social development (NCCS 2011). However, in the context of developing countries (such as those in sub-Saharan Africa), a community school often refers to a school that has been established and run by the local community, with some support from government and donor agencies (Naidoo 2009). These divergent views highlight the complexity, and as such lack of consistency, regarding the conceptualisation of the term community school in education discourses.

There are two distinctive models of schooling that build on the notion of a community school: The Health Promoting Schools (HPS) of the World Health Organization (WHO), and UNICEF's Child-Friendly Schools (CFS) (Vince Whitman and Aldinger 2009). Although both models originated from the global North, they have been embraced by the departments of Basic Education and Health in South Africa as frameworks for emphasising the complementary support structures and processes required to enable children to actualise their full potential (Vince Whitman and Aldinger 2009). The multi-systemic approach promoted in both these models recognises that holistic health (mental, physical, environmental, spiritual, and emotional) is key to enabling effective schooling and human development. This is particularly relevant in the South African context in considering the educational context of children living in harsh socio-economic environments (Damons 2017). However, the notion of a Health Promoting School highlights the need for community schools to not only focus on the intellectual and social-emotional development of the learners, but also on the development of the stakeholders within the community who contribute towards and support the school's ability to reach its educational goals (WHO 2014).

These two models have informed our thinking about the role that community schools could play in promoting quality education in socio-economically challenging environments. To be successful these models require community schools to address the factors that impact their ability to deliver quality public education. However, according to Jansen and Blank (2014, chap. 7, loc. 383):

You cannot photocopy change. It is difficult to simply transfer the lessons of good practice from an effective school to a dysfunctional school. Every school is different in terms of the context in which it operates, the culture of the school and the challenges it faces.

This means that a failure to recognise the unique and shifting needs of the schools' community, and to build meaningful relationships and solidarity with stakeholders, could result in the generic implementation of programmes that will have little or no relevance to schools, thus dooming them to failure (Rowling and Jeffreys 2006).

Studies on the conceptualisation and effectiveness of community schools in an African context are still quite scarce. According to Hoppers (2005, 118), community schools are "established, run and largely supported by the local organizations, whether they be geographic neighbourhoods (villages or urban townships), religious groups or non-profit educational trusts". Further, it is a school that not only focuses on academic outcomes but also looks at "the building of stronger communities through complementary support and partnerships" (Damons 2017, 3). Hoppers (2005) found that community schools for the most part were established as alternative provisions for basic educational services in areas that otherwise would not have access to conventional public schooling. This makes community schools "primarily a phenomenon of the 'periphery'" (citing Cummings 1997). Building on Hoppers' work, we would like to propose that community schools should become the norm rather than the alternative. However, this requires a shift in the South African education discourse from looking at community schools from a deficit perspective to seeing them as positive spaces for community development and engagement.

 

Disrupting Deficit Views of Schools and Communities

Within the South African context, the notion of a community school has often been framed from the deficit understanding of a school located in what is known as a township or rural contexts, which are mostly black. Such schools are also often under-resourced and not seen as functional. Despite the bleak picture painted by most literature about the state of schooling in South African communities, there is also evidence that some township and rural schools have succeeded in achieving consistently good results (Jansen and Blank 2014). In 2006, the National Ministry of Education established a committee to look more closely at what they termed "schools that work". The report by the committee provides valuable insight into why some schools, despite being classified as historically disadvantaged, were performing well in terms of successful achievement in the National Senior Certificate Exam (Christie, Butler, and Potterton 2007). Overall, the report states that successful schools consisted of school members who were highly motivated, and although they had little control over their external circumstances, they battled social conditions by leveraging support from external agencies where possible, and acknowledging, rewarding, and celebrating the notion that success breeds success (Christie, Butler, and Potterton 2007).

Similarly, Jansen and Blank (2014), describing the common characteristics that make schools in challenging contexts work well, list the following strategies as key: Schools establish and maintain firm routines and extend time for learning; teachers teach every day and in every class and demand high expectations of their learners; learners are provided with love and discipline, while parents are encouraged to be involved in the life of the school; principals are visible in their leadership, and act on (and manage) the external environment; and while the school members engage in social entrepreneurship, the focus is on offering learners a life beyond the school. It is evident, as Prew (2009, 826) explains, that schools need to become more "flexible and resilient". Effective schools are those that are able to adapt to the needs of the environment, which means that principals are able to make better informed decisions around the structure and culture of the school. Langer (2004) describes effective schools as not only places where learning happens, but also considers the degree of community involvement in the school's daily functioning. This requires building and sustaining a complementary relationship between the school and its community, which is framed around the understanding that the school has something to offer the community besides education for its children; and conversely, the community has something to offer the school. We argue that it is such a relationship which requires us as educationists and researchers to look beyond the entire traditional construct of community and school engagement. The school in the community should serve a larger purpose than the legislative requirements and should champion the interest of the community it serves (Damons 2012). Similarly, the community should have a direct interest in ensuring that schools develop into spaces that actualise the full potential of their children. These ideas prompted us to ask: What constitutes a community school in a South African context? And, what role could such a community school play in becoming a beacon of hope in socio-economically marginalised communities?

To address these questions, we turn to some of the findings that emerged from our various studies in the field of education: two studies involved a township primary school and members of the community (Damons 2012; 2017), the other engaged with 9- to 12-year-old children and a group of childcare workers at a community-based organisation in a rural community (Cherrington 2015; 2017; 2018). As a comprehensive discussion of each of these studies and their complete findings is not within the scope of this paper, we instead offer selected ideas, reflections and moments from these engagements that shaped our own thinking around reimagining community schools and how these might enable hope and well-being in the community. In this article we offer a synthesis of our key findings on the characteristics of a community school, and then recontextualise these learnings with literature on hope in education. Guided by a Framework of Afrocentric Hope developed by the second author, we present our emerging ideas on how a school might be transformed to serve not only its primary academic purpose, but also as a beacon of hope for its community.

 

Methodology and Context of the Studies

The findings and vignettes presented in this article stem from two studies conducted by the first author (Damons 2012; 2017). In the first study, the focus was on exploring the value multi-stakeholders place on "efficacy" when establishing a new school in a socio-economically marginalised community. As an experienced school manager, Damons was formally requested in December 2011 by the Department of Basic Education to lead the opening of a primary school. The community in which the school was located was established as an initiative by the South African government to provide low-cost housing projects and infrastructure in informal settlements (HDA 2012). The challenges that confronted the community at the time included reliance on welfare assistance due to high unemployment as well as social and health challenges (due to HIV and AIDS, substance abuse, and domestic violence). At the time of the request there was only an empty building, with no resources allocated to the school or staff appointed. However, by the end of the year Damons was able to return to his original school and a principal was appointed to continue with the now established school. The study purposefully recruited participants from the teachers, community volunteers, and external organisations that collaborated to establish the school. Damons engaged with these multiple stakeholders to explore the key elements that need to be in place when opening a new community school for it to provide quality education. Returning to the school, his second study built on this work by engaging with a group of community participants, as co-researchers, on how community volunteers could be recruited, supported, and sustained to do work in a community school. Both these studies made use of Participatory Action Learning and Action Research (PALAR) methodology, a genre of action research. The process of PALAR entails developing a critical collaborative approach to dealing with complex challenges facing society (Zuber-Skerritt 2011) and was especially beneficial for allowing scholarship to emerge through praxis. The action learning set (ALS) (Zuber-Skerrit and Teare 2013) for the study comprised all the co-researchers (Damons, 15 community volunteers, and a foreign community worker who was volunteering at the school at the time). The transcripts and various artefacts generated by the ALS through the dialogical and dialectal discourse became the primary data, which was further triangulated with other secondary data sources (minutes of meetings, newspaper articles, visual artefacts) as the school had a rich history of community volunteerism (Damons and Abrahams 2009). The triangulation also included transcripts of a focus group held with the school management team (SMT). Data was analysed using critical discourse analysis (CDA) through narrative analysis and thematic analysis.

The discussion linking Damons' engagement with members of a township primary school to the concept of hope in education is framed by the findings of a third study, which was conducted by the second author. Guided by a critical transformative design, Cherrington (2015; 2017; 2018) engaged over a one-year period with 12 primary school children (aged 9-12 years) residing in a rural community. The children were all Sesotho home-language speakers and registered as beneficiaries of a children's programme (subsidised by the government, the Catholic Church, and various other organisations) where the study took place. The aim of the study was to engage rural South African children, through multiple participatory visual methods (drawings, collages, photo-voice, Mmogo-method), in constructing their experiences of hope. A thematic analysis of the visual and textual data was recontextualised with existing theories of hope and a Framework for Afrocentric Hope was developed to describe hope as conceptualised by rural South African children (Cherrington 2018).

The key findings and propositions below do not stem from a secondary analysis of the data generated by these studies, but rather are used to highlight the complementary value between the school and the community it serves. Further, we share selected vignettes and moments that emerged from these studies to evidence how our own rethinking about the notion of a community school as a beacon of hope and possibility had been guided and shaped into the discussion presented.

 

Findings: A Community School Is a School in the Home, and the Home in the School

The participants of Damons' study (2017, 168) describe the community school as "an inclusive space that united all stakeholders in creating a non-judgemental and collaborative environment for the children and community members to actualise their full potential". The school's purpose was not only to serve the internal stakeholders (learners, staff, and management), but also to nurture the developmental needs of external stakeholders (parents and other community members). This requires an enabling environment and relationship building, which can be achieved through practising the key values of care, love, loyalty, trust, and respect. These values should not only be enacted within the school to create a safe and enabling environment for learning, but also extended out into the community, encouraging hope and possibility for a better future for all community members. Stemming from this description, the school members' conceptualisation of a community school as a beacon of hope encompasses three key themes: A community school is values-driven; it creates an enabling and supportive environment for all; and it fosters solidarity and mutually beneficial relationships with the community.

A Community School Is Values-Driven

According to the community members in Damons' studies, for a school to be effective it must develop a positive culture that is values-driven. When discussing what values were most important for a community school to promote within the classroom and in the community, participants decided on love, respect, care, trust, and loyalty.

Love was regarded as the primary foundation for a caring school culture, as it "created a climate of trust, which assisted the school in meeting its obligation of providing quality education to its learners" (Damons 2017, 171). An unemployed community member volunteering at the school explained: "Many of us come from homes without love", therefore the school opens up spaces for learners, teachers and community volunteers to "experience love in different ways" (Damons 2017, 128). She added that coming to school every day and hearing someone say "I love and care for you" had taught her to love and care for herself, as well as to have more love and compassion for others. That is why she expressed that a community school should be founded on love.

Closely linked to the value of love was showing care and support for others by not only providing for their physical needs (such as food parcels and material support), but also by encompassing their spiritual and emotional welfare. According to another community member volunteering at the school, "this could be expressed by a simple 'thank you' for work done; a feeling of being respected by the staff at the school; or of being appreciated by learners" (Damons 2017, 190). The values of love, care, and support could be demonstrated in the school when everyone's contribution to the functioning of the school was meaningfully recognised, acknowledged, and appreciated.

The values of trust, respect, and loyalty were strongly intertwined and emerged when love and care had been established. Respect was discussed in terms of appreciating the role each person played towards improving the school. According to the community members who participated in the study, a community school is all about strong positive relationships, and a lack of interpersonal trust would result in problematic relationships (Damons 2017, 171). It is indeed critical for trust to be fostered between all internal stakeholders of the school through positive, respectful interactions, but it was equally important for the school to develop trust and respect with its community stakeholders. The participants stated that it is vital that members of the community also have trust in the school to be an agent for addressing the challenges experienced in the community. Consequently, trust would encourage loyalty by the community members towards assisting and supporting the school in reaching its purpose of providing quality teaching and learning (Damons 2017). In a community school respect and trust are put into practice when everyone's role and contribution is acknowledged as being equally important for serving the core business of the school (Damons 2012). Loyalty, in turn, can emerge when care, love, and trust are evident. Finally, the embodiment of all these values encourages mutual respect, manifested in the willingness to listen to each other and validate one another's opinions and feelings. For the participants it was clear that if interactions within and outside of the school are based on these values, "the school site becomes a home to the community members, the school is in the community, and the community is in the school" (Damons 2017, 171).

According to Nieuwenhuis (2007, 66), "Values are enmeshed in everything a school does or aspires to be and is a natural part of what education is about." It is important for schools to set out clearly what values will be upheld, overtly taught and reinforced. But merely stating a school's values will not necessarily translate into action. Values and policies need to be specifically designed into a school's operations, so that the school becomes a "dynamic and changing institution typified by collaborative practices and strategic planning to meet the changing needs of its learners" (Nieuwenhuis 2007, 75). This idea was also highlighted by the community members, who emphasised that while these core values were regarded as the heart or centre of the community school, there should be j oint ownership and responsibility between the internal stakeholders of the school (learners, staff and leadership structures) and the community members to ensure the values are upheld through ongoing collaboration and dialogue (Damons 2017).

A Community School Creates an Enabling and Supportive Environment

Once a solid foundation of values is established and agreed upon, it becomes incumbent on the principal and school management team to shape the school culture by ensuring that the values are enacted in consistent and purposeful actions in the school and beyond. From the participants' responses it seems that a community school recognises that learning occurs in an environment that is caring, enabling and supportive. Working on transitioning the primary school towards being a successful community school, Damons (2012, 133) reflects, "I believe that the culture that emerged was one of caring, compassion, and openness to learning. This was important in creating the conditions for the effective functioning of the school."

Another explanation of how the values could be put into practice was when the staff and learners at the school recognised and celebrated the role and value of community members in making the school successful. According to Damons (2017, 129), this is pivotal in creating "an enabling and supportive environment which further fostered the key values of the school". According to one of the older community volunteers who was part of the action learning set, being treated in a kind and respectful way by the teachers and learners created a positive climate at the school, which allowed her to develop her confidence and start respecting herself more. Reflecting on this participant' s engagement in the study, Damons (2017, 134) notes, "The better she felt about her role in making the school a success, the more she began to think about a better future for herself and her community too."

To ensure that the school environment is welcoming and supportive for all members who make use of the school, Damons (2017) suggests that the principal and school management need to adjust and revise existing school systems. Key recommendations include moving away from the hierarchal culture of schooling to a flatter organisation, where all the voices of the multiple stakeholders are heard, valued, and validated. This culture, which creates a humanising space, will encourage voice, create community, and promote agency (Zinn and Rodgers 2012).

The reflections presented here align with Witten's (2006) argument that issues emerging from the context of the school must be addressed for effective learning and teaching to take place. The third theme that emerged strongly from the community members about a community school is that it should be a place that takes responsibility for everyone's development and learning.

A Community School Fosters Mutually Beneficial Relationships with the Community

A visual representation created by the participants in Damons' (2017) study portrays their idea of a community school being a "home" (see Figure 1). In the centre are the images of a house and a school, which comprise the key stakeholders-learners (L), teachers (T), and parents/volunteers (P). The surrounding blocks indicate the key areas in which the community volunteers were active (library, administration, teacher assistants, caregivers for orphan and vulnerable children, grounds and security personnel, toilet, clinic, garden, volunteer project manager), and the chief motivators for their involvement, support from the school and experience of the school as a humanising space (see Damons 2017 for further discussion of these). Finally, the outer circle represents the core values that should be present in the interaction between the school and the community. This representation envisions that the "integration of school and community serves the purpose of creating the desired mutually beneficial relationship between community volunteer and school, in pursuit of the creation of a positive learning environment for the community and its children" (Damons 2017, 169).

 

 

This shows that a community school is not only a place of learning and holistic development for the learners, but should serve to enhance the well-being and hope of the surrounding community. From the participants' discussions, Damons (2017) concludes it was important that a community school should play a meaningful and nurturing role in the community during and outside school hours. It should be available not just for the children, but for all community members who need assistance. Again, one of the co-researchers, who had volunteered for more than 10 years in schools, described that a community school was seen to be "a school that works to involve the community, e.g. when something happens in the community, the school opens the doors for the community. And also it is a school that opens the gates even after school for the children, even during holidays" (Damons 2017, 167). Thus, a community school provides opportunities for all community members to learn and better themselves. According to another community member with several years of volunteering experience, "[a] community school helps old people to learn new language. A community school is a beacon of hope. Allows everybody to come in developing capacity. ... Community school combines parents, learners and teachers to work together" (Damons 2017, 168).

Another way for a school to foster a stronger relationship with community members is to initiate a volunteer support programme. In describing the success of the community volunteer programme initiated at the school featured in his study, Damons (2012, 127) states that it was the exchange-based relationship that was a key factor:

The community volunteers were exposed to a variety of opportunities that included training programmes from the institution of higher learning, on site job experience, job creation opportunities and eventually all of them receiving a monthly financial allowance through a government sponsored programme. In return, these community volunteers offered a broad range of support to the school that varied from nutritional support to teacher support in the classroom.

By providing community volunteers an opportunity to work at the school, Damons (2017, 190) reflects that the participants "were motivated when the school expressed an interest and willingness to support and develop not only their spiritual, physical and emotional needs, but also the needs of the broader community as well". It became apparent that the volunteers saw the school as a space in which they could develop their skills as well as their perceived value in the school and community, both through experiential learning from the voluntary services they were rendering and through other programmes offered in the school by external stakeholders. Discussions around the stakeholders of a school usually include the learners, their parents, staff members and the management teams; however, Damons (2012) emphasises that the feeling from the participants in his study was that everyone in the community must share in the ownership of the school and thus should benefit from it. While some literature has focused on how schools can create an enabling learning environment for the learners to achieve their full potential, there is little mention of how schools could enable the development of the community as a whole (Damons 2017).

Finally, the community of the school can be served through beneficial partnerships between the school and external agencies. By virtue of its nature as a subsidised government service, a community school is in an ideal position to leverage key resources for the community through external stakeholders outside of the geographical area of the community. This can include health and social services, further education and training, as well as NGOs, business organisations and external funders. Damons (2012) reflects that the school not only benefited from various donations from, and associations with, external organisations, but that he and his staff also reciprocated by making presentations acknowledging this support. Further, the school was able to extend the core values driving its own success towards a funder who was struggling to get another community involved in its project. This reciprocal sharing of resources and knowledge further strengthened the school and the community it serves. The school also developed a relationship with a public university, providing a space for research and engagement opportunities that served to both expose students and researches to what the school has done, as well as add to further improvements in the school such as improved ICT infrastructure, Grade R assistance and training, and book donations. Such relationships also provide government departments and other stakeholders access to communities through the school as a gatekeeper, ensuring holistic services are delivered to the members of the community.

 

Discussion: Nurturing Hope and Possibility through Community Schools

From the observations presented, it can be argued that a values-driven community school creates an enabling environment for learning and development, and fosters mutually beneficial relationships and solidarity with its internal and external stakeholders. This led Damons to the idea that such a community school could become a beacon of hope, promoting transformation within the school and community. However, to frame his understanding of how hope might be operationalised in a school context, he turned to Cherrington's (2015) work on hope in the South African context.

Hope as a construct of positive psychology and well-being is often described as a positive human virtue associated with an expectation of goal attainment (Snyder 2000), and a necessary state of being for enduring adversities and finding meaning and purpose in life (Frankl 1984). According to Snyder (2000), hopeful actions require not only a vision of a desired future but include an individual's constant self-appraisal of his/her capability to pursue these goals and what pathways and resources are available. Therefore, concepts such as agency and perceived self-efficacy play an important role in shaping an individual's hope, thinking, and behaviour. We subscribe to the notion that hope is "as much a process as an outcome" (Larsen et al. 2014, 10). Similarly, Stephenson (1991, 1459) defines hope as "a process of anticipation that involves the interaction of thinking, acting, feeling and relating, and is directed towards a future fulfilment that is personally meaningful".

Other authors such as Marques and Lopez (2011) have expounded on the benefits and virtues of building hope in individuals (see, for example, Marques and Lopez 2011). Elevated levels of hope have been linked to a developing sense of self-efficacy, belonging, and identity (Yohani and Larsen 2009). Attributes of hope include goal-setting, perceived competence, and self-worth, which in turn lead to better problem solving and resilience in facing life's difficulties (Scioli and Biller 2010; Snyder 2000). High-hope individuals demonstrate better academic performance (Maree, Maree, and Collins 2008), pursue healthier lifestyle choices (Scioli and Biller 2010), and present fewer psychological problems such as depression and anxiety (Snyder et al. 1997). Viewed as a universal human experience that can be influenced by multiple contextual, personal, relational, and systemic factors, it can be said that hope can be shaped, built, and maintained by purposeful interventions and actions. Thus, it is believed that hope can be injected and cultivated in a school setting to create an atmosphere of motivation, caring, and cohesive functioning (Cherrington 2017; Lopez et al. 2009; Marques and Lopez 2011).

Our discussion is guided by Cherrington's (2015) description of hope as experiencing a better life on a contextual, personal, relational, and collective level. Her study with rural South African children highlights that "building and fostering an individual's hope in the context of an Afrocentric worldview1 is a multi-layered and multi-dimensional experience", which means that hope can be intentionally enacted at the personal, relational, and collective levels of human engagement and functioning (Cherrington 2018, 510). The notion that hope exists and can be developed on multiple levels connected with our reimagining of the concept of a community school and provided the groundwork for thinking how hope might be enacted by the school in service of its community. Such conversations resulted in a new understanding of how community schools could become beacons of hope in the community. We present these ideas as three key propositions for guiding schools towards operationalising hope.

Proposition 1: A community school that creates an enabling and supportive environment for personal growth for its learners, staff, and community members is able to foster Personal Hope

On a personal level, being hopeful means taking responsibility for building one's own hope by making positive life choices. This includes planning for a better future and actively engaging in activities that develop the individual physically, cognitively, psychologically, and socially. Thus, being hopeful is central to one's identity and character, indicating that hope is located in a person's self-concept (Cherrington 2018).

According to Skovdal and Campbell (2010), individuals form hopeful identities when they are encouraged to see the world and their communities in a way that gives meaning to their circumstances. This could be seen in the comments from the participants in Damons' study (2017) about their personal experiences of being part of the school in a time of transition. Their own value and the value they attributed to the school shifted positively when they began to see possibilities of a better future for themselves and their community. By being a part of the school community that was caring and supportive, the volunteers stated that their sense of self-worth and agency increased. However, Rodriguez-Hanley and Snyder (2000) have argued that self-efficacy itself is not necessarily sufficient for individuals to engage in meaningful actions to improve their life. The missing component for enacting hopeful actions lies in external motivation and the belief that personal actions would be supported and encouraged by people in one's environment. Snyder and Lopez (2007) opine that collective self-efficacy and agency can develop in groups or communities where individuals believe that by combining their efforts and working together they will be more likely to accomplish shared goals.

School culture lays the groundwork for enabling hope; therefore, establishing an environment of care and trust is key to nurturing hope-enabling schools (Cherrington 2015; Marques and Lopez 2011). This notion is also presented by Barr and Gibson (2013) who explain that to build a culture of hope in schools requires enriching optimism and opportunity through encapsulating what they term four key "seeds of hope": a sense of optimism, a sense of belonging, a sense of pride, self-esteem and self-confidence, and a sense of purpose. When these seeds of hope are nurtured, they lay the foundation for positive transformation in schools. Such seeds can be created through a welcoming environment, an atmosphere of respect and safety, an emphasis on success, high expectations, and community-wide celebrations of positives and achievements (Barr and Gibson 2013). According to Scioli and Biller (2010), creating a sense of belonging is a crucial first step in fostering a hopeful environment.

This mirrors the sentiment of the community members in Damons' study (2017) who described the community school as a "home" in the community. Further, it has been shown that schools that provide opportunities for goal-setting and focus on building competence, creative problem solving, and teamwork can transform classrooms, playgrounds and staffrooms into hope-enhancing spaces (Lopez et al. 2009; Marques and Lopez 2011). Finally, engaging all school stakeholders in taking responsibility and ownership over the success of the school and community instils a sense of purpose, which builds autonomy and pride (Barr and Gibson 2013).

Being hopeful can be viewed as a self-generating process, which, once initiated, is able to grow and sustain itself in a nurturing context. According to Stephenson (1991), once the momentum of hope is activated, people report feeling invigorated, full of purpose, renewed, calm, and encouraged. When people take action towards building their personal hope it energises them to effect hope in their context. In Damons' study, participants expressed that the act of volunteering at the school gave them purpose and value and thus sustained their hope in a better future for themselves and their community. For example, a teaching assistant shared how becoming a volunteer at the school had improved the quality of her life, stating that in the act of contributing towards the success of the school she developed a sense of purpose, which she did not have previously as an unemployed member of the community. Being part of the school made her hopeful (Damons 2017). It seems that because they were a part of a hope-enabling school culture, the community volunteers began to feel motivated and energised to contribute more towards the school and felt they were making a positive difference not only in their personal lives but also in the school and community. It can be said that their personal hope had been activated, which nurtured a positive outlook and motivated them to develop a sense of pride and purpose.

Proposition 2: A community school that is driven by-and lives out-the values of care, support, trust, respect, and loyalty promotes Relational Hope

It has been noted that hope exists, develops, and grows in a person's interactions with other people. It functions on a relational level (Jevne 2005; Scioli and Biller 2010; Scioli et al. 2011; Snyder 2000). According to Cherrington (2018, 10), hope is "relational and generative, and therefore, to build, maintain, and foster one's own hope, an individual needs to engage in hope-enhancing positive interactions with others". Snyder (2000) notes that hope's value increases when it is shared; thus relational hope refers to the acts of doing hope with others (Cherrington 2018). Cherrington (2015) further posits that hopeful actions have reciprocal value, meaning that by sharing and enacting values such as love, care, trust, and respect with others, an individual is also simultaneously strengthening his/her own hopefulness.

Hope hinges on experiencing trusting relationships and a sense of belonging with others (Yohani and Larsen 2009). Thus, according to Scioli and Biller (2010), hope can in turn be passed on to others through secure attachments and positive interactions. Hopeful thinking almost inevitably arises in the context of other people who teach and enact hope (Snyder 2000). This level of hope could be said to have been demonstrated in the volunteers' statements in Damons' (2017) study: the more they interacted positively with others, the more they began to feel respected and valued themselves. Experiencing a school environment that promoted and enacted positive values yielded positive relations and interactions between the learners, staff, and community members, to the benefit of all. Further, similar to the findings of Vézina and Crompton (2012), the volunteers at the school supported the notion that there is a connectedness between a sense of purpose and making a difference on a broader societal level.

When looking at schools in socio-economically marginalised South African communities, it is important to consider that from an Afrocentric worldview, which espouses collective-oriented and relational principles, foundations of care, respect, and trust within the family and community contexts strongly guide an individual's sense of meaningfulness and purpose in life (Cherrington 2018). Skovdal and Campbell (2010) argue that for children, hope-related coping is influenced by the value frameworks within their school and community. This carries meaningful implications for a community school in terms of actively fostering positive interactions among stakeholders (both within and outside the school premises). The value-enabled space of hope is further confirmed in Damons' later study (2017, 134):

An SMT [School Management Team] member in the focus group felt that it was because of that welcoming environment ... the warmth that they as volunteers received, the participants seemed to suggest, imbued them with hope, and the various programmes offered to the volunteers further increased that hope.

Proposition 3: A community school that understands that the holistic development of the child and the success of the school lie in the well-being of the community is able to promote Collective Hope

According to Jacobson et al. (2013, 6), the community school's "integrated focus on academics, health and social services, youth and community development and community engagement leads to improved student learning, stronger families and healthier communities". Similarly, we argue that when the school becomes the heart of the community, working collaboratively with all stakeholders, everyone benefits and grows. Hope also exists in the level of cohesion and caring experienced within the community. When members of a community are striving for a better future and engaging in hopeful actions, it contributes towards collective caring, compassion, kindness, and motivates personal and relational hope within individual members of that community. This is described as the collective level of hope.

For schools to become hope-enabling spaces for learners and staff, they need to foster positive and meaningful support from the school community through mutually beneficial relationships. Naidoo (2007, xxi) emphasises that in marginalised settings "community participation is fundamental to the success of schools". The members in Damons' two studies were adamant that a key function for a community school should be to build and maintain caring, supportive and respectful relationships between itself and the various community stakeholders. However, the key premise was that such connections have to be bidirectional, and beneficial for both the community and the school. The community itself was seen as a valuable resource for the school, even when members described their own community as disadvantaged or challenged (Damons 2017). Similarly, Jacobson et al. (2013), in their study of successful community schools in the United States, have found that inherent in the strategy and functioning of community schools were valuable community partnerships that supported the core of the schools' work. These partnerships went beyond mere involvement to shared responsibility and ownership for ensuring quality education and services to the learners and community. According to Damons, hope evolved in the community volunteers as they were being nurtured in fulfilling their own potential in a value-filled space of interaction with others in the schools. Such hope-enabling interactions "created a sense of belonging for the community volunteer rendering a service to the school and, in return, volunteers played a major role in supporting the basic functionality of the school" (Damons 2017, 169).

Prilleltensky and Prilleltensky (2007, 1) state that an individual's well-being "cannot be fostered in isolation from the organisations that affect our lives and the communities where we live". An individual's well-being is critically tied to the level of well-being in his/her environment and community. Hopeful actions promote harmony, togetherness, a sense of belonging, and mutual respect. Cherrington and De Lange (2016) demonstrate that active participation, collective learning and shared reflection can create spaces for fostering hope and collective agency towards active citizenship. However, in line with Nieuwenhuis (2007, 72), we also caution that "creating, nurturing and advancing values does not simply lead to human rights culture and democracy; it must be managed and leadership must be provided". A community school could become a source of hope and support to all when its management is proactive in establishing a collaborative relationship with the community and encouraging holistic development of the learners, their families, and the broader community.

Nieuwenhuis (2007) asserts that socio-political and economic realities strongly influence learners' behaviours and their motivation for learning, as well as parents' interest in school involvement. We agree with his sentiment that trying to enforce positive values in the classroom without addressing the larger social ills that affect the learners in their home and community is futile (Nieuwenhuis 2007). According to Lopez et al. (2009), when hope flows from one person to another it can alter each person's perspective on the world, what goals they set for themselves, and how they go about pursuing these. They believe that building hope within a school has the potential to ripple out into the school community. To spread hope in an educational community they suggest that perceived barriers to learning and systemic challenges to pursuing a better future must be identified and addressed. Schools can do this by providing resources and services within the community to support members' personal and collective development and growth. Provisions from the school that could be extended outwards towards improving the well-being of the larger community include access to meal provision, access to and use of telephone and fax facilities as well as access to the library and ICT resources for skills development. Schools and management teams can demonstrate resilience to adversity by generating alternative pathways for addressing obstacles in their community, providing stories of success and perseverance to community members.

A community school can also foster collective hope by ensuring open channels of communication between the school and its multiple stakeholders. We argue that when a community school can provide key services to community members through its partnerships with external stakeholders, the community members in turn become more active in supporting teaching and learning within the school. This can only happen if the school extends the core values of care, love, respect, trust, and loyalty towards its community, establishing an enabling environment for mutual growth and success for all.

 

Contributions, Implications and Limitations

This article is intended to make a theoretical contribution by reimagining community schools as beacons of hope in their community. We posit that a community school thrives by promoting hope and well-being on the personal, relational, and collective levels. The following characteristics of a learning school described by Nieuwenhuis (2007, 74) mirror our reimagining of a community school as:

having a clearly defined vision with a purpose rooted in collectively agreed values;

constantly searching for quality in teaching and learning by continuously undertaking self-evaluation and professional development;

seeing itself as publicly accountable to the local community for the service that it renders to the learners, and the example that educators and parents are setting for the learners;

placing a high premium on its relationship with-and the involvement of- the broader community. All members are valued as complementary to the educators.

As Nieuwenhuis (2007, 74) so succinctly states, "learning schools never give up on their children but offer hope for the future". We believe that our reconceptualisation of the key characteristics of a community school in the South African context contributes towards a shift in the present discourses on school improvement and quality education. This will require a rethink of the purpose of schools as currently defined in regulations such as the South African Schools Act, shifting the primary focus from only academic delivery to one that includes broader societal transformation. It would also require deeper critique on the required skills and competencies of teachers and principals, as well as support needed by schools to fulfil this mandate. Further, while the importance for schools to foster positive relationships with parents and to encourage parental involvement in learning has been well covered, there is a paucity of literature looking at the generative connection and meaningful relationship-building between a school and its community. Putting guidelines in place to promote such partnerships would further require a review of current education policies on the roles of parents and communities in school improvement, and how schools could be more responsive to the needs of their communities.

While schools and teachers are often associated with providing hope, there is very little support or instruction on how hope can be operationalised and developed as part of their daily functions. We would like to advocate that the concept of a community school should be synonymous with a place for nurturing a sense of community, modelling positive values, and engaging all community members in pursuing a sense of purpose and hope.

The arguments we have presented in this article can also inform educational policy and programmatic decisions on school improvement, allowing for reconsideration of the whole school development policy (DoE 2001). We propose that a community school should be defined and enabled by the community in which it functions. The "one-size-fits-all" approach to basic school functionality, as defined by the Department of Education (2001), is further challenged when community voices are not given an opportunity to shape and inform the quality of education their children have access to. There is a difference between promoting community members' involvement in the school and the school's involvement in the community, which is where we are proposing the emphasis should be. According to Damons (2017, 203), quality schooling is "not only about results, but about changing the lives of learners and communities. The implication of this is that if the community participates and is supported, they will then support the contextual definition by making themselves available to help the schools."

According to Nieuwenhuis (2007, 69), policy makers "often seem to have a myopic vision that education should be able to solve all societal ills. This is an unrealistic and narrow view which places responsibilities on the education system that it cannot meet." We realise that our discussion here somewhat indulges a utopian view of schools and communities. While we promote a cohesive and collective picture of a school, we are aware that many schools in socio-economically challenged communities experience many internal tensions and challenges to achieving such a culture. Schools as political systems are fraught with challenges, and many South African communities are very diverse and struggle to maintain cohesion, unity, and a sense of belonging.

 

Conclusion

In this article we have argued that to adequately provide quality education in the current South African context stakeholders in schools need to re-evaluate their role within communities, and to find ways to engage with all school stakeholders to open possibilities for a better future for all. Consequently, we sought to challenge prevailing deficit definitions of the community school in current South African education discourses by proposing a more progressive definition that actualises community schools as beacons of hope and possibility in socio-economically marginalised South African communities. We advocate that to meaningfully pursue the notion of providing quality education, public schools in South Africa should encompass the three key characteristics of a community school and be guided by the three propositions to foster hope and possibility within their communities. In positioning themselves as places that foster and nourish hope on the personal, relational, and collective levels, these schools can become more responsive to the socio-economic challenges faced by their learners, staff and community members, which in turn allows for open dialogue, the promotion of positive relationships, and collaborations towards improved education for all. Ultimately, we believe that it is through collective action that schools and communities can make a meaningful impact on the education of their children, and through this possibly also meaningfully improve the trajectory of their own lives and that of the community as a whole.

 

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1 1 RMB = approximately 0.16 USD
2 Interviews and government policy texts were originally in Chinese and translated by the first author into English for the purpose of analysis. The translation has been checked by two professional translators.

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ARTICLE

 

Fostering an equitable curriculum for all: a social cohesion lens

 

 

Mutendwahothe Walter Lumadi

University of South Africa Lumadmw@unisa.ac.za https://orcid.org/0000-0003-0121-7386

 

 


ABSTRACT

The discourse of equal education in the South African education system is polemical, and achieving its aim is a daunting task. The premise of this study affirms that fostering an equitable curriculum for all is essential for social cohesion. The achievement of greater equity through schooling is vital to society and national identity because the citizenry purports to believe in the universal right to pursue quality life for all. I contend that curriculum implementation should reject the dominant miseducation within society that enables and legitimises the inequitable treatment of its citizenry, at the expense of democracy. It is worth noting that all human beings are created equal and endowed with certain inalienable rights, among which are life and liberty. A qualitative approach was employed in the study. An equitable curriculum must strive to include the lives of all those in society, especially the marginalised and dominated. Undemocratic, persistent inequities exist in the education system, and in religious and political agencies that promote the opposite of a tolerant and humane society. Equity in a curriculum is pivotal to the alleviation of injustices in society and is a panacea to the perpetuation of unfair practices. Fostering an equitable curriculum for all is mostly based on the intertwined principles of social justice, mainly equity, access, participation, and rights.

Keywords: equity; curriculum; social justice; equality; participation; social cohesion; rights; access


 

 

Introduction

Inequality in the school curriculum is linked to the major problems in society. The means of mitigating these inequalities are of paramount importance. This is of great interest since learners require quality education, which is a cornerstone for a guaranteed future. Equality in the curriculum will, to a large extent, guarantee every human being a better position in society. In the apartheid era, whites held nearly all the political power in South Africa, with other "races" almost completely marginalised from the political arena. The end of apartheid allowed equal rights for all citizens regardless of perceived racial origins. South Africa still grapples to correct the social inequalities created by the apartheid regime. Despite a rising gross domestic product, indices for poverty, unemployment and income inequality show they are still more prevalent among blacks, coloureds and Indians (Carr 2001).

Educational inequity erodes the values of equality of opportunity and social mobility. Every learner has a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, irrespective of parental status. An equitable curriculum that provides equal opportunities to learners with the relevant needs is a necessary component to address rampant income inequality, which hampers economic growth and threatens democracy. While equality means treating every learner the same, equity means making sure every learner has the support they need to be successful. Equity in education requires putting systems in place to ensure that every learner has an equal opportunity of achieving worthwhile results.

It is everyone's responsibility to create a lens for social cohesion. It requires political will, a shared consensus and participation in processes, even though this may be distinctly uncomfortable. Political will in some of the township and rural schools in South African provinces is currently demonstrated through leadership that prioritises the achievement of social cohesion, which changes unequal, system-wide relationships of power and is focused on improving the quality of education. Freire (1972) put forth that teachers should attempt to "live part of their dreams within their educational space". Classrooms can be places of hope where learners and teachers gain glimpses of the kind of society they could live in and where learners acquire the academic and critical skills needed to make it a reality. Coleman et al. (1966) too averred that learners need to be inspired by one another's vision of schooling, which would eventually enable them to balance equality, equity and social justice, as highlighted in Figure 1.

a) Social justice requires specific intervention to secure equality and equity

b) Equality: every human being has an absolute and equal right to common dignity and parity of esteem and entitlement to access the benefits of society on equal terms

c) Equity: everyone has the right to benefit from the outcomes of society based on fairness.

 

 

The implications of the model depicted in Figure 1 are explicit. Social justice is realised when the principle of equality is reflected in the concrete experience of all parties found in any given social situation. Furthermore, experience must be evaluated in the results on the extent of equity. When the two elements are interwoven, the level of social justice rises.

 

Literature Review and Theoretical Framework

This study is underpinned by a theoretical framework of "education for all", which is a global commitment to provide quality basic education for all learners and adults. The concepts of "education for all" and "curriculum" are interweaved. "Education for all", on the one hand, emphasises the need to provide access to education for traditionally marginalised groups, including girls and women, indigenous populations and remote rural groups, street children, migrants and nomadic populations, people with disabilities, linguistic and cultural minorities. A comprehensive rights-based approach must be dynamic, accounting for different learning environments and different learners.

 

The Concept of Curriculum

The concept of "curriculum, on the other hand, is derived from the Latin word currere, which means to run or race. In time, it came to mean the course of study" (Lumadi 1995). It can also be viewed as the sum of experiences leading to the learning that occurs under the auspices of the formal institution, whether or not these are part of the written content guide. Moreover, it can be defined as an organised set of intended learning outcomes leading to the achievement of educational goals. It may also allude to the knowledge and skills imparted to learners; this includes the learning standards they are expected to meet, and the units and lessons offered by teachers. A curriculum is the primary vehicle by which economically and socially marginalised adults and children can lift themselves out of poverty and obtain the means to participate fully in their communities (Gorski 2013).

A curriculum should not be viewed as a static commodity to be considered in isolation from its greater context; it is an ongoing process and holds its own inherent value as a human right. Not only do people have the right to receive quality education, they also have the right to be equipped with the skills and knowledge that will ensure long-term recognition of and respect for all human rights. In this study, it should be regarded as a plan for teaching and learning that is conceptualised in the light of certain selected outcomes. It encompasses all the planned learning opportunities offered to learners by the educators in institutions and the experiences that the learners encounter when the curriculum is implemented.

Habibis and Walter (2009, 69) took a step further by mentioning that curriculums should aim to achieve universal education for all, specifically to "ensure that all learners, will be able to complete a full course of schooling". The socio-cultural theory (Vygotsky 1986) that relies on the zone of proximal development and the constructivist (Piaget 1964) theories of learning further informed the study. Some of the schools in South Africa dictate the choice of subjects to learners. It is presumed that these theories, though quite different, subsume the use of dialogue and conversations (facilitated by the classroom teacher) to promote an inclusive policy to all learners to deal with their challenges when learning all school subjects. There is a controversial belief that the gateway subjects, such as mathematics and physical science, are complex and as a result are meant for the chosen few. In some of the studied schools, only boys can pursue this demanding stream because they are perceived to be tough and strong. These subjects are crucial for individual freedom and economic development. They are used as a basic entry requirement into any of the prestigious courses such as medicine, engineering and accounting, among other degree programmes. Despite the pivotal role that these subjects play in society, it is alleged that there has always been woeful performance from girls in these subjects.

Piaget (1964) argued that the growth of learners' knowledge occurs through knowledge representation schemas that the learners hold in their minds. Piaget maintained that these schemas are organic and are continually enriched when one considers new experiences. Knowledge growth that occurs through re-organising learners' schemas lies at the heart of the constructivist learning theory. Principally, learners are not regarded as tabula rasa (blank sheets, empty jugs or vessels) that must be filled with knowledge by the teachers; rather, they construct their own knowledge. In the classroom situation, the constructivist view of learning can point towards various teaching practices. In the most general sense, it simply means a way of motivating all learners, regardless of gender, "race", religion and language, to use active techniques (experiments, real-world problem solving) to create more knowledge and then to reflect on and talk about what they are doing and how their understanding is changing. The knowledge learners construct in the choice of subjects will equip them for a better future.

Giroux's theory posited that, contrary to a repressive view of democracy as hyper patriotic and intolerant of dissent and doubt, one should embrace the value of a conception of democracy that is never complete or determinate and constantly open to different understandings of the contingency of its decisions, mechanisms of exclusion and operations of power (Habibis and Walter 2009). Both democracy and social justice buttress education for all. It is imperative to take cognisance of the concept of social justice, which places the spotlight on oppression and inequality in all its nuances. Moreover, it entails, but is not limited to, xenophobia and racism, economic discrimination and classism, misogyny and sexism, religious impetus and political persecution, the abuse of civil liberties and ableism, homophobia and heterosexism. The goal of a human rights-based approach to "education for all" is to ensure every learner receives a quality education that respects and promotes their right to dignity and optimum development.

Social justice factors are particularly important in an equitable curriculum because there is a dire societal need for global understanding. In fact, learners expect the school curriculum to provide them with a diverse education (Connell and Messerschmidt 2005). It is this diverse education that gives an understanding that each learner is unique and recognises individual differences. It is vital for schools to adopt practices and provide equal learning opportunities that focus on power and inequality issues, since the school curriculum is a developmental aspect for learners (Zajda, Majahnovich, and Rust 2007). It is worth noting that an equitable curriculum should ensure that all learners have an opportunity to achieve the highest possible standards, regardless of barriers some may face, and have equality of access to learning.

The apparent simplicity and rationality of this study of curriculum theory and practice, and the way in which it mimics curriculum management, are powerful factors in its success. Missing from the discourse surrounding the issue is empirical evidence of curricular mimicking, which is prevalent in the schooling system. Although comparisons indicate mimicking exists, there is substantial variation in curriculum coverage. A further appeal is made to academics who attack teachers as if they are the ones who are instrumental in an exclusive practice. The radical critiques are of two camps. The first are the de-schoolers (those who think that schools are worthless, useless institutions, which ought to be scrapped because their curriculum is meant for the chosen few in society); they want to de-school society (Illich1970). The first camp of radical critiques contends that

The school curriculum in both capitalist and socialist societies is an instrument of oppression and monopoly.

The school curriculum in today's specialised and consumer-oriented society serves to manipulate people. The consequences of schooling, what Dore (1976) calls the "Diploma and Degree disease", is a reflection of the manipulation of the educational system by market forces.

Instead of being an equaliser, the school curriculum creates class difference and polarises society.

The second camp among the radical critiques are the neo-Marxists, who want to preserve the school as an institution, but want to reshape it to serve and match a society with a new order of production. Contemporary criticism about schools does not simply rest with differing reactions to the concept of schooling. It also involves disagreements as to what schools should be like and whether schools should provide equal educational opportunities. Coleman et al. (1966) asserted that equality of educational opportunity implies the provision of free universal education, an equitable curriculum for all learners, regardless of colour, gender, religion, and politics, and a common school system without dysfunction that is open to all.

In an equitable school curriculum, learners enter the classroom with their own specific learning needs, styles, abilities, and preferences. Teachers make standards-based content and curricula accessible to learners and teach in ways that learners can understand from their varying cultural paradigms (Kovacevic 2010). Oppression is both a reality and a perceptual phenomenon. It is further assumed that opportunities to exercise personal choice are desirable and liberating, that is, non-oppressive. Helping young people learn to make appropriate personal choices in schools is also assumed to be theoretically possible, operationally practical, and educationally desirable. If the schools are oppressive, choices will be restricted. If the schools are not oppressive, choices will be expanded. Critics have described educational practices that appear to be dehumanising. Protest groups have charged that schools are demeaning and restricting (Garwe 2014).

Someone must judge the merit of a school curriculum, determine how it is and is not meritorious, and the extent to which it is more meritorious than another. In a competitive market economy, consumers render that judgment-though, in a modern corporation, their judgment is somewhat diluted as it is translated into actual pay scales through the mediation of numerous intermediaries. Yet the bottom line is clear. A private school operating without government subsidy cannot pay its employees unless it satisfies the consumers with its products. The amount available to meet its expenses depends on how well it satisfies the customers (Mambo 2010).

Orwell's (1996) sad and cynical submission that all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others, becomes rather relevant here. It would appear that equal educational opportunity at its best is an ideal and a dream, and, at its worst, a political cliché, a consolation song to keep the poor hopeful (Freire 1972). Radical critiques of schooling often claim that the school curriculum reinforces class differences among members of privileged and disadvantaged groups in a society. The radical critiques view the concept of equal educational opportunity as a complex expression born out of the guilty conscience of an enlightened and privileged few individuals anxious to preserve their position of leadership without invoking social unrest and disaster (Miller 2004). From the government's point of view, equal educational opportunity is a tranquiliser to ameliorate the hopeless condition of the poor in society.

Liberal critiques of the school curriculum view the notion of equal educational opportunity in terms of economic resources available in the schools for teaching and learning, such as expenditure per learner, the availability of trained, well-paid teachers, lowering of the teacher-learner ratio, an attractive school environment and the provision of congenial physical facilities (Oduaran and Bhola 2006). There is, however, one criterion for the assessment of the school curriculum that is generally accepted by liberal and radical critiques, which is quality. Quality is a relative concept. In practical terms, the quality of a school curriculum can be defined with respect to several aspects of schooling that remain fairly constant over time. The concept of equity in a curriculum refers to the principle of fairness. Equity encompasses a wide variety of education models, strategies and programmes that may be perceived as fair, but are not necessarily equal. Equity is the process and equality is the outcome; given that, equity, what is fair and just, may not necessarily in the process of educating learners reflect strict equality- what is applied or distributed equally.

 

Methodology

It became evident from the study that an inequitable curriculum is offered in some of the schools in the country. A qualitative approach was employed in data collection. A total of 16 South African schools were purposefully sampled, as reflected in Table 1. Two primary and secondary schools apiece were selected from the deep rural areas in four provinces, namely the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, and the Northern Cape. All the high schools were categorised under the gateway stream for National Senior Certificate Examinations (NSCE). The learner population was 64.3% females and 35.7% males. Of learners, 95% were from impoverished backgrounds and 5% from wealthy backgrounds. Approximately 60% of learners were black, while 20% were coloured, 15% were Indian and 5% were white. Cultural differences were not considered when teaching mathematics and physical science. The 80 participants in the interviews comprised learners, teachers and principals from the provinces mentioned above (see Table 1 for participants in the study).

 

Results

It has already been pointed out that participants were interviewed to derive the key findings. Based on these findings, it was apparent that there are wastage and stagnation in our schooling system, judging from learners' poor academic performance. In the Eastern Cape, the learners' massive failure in the National Senior Certificate Examination (NSCE) was viewed as part of societal failure, a society that shuns academics and worships mediocrity and materialism. The NSCE, the Annual National Assessments, and international standard test series in which South Africa participated all indicated weak and gravely differentiated academic performances by learners, especially learners in the public schools in South Africa. Jackson (2005) opined that only about 25% of South African public schools produce acceptable educational outcomes, and that among the 25% of schools, 15% of them are the former model C schools and the other 10% are made up of exceptional township and rural schools. Other factors identified in the study were the lack of instructional materials and facilities and the massive attrition of qualified and dedicated teachers in the schools because of the lack of promotion and incentives (Reddy 2003).

In the classroom observation, it was disheartening to see overcrowded classes where learners were still taught in dilapidated buildings with leaking roofs. In a classroom of 70 learners in Lusikisiki, with only 10 mathematics textbooks to be shared among all learners, surely, the standard of education will be affected to a large extent. This was exacerbated by the shortage of qualified teachers and laboratories for conducting physical science experiments. Where there were resources, they were distributed unfairly to certain schools. One wondered how some of the schools in the identified provinces had all the required resources that could boost the performance of Grade 12 learners, whereas in some there was nothing, in the true sense of the word. The poor infrastructure at many schools in the country was also indicative of the poor application of the school funding system. The concept of an equitable curriculum for all is just lip service from the Department of Basic Education because resources are grossly inadequate.

A similar study conducted in Nigeria by Oluwatobi et al. (2015) suggested that in most secondary schools in Nigeria, teaching and learning took place in the most unconducive environment, where there was a lack of the basic materials, which hindered the fulfilment of educational objectives. Although most science teachers in the rural areas did not have the necessary credentials to teach physical science and were less experienced and not as talented as teachers in urban areas, resources are still crucial for them to exhibit expertise in the subjects they teach. Without resources, the learning content is likely to be presented in a haphazard manner and learners will not benefit as the teaching becomes less effective. In a country where there are few jobs for those who are academically qualified, where the rich illiterate is the most venerated, where the most affluent is the least educated, where higher qualifications attract little if any remuneration, it is not surprising that the learners are becoming increasingly disenchanted with academics and disillusioned with the acquisition of unprofitable academic certificates (Mills 2008).

The recruitment of professionally unqualified and underqualified teachers into teaching has become an internationally acclaimed strategy to deal with teacher shortages, particularly in rural schools, as the demand is often more severe in these contexts (Carr 2001). When underqualified teachers are appointed in a school, it has a bearing on school results. The use of teachers with limited professional education has been linked to lower quality education and poor learner outcomes. Zaida, Majahnovich, and Rust (2007) opined that education in rural communities lags behind educational development in other parts of the country, despite the fact that the majority of school-age learners live in a rural setup. Classroom learning and pedagogical performance were severely hampered by a lack of teacher performance and pedagogical resources. Learners from KwaZulu-Natal expressed regret when they were denied access to an Indian school. The argument from the School Governing Body was that discrimination was fair because it was a result of the Hindu religion that is practised in that school. It is on this basis that one would advocate for fostering an equitable curriculum for all, without fear, favour or prejudice.

 

Discrimination on Various Levels

The current changes in government and the school system policies reflect an increased understanding that many learners are not as fully a part of the school community as expected. The global society is embarking on the adventure of accepting all learners as members of regular classrooms. The challenge in the 16 identified schools was to act on the knowledge to support teachers in accepting all learners and moving towards a more equitable educational future. This was identified in the Northern Cape schools, which struggled the most to mould the characters of the future parents and guardians and to realise equity and social justice for all. Teachers as change agents are beset with the task of teaching all learners, among whom are disabled learners or learners with special educational needs.

 

Gender Stereotypes

Gender bias in education is an insidious challenge that compels teachers and learners to react in a bizarre way. The victims of this bias from the four provinces had been trained through years of schooling to be silent and passive and were unwilling to stand up and expose the kind of harsh treatment they encountered. Principals further lamented a bad tendency among teachers to assume that certain gateway subjects, such as mathematics and physical science, were specifically meant for boys, while subjects such as home economics and needlework are meant for girls, because they are perceived as the weaker vessels. This kind of attitude affected girls psychologically to such an extent that they even performed poorly in the subjects in which they could excel because of an inferiority complex and a negative attitude they adopted.

A study by Gorski (2013) revealed that one consequence of socialisation is that boys and girls develop different attitudes to certain academic disciplines. It was hypothesised that negative attitudes influenced whether the learners would be able to engage with certain tasks and the subsequent quality of their performance. The prediction was that a negative self-concept would result in lower performance while a positive self-concept would result in excellent performance. Although all participants were interviewed separately, it was deduced that mathematics and physical science were crucial for their future.

Similar studies conducted in Korea by Ayers and Quinn (1998) exhibited that there is a correlation between attitude and performance. The different attitudes of both boys and girls altered the learners' levels of confidence, which, in turn, impacted their performance in the classroom situation. The different attitudes enhanced or depressed the performance of tasks, irrespective of achievement. Miller (2004), in a study on gender difference in attitudes towards mathematics in school, declared that there is a significant relationship between a learner's gender and their attitude towards mathematics. It was also established that the parents' view of mathematics influenced the learners' attitudes towards mathematics. All learners go to school with learning styles already developed, some of which are not different from those advocated in various subjects, but are incompatible with the learners (Cramme and Diamond 2013).

Schools that attempted to alter the curriculum to provide a "boy-friendly" curriculum not only exacerbated gender stereotypes, but caused learners to display suicidal behaviour. By playing to gender stereotypes, they reinforced the idea that only some activities and behaviours were gender appropriate, which limited rather than enhanced learners' engagement with the curriculum. What was required to deal with such attitudes was a whole-school approach of challenging gender biased cultures, which covered the school's ethos and its teaching practices.

The study further revealed that boys and girls experienced schooling differently and received different treatment from teachers. Learners from the girls' school were only allowed to register for needlework and physical education. Teachers encouraged them to focus more on the general stream of music, vernacular languages, and religious education. The research showed that the interactions between the teachers and the boys and between the teachers and the girls varied in frequency, duration, and content. Consequently, the boys and girls developed different perceptions of their abilities and relationships (Theoharis and Brooks 2014). This posed a challenge to teachers and principals, especially those in mixed schools. Teachers ought to treat boys and girls on an equal footing so that nobody feels better than the other in academic performance. Furthermore, the mode of socialisation led girls and boys to develop different attitudes to certain academic disciplines. The prediction was that negative attitudes will result in lower performance.

The teachers further divulged that as the girls grew up, they lost confidence in their abilities, expected less from life and lost interest in gateway fields of study and rewarding careers, specifically careers involving science-related fields. However, the focus on all girls as underachievers has been misleading. Principals argued that some groups of boys underperform at school and some groups of girls perform slightly better. Achievement gaps based on social class and ethnicity often outweigh those of gender and it is the interplay of these factors that impact the performance of girls and boys. It is sometimes assumed that girls as a group outperform boys across the curriculum, but in fact boys broadly match girls in all subjects (Westaway 2015).

All human beings are born free with dignity and rights. It is embarrassing and pathetic that females are perceived as soft targets for discrimination at several levels and in various domains (Miller 2004). The discrimination in the participating schools was damaging, derogatory and demeaning, and subjugated females as second-class citizens of this world. This treatment of women should be rejected at all costs. If a girl learner wants to pursue any field, the opportunity should not be denied by an inequitable curriculum.

With reference to teaching and learning, a socially cohesive approach recognises difference, although not to such an extent that difference itself becomes a source of division and differentiation between social groups. This does not mean that discrimination was not found to be endemic, structural, and inscribed in institutional cultures and practices. For instance, the bullying and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersexual and questioning (or queer) (LGBTIQ) learners experienced in all the schools from the four provinces were overlooked. Stigma is a prejudiced attitude that perpetuates inequities and was readily applied to LGBTIQ and widespread insidious and pervasive stigma led to discriminatory attitudes and practices.

A frustrated learner bewailed this situation as follows:

The fact that I am a gay does not mean that I am not a citizen of this democratic country. I have my own right which should be respected. Teachers and learners should stop illtreating me as if I am not a human being. I enrolled at this school to study and nothing else. No one should dictate terms on how I should live because my parents accepted me the way I am.

The socialisation of gender groups in Eastern Cape schools assured that girls were made aware that they were perceived as unequal to boys. Every time learners were lined up by gender, the teachers affirmed that girls and boys should be treated differently, because they possess inferior and superior qualities. When a teacher ignored an act of sexual harassment, in a way it sanctioned the degradation of girls. When different behaviours were tolerated from boys but not from girls, because "boys will be boys", schools perpetuated the oppression of females. There was tangible evidence that girls were becoming academically more successful than boys; however, an examination of the classroom maintained that girls and boys continued to be socialised in ways that work against gender equity (Carr 2001).

Teachers socialised girls towards a feminine ideal by heaping praises on them for being neat, quiet, cool, and collected, whereas boys were encouraged to reflect on abstract ideas. Girls were socialised in the schools to recognise popularity as important and learn that educational performance and ability are not of paramount importance. As for girls in primary schools, those in Grade 7 rated popularity as more important than being dependent and competent. Through the interviews, it became evident that "nice girls" was considered a derogatory term, indicating an absence of toughness and attitude.

 

Racial and Social Exclusion

The findings manifested that racial discrimination and social exclusion were often ignored in the identified schools. In the language of apartheid planners, the concept of race refers to groups of people who have differences and similarities in biological traits deemed by society to be socially significant. People treat other people differently because of them (Miller 2004). Racial discrimination in the 16 schools was based on the concept of race; some "race groups" were privileged above others with regard to better service delivery in terms of education. Blacks, Indians, coloureds and whites received unequal treatment in schools. Discrimination in the conducted research reflected to a large extent the legacy of racial and social exclusion rooted in the apartheid era. The four identified provinces did not pay serious attention to it, partly because racism and discrimination were not only overt but also covert. Learners reported that covert discrimination was insidious and inscribed in everyday practices of the schools and it became the norm of life.

Most learners' concept of racial discrimination involved explicit, direct hostility expressed by learners towards members of a disadvantaged racial group. Yet discrimination included more than just direct behaviour, such as the denial of enrolment in a school due to a language barrier. Moreover, it can also be subtle and unconscious, such as nonverbal hostility in a tone of voice. Furthermore, discrimination against any learner was based on overall assumptions about members of a disadvantaged racial group that are assumed to apply to them, just like statistical discrimination.

Educational experiences of minority learners have continued to be substantially separate and unequal. Facilities and learning materials for learners attending white schools were totally different from those who were attending schools that were set aside for blacks. Of minority learners in the rural areas in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape, 4% still attended schools predominantly well-established and well-funded outside the rural area. This figure was below those in other rural settings and provided the launching pad for scathing criticisms of what government had put in place to mitigate underperformance viewed in terms of academic outcomes.

Westaway (2015, 2) has, for instance, capitalised on such reports and posited the following:

A cruel irony here is that whereas Bantu Education was explicit in wanting to reduce black Africans to "hewers of wood and drawers of water", it actually did a better job (proportionally) in educating this grouping for skilled employment than the supposedly equal education regime of the democratic government.

Such conclusions are rather sinister given that liberal education philosophers would argue that the liberation of the mind is, in the first place, more important than just providing learners with daily bread. The study is not about the debates in this sphere of discourse for now. Surely, any mind that is circumscribed and warped cannot be in a position to work out the solution to the predicament that might have ruined the path of growth for a free-born black learner for so many years. In every tangible measure, from qualified teachers to curriculum offerings, the sampled schools mostly serving learners of colour had significantly inferior resources than the schools serving mostly white learners, as highlighted above. The research has shown that various aspects consistently influenced learners' performance to a certain extent. Learners perform better if they are educated in schools with a reasonable teacher-learner ratio than in overcrowded classrooms. It goes without saying that they also require a relevant curriculum offered by highly qualified teachers with a wealth of experience. It became apparent from the interviews that underprepared teachers were less effective in viewing all learners on an equal footing and they also had trouble with curriculum development and motivation.

Oduaran and Bhola (2006) and other scholars have continued to take a critical swipe at this phenomenon. The apparent consensus seems to be that the schooling system in South Africa is increasingly failing to measure up to standard. One negative comment after the other has been expressed in such a way that they have come to build up informed perspectives, some of which are not based on empirical research. The literature on the subject is replete with concerns over the very poor educational outcomes associated with schooling in South Africa. Curriculum quality and teacher expertise were found to be interlaced, because an equitable curriculum requires an expert teacher. The study conveyed that both learners and teachers were tracked to a certain extent. The most experienced teachers taught the most demanding subjects to the most advantaged learners in their mother tongue, while underperforming learners assigned to less able teachers received lower-quality teaching and less demanding material. Teachers of learners whose results were grossly inadequate were less likely to understand learners' learning styles, to anticipate their knowledge and potential difficulties, and redirect instruction to meet learners' needs. Learners who were taught in their mother tongue, such as Afrikaans instead of English, performed better than their counterparts. When tests and examinations were scored, learners from underperforming schools who were not taught in their mother tongue were more likely to fail.

A principal from a school in Mpumalanga expressed the following sentiments:

It is unfair to criticize Black and Indian learners when they fail examinations. Coloureds and Afrikaners have an advantage of studying everything from kindergarten up to PhD level in Afrikaans whilst their counterparts are not allowed to study in their own mother tongue. This justifies the high failure rate of blacks in schools and needs serious attention. Where is fairness in the democratic country?

A learner said:

We are from a Christian background and for admission to a Hinduism school, we were subjected to an interview based on that religion but unfortunately failed hopelessly. This was the closest school to our area and we could walk to and from within a few minutes. Apart from that results in this school are excellent. The government tried to intervene but unfortunately lost the case.

Laws and legal institutions must ensure that equal opportunities are provided for teaching and learning. The researcher had the opportunity to visit a couple of dysfunctional schools in the four sampled provinces in rural areas and the lack of resources in some of these schools was appalling, as portrayed in Figure 3 below. Some learners were only allowed to register at this school, which had a dilapidated building and no water and electricity.

 

 

 

 

In one of the schools in the Northern Cape (see Figure 3), conditions were so chaotic that it seemed miraculous that learning occurred at all, and much of the learning appeared to be haphazard because of a deliberate focus on the content and process of instruction. The ruling government spends a lot of money building prisons instead of funding education. Our tertiary institutions, like other levels of the school system, are starved of funds to the extent that they cannot adequately fulfil the role for which they were set up. Although there may be a number of factors impacting the curriculum, our universities still maintain an alien character in pedagogy and curriculum. This is a result of direct government intervention and control in the day-to-day management and running of our autonomous universities. Government's direct interference has inhibited the growth of our institutions of higher learning and the freedom to teach and to learn.

 

Discussion

The notion that social justice is concerned with the mitigation of deprivation and poverty reflects social justice's secular philosophical teachings on benevolence and charity that date back to antiquity. Social justice in this study was aimed at promoting a curriculum that is just, equitable, and values diversity. An equitable curriculum provides equal opportunities to all its members, irrespective of their disability, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, language, or religion, and ensures fair allocation of resources and support for their human rights. The overall picture of social justice in the 16 schools portrayed in this study does not augur well for the future of our education system, and it is clear that something needs to be done to arrest the problem before it spirals out of control. Forms of discrimination in the identified schools cut across the rich and poor quintiles, fee and non-fee-paying schools and rural and urban schools. All the learners were in racially homogeneous, poorly resourced, and underperforming schools.

Despite South Africa's commitment to the promotion of a sound educational policy, the nation's schools are in a sorry state and have indeed failed to meet learners' expectations. We frequently hear that the quality of our schools is eroding. The truth of this statement depends on the indicator of quality used. If resource inputs and outputs of education are viewed as the sole indicators, the quality of our school curriculum appears to have declined.

Our schools also seem to have declined since an analysis of NSCE results in the past years have shown massive failure in schools, indicating that little or no learning seems to have taken place in our schools over time. Moreover, there is a dire need for improvement, especially in the secondary and post-secondary sectors, for learners with different levels of intellectual disability.

 

Conclusion

The study revealed that schools should be hospitals that nurture a more just society than the one we are currently part of. Unfortunately, too many schools are training grounds for boredom, alienation, and pessimism. Many schools fail to confront the racial, class and gender inequities woven into our social fabric. Teachers are often perpetrators and victims with little control over planning time, class size, and broader school policies, and much less control over the unemployment and other "savage inequalities" that help shape the learners' lives. For the curriculum to be more equitable, the School Management Team should endeavour to identify how resources and funds are being distributed and where inequities exist. They should also make a school equity pledge proclaiming the environment that will be created to ensure that equity is achieved. Moreover, there should be collaboration with community partners and parents to incorporate external interests and opportunities.

In conclusion, funding opportunities and revenue channels should be established to grow equity initiatives. An intricate global challenge that has become a bane in South Africa is to promote equal educational opportunity in schools. The concept of durable inequalities maintains that categorical inequalities exist via exploitation and opportunity hoarding. These asymmetrical relations between groups keep the disadvantaged bound to one tract and the privileged poised to continue reaping the benefits of their social resources. Whether consciously or not, people's positions on the social mobility ladder are largely fixed and as a result this perpetuates intergenerational cycles of poverty. These relational mechanisms sustain unequal advantage and amount to opportunity hoarding for the privileged group. The position an individual is born into hinges primarily on unequal control over value-producing resources. As for the most advantaged, they tend to own modes of production. It goes without saying that subordinated groups that result in further isolation of the disadvantaged view emulation through generations and adaptation as forms of coping.

 

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ARTICLE

 

Turnaround learner discipline practices through epistemic social justice in schools

 

 

Rudzani Israel Lumadi

University of South Africa lumadri@unisa.ac.za https://orcid.org/0000-0001-9466-2854

 

 


ABSTRACT

Researchers claim that learner discipline has continued to be a problem in schools since corporal punishment was outlawed in public schools in South Africa. It is evident that teachers have a vital role to play in the improvement of learner discipline in schools. An interpretivist qualitative approach was adopted to investigate learner discipline practices as perceived by teachers in South African public schools. A sample of 10 (3 principals, 3 teachers, 3 parents and 1 learner) participants was used for the study. Social justice theory was used as a lens to consider the process of humanising learner discipline practices in terms of human rights. The article investigates how learner discipline practices can be turned around through epistemic social justice to influence the quality of teaching and learning in schools. The findings revealed that in South Africa there are no effective learner discipline practices. There is a need for education authorities to introduce compulsory training and development programmes for aspiring teachers to be equipped with new strategies to deal with learner discipline through a social justice approach. Social justice theory was used as a tool to address learner discipline practices in selected schools. It was recommended that there be more parent involvement in decision-making to consider a policy of transforming learner discipline practices to deal with the inequality and injustice in schools.

Keywords: turnaround; corporal punishment; school governing bodies; classroom discipline; cultural diversity; learner discipline practices; South African Schools Act; social justice


 

 

Introduction

According to research, there is a consensus that from a historical perspective the legal demand for the adoption and implementation of social justice policies still presents challenges associated with learner discipline in South African schools (Mpanza 2015). There are numerous published studies worldwide that describe the role of discipline as a possible tool for promoting quality education in schools (Gregory, Skiba, and Mediratta 2017). There is, however, limited research in the South African context with special reference to secondary schools on the implications of the social justice theory in terms of maintaining learner discipline and school functionality. In 1994, South Africa adopted the most important building block for establishing democracy based on the protection of the fundamental rights as enshrined in the Bill of Rights in line with global school disciplinary demands. As Woolman and Fleisch (2009) note, the values of human dignity, equal treatment and freedom are listed in section 7(1) of the Constitution. While this seems to be a noble idea, South Africa has continuously faced many disciplinary challenges in its schools such as bullying, school-based violence, gender-based violence, segregation, sexual abuse, physical aggression and emotional violence (Smit 2009). Of all the identified forms of indiscipline, researchers agree that bullying is the most serious issue being experienced on a daily basis in South African schools (Thornberg 2015). Although the South African Schools Act, No. 84 of 1996, in compliance with the Constitution, was introduced to replace the inequalities of the apartheid policies, including disciplinary policies and practices, learner discipline is still an unbearable problem, especially in terms of bullying (Amanchukwu 2011). There is also evidence of a negative relationship between undisciplined practices by learners and the quality of teaching and learner performance (Gregory, Skiba, and Mediratta 2017). The effective and efficient functioning of schools, the goal of which is to achieve quality education, is a nightmare under such circumstances, according to Amanchukwu (2011). With the aim of overcoming such challenges, this study investigates how learner discipline practices can be turned around through epistemic social justice to promote quality teaching and learning in secondary schools in the Vhembe district of Limpopo. The findings not only aim at contributing to the enhancement of social justice theoretical content, but also at the implementation and adoption of its principles and practices in the South African education system. The article sketches the background to the study, followed by the problem statement, aims and objectives and the literature review, which consists of the theoretical framework, conceptual framework and further discussion.

 

Background to the Study

The South African government invests in education with the expectation of producing a skilled labour force. Russell and Cranston (2012) claim that despite the investment, teachers, as highlighted in the introductory remarks, seem to be concerned about the prevalence of learner disciplinary problems in school environments, which result in a low standard of learner academic performance. Similarly, teachers play a significant role in improving learners' academic achievement and the social and moral development of learners in schools. Teachers could transform learner discipline practices through social justice theory in schools with the hope of fostering better educational performance (Russell and Cranston 2012). Central to this study is the assumption by the researcher that learner discipline is critical in the process of transforming and restoring social order.

Before identifying literature gaps in the context of this study, it is important to understand that epistemic social justice refers to the principle of applying fairness in terms of epistemological knowledge and understanding (Fricker 2007). In its opposite context (social injustice), the theory is aligned to the concept of epistemic injustice with reference to such terms as authority and power, suppression and knowledge and understanding (Fricker 2007). The epistemic justice theory, from a social justice perspective, was aimed at abolishing social inequalities (Petrie et al. 2006). It is also important to take note of the emphasis on the terms "knowledge" and "understanding". Social justice in schools is part of the underlying principles of social pedagogy, in accordance with the principles of equity (Rawls 1999). In order to live in a socially just world, all citizens need to be involved in protecting and promoting the values, principles and ideals of social justice (Nieuwenhuis, Aston-Jones, and Cohen 2005). In the context of this study, social justice is used as a possible tool to ensure that fairness is applied by eradicating power, oppression and any form of social inequality when it comes to learner disciplinary issues, and the focus is on knowledge and understanding as key principles.

Before digging deeper into more debates, the controversial issues to be tackled first include an understanding of whether social justice and democracy are the same. Woolmann and Fleisch (2009) claim that South Africa is not aware of the difference between social justice and democracy, according to the majority of educators, school management team (SMT) and school governing body (SGB) members interviewed for their study. What they found in most schools when it comes to disciplinary measures was autocracy, while democratic practices that lead to social justice were hardly practised.

 

Knowledge and Understanding of Social Justice and Democracy

According to Thompson (2015, 7), social justice fosters the perfect conditions for the rights, security, opportunities, and social benefits of every member of an organisation to be realised. In other words, democracy is a judicial requirement and an instrument for implementing social justice and vice versa (Xaba and Ngubane 2010). Research indicates that from a historical perspective, corporal punishment during the apartheid era was part of an authoritarian approach of managing the school environment, and discipline was based on the view that teachers should control learners (Porteus, Vally, and Ruth 2001). Injustice and unfair measures used to maintain discipline were reactive, humiliating, and punitive rather than corrective and nurturing (DoE 2012). Porteus, Vally, and Ruth (2001) contend that learner discipline in schools was often erroneously equated with punishment. Ugboko and Adediwura (2012) assert that learner discipline provides the order and structure needed to maintain the standard of expected learner behaviour in schools. The implication is that more knowledge and a better understanding of the principles of social justice and democracy can encourage a better understanding of appropriate principles and practices of social justice when it comes to disciplinary measures in schools. It is then necessary, in the context of this study, to suggest strategies to ensure that all education stakeholders have full knowledge and understanding of these principles for the successful implementation of disciplinary measures, including educators, the SMT, learners, parents, the SGB and the school community.

Misconceptions associated with democracy, social justice, and human rights have been found among many learners (Elam, Rose, and Gallup 1993). Some of them perceive democracy as protecting their right not to undergo disciplinary processes and relevant punishments for violating school laws (Elam, Rose, and Gallup 1993). For learners, democracy provides leeway for violence and bullying. Research has shown that this is one of the reasons why some of them react so violently to educators (Elam, Rose, and Gallup 1993). On the other hand, this misconception is a threat to teachers' security as disciplinary problems are at alarming levels in South Africa (Elam, Rose, and Gallup 1993).

Bearing this in mind, a strategy must be devised to address this issue through understanding learner discipline as an important part of the learners' behaviour- without it, the school will not be effective in achieving quality teaching and learning. Learner discipline allows the school to instil an environment conducive to learning for the school community.

 

Knowledge and Understanding of Bullying as a Form of Indiscipline versus Principles and Practices of Social Justice

There are also identified literature gaps between knowledge and understanding of causes of bullying and the appropriate strategies to provide a remedy. While some researchers associate causes of school violence and bullying with gender (Burger et al. 2015), others associate it with social norms (Goldsmid and Howie 2014). From a different perspective, some link bullying to wider contextual and structural factors (Goldsmid and Howie 2014). For instance, a study by Higson-Smith and Brookes (2001) reflects on gender inequality and the prevalence of violence against women in society. Similarly, social norms that support the authority of teachers over children may legitimise the use of violence to maintain discipline and control (Goldsmid and Howie 2014). This cannot be separated from the context of this study, since all the causes are linked to social justice policies, principles and practices in every aspect of life, including school discipline. "Proponents of social justice believe in the eradication of imbalances regarding gender, religion, socio-economic status, race or tribe" (Thompson 2015, 7).

 

Bullying versus the Teacher-Learner Relationship

According to Charles (2002), the last literature gap relates to understanding not only teacher-learner relations, but also the roles of the school management team, the SGB and the community at large. He explains there is a perception that only the classroom teacher is responsible for instilling discipline among the learners. This is probably because the teacher spends more time with the learners. However, the policy stipulations indicate that it is the responsibility of all educational staff members, the school management team, the parents, the SGB and the community at large, to instil good behaviour among learners. This is the reason why strategies must be put in place to ensure that all stakeholders have complete knowledge of the concept of full involvement in moulding the behaviour of school learners. In the same vein, teachers do not only teach knowledge and skills, they also help learners to define whom they are (Charles 2002).

 

Problem Statement

According to Elam, Rose, and Gallup (1993), learner discipline is viewed as a major problem for schools. It comes as no surprise that most disciplinary problems are caused by students (Elam, Rose, and Gallup 1993). There are identified knowledge gaps that seem to have escalated the prevalence of indiscipline, such as a lack of knowledge and understanding of social justice and democracy. Most consulted strategies have failed to combat these misconceptions of social justice, democracy and what the protection of human rights entails. This challenge is tied to gaps identified in the literature between knowledge and an understanding of bullying as a form of discipline and principles and practices of social justice (Elam, Rose, and Gallup 1993). Challenges associated with social injustice such as gender inequalities, racism, socio-economic status bias, religious inequalities, tribalism and power abuse can be discussed separately, but should not be separated when attempting to solve learner behavioural challenges.

Spaull (2013) confirms that globally the poor academic performance of learners could be attributed to a lack of learner discipline in schools. Teachers, students, school governing bodies (SGBs), and community members are not equally represented in the design of turnaround disciplinary procedures.

My study focuses on exploring the emerging trends and challenges that teachers encounter with learner discipline strategies to restore learner discipline. Turnaround learner discipline practices based on social justice theory reflect the contention that socially responsible actions and responses are learned in a culture where individuals are respected and well-integrated into a social network (Morrison 2001). The question remains how learner discipline practices can be turned around through epistemic social justice theory to foster quality teaching and learning in schools. The researcher proposes remedies that might bring social justice in classroom discipline in schools in line with the provisions of the South African Schools Act (SASA) (RSA 1996a) with regard to the effective and efficient management and discipline of learners. There is something wrong in schools when wealthy, low ability children overtake poor, high ability children. Teachers are the modern engines of social justice and need to continue with their mission to embed social justice in schools. The best means of translating intent into positive practice is to have good teachers for disadvantaged learners.

Given this background, this article argues that teachers do not seem to have the relevant knowledge to deal with the learner discipline they experience to enhance the school environment and learning conditions. It is likely to contribute to the body of knowledge in education and to inform practices and policy implementation. It is very important to reward learners for good behaviour and positive contributions to the school community. Effective learner discipline practices are used to turn around the school environment through consistency and teamwork. Moreover, there should be ongoing evaluation of school discipline practices and strategies for reducing classroom disruptions in view of academic achievement (Epstein 2011).

However, the quality of leadership makes a significant contribution to schools and learner outcomes, and it is recognised that schools require effective teachers if they are to provide learner discipline. Teachers can affect classroom management by adopting a proactive approach and becoming instructional leaders. However, sometimes the role of all stakeholders, including educators, SMT, SGB, the parents, the community and society at large, in moulding learners' behaviour seems to be neglected, resulting in another gap that needs to be addressed.

The identified challenges are common in secondary schools in the Vhembe district in Limpopo, which is experiencing a disciplinary crisis. For this reason, an investigation is required to come up with better strategies to turn around learner discipline practices in their own right within a specific terrain of public debate. This will help the principals, teachers, and parents to execute learner discipline practices effectively. Consequently, this article will outline turnaround learner discipline practices required to support the implementation of discipline that can be envisioned and included in the training of classroom teachers. Such an investigation requires that education policymakers examine turnaround learner discipline practices in their own right within a specific terrain of public debate.

 

The Aim of the Study

The main aim of the article is to investigate how learner discipline practices can be turned around through epistemic social justice to influence the quality of teaching and learning in the Vhembe secondary schools in Limpopo.

 

Research Question

This article is guided by the following research question:

How can learner discipline practices be turned around through epistemic social justice to improve the quality of teaching and learning in schools?

 

Literature Review and Conceptual Framework

The key aspects, bullying and positive teacher-learner relations, inform the discussion. Discipline Practice

There is a consensus among many researchers that disciplinary practices relate to the actions taken by a teacher or the school organisation towards a student or group of students when they violate school rules (Dalporto 2013). While some researchers perceive the term "discipline" as referring to forms of punishment inflicted on a learner for breaking the rules, others put more emphasis on the aim of discipline as setting limits to avoid unbecoming behaviours among school learners that may harm other learners or that are against school policies, norms and ethics (DoE 2012). However, discipline is generally perceived as the provision of necessary guidance and support for children' s behaviour for them to be responsible and obedient not only in following school policies, but also to maintain principles of humanity at home and within society at large, among other people and the world around them (Dalporto 2013).

Epistemic Social Justice

In addition to what has already been highlighted, Fricker (2007) points out that in terms of power and the ethics of understanding and knowing, there are two kinds of epistemic injustice, namely testimonial injustice and hermeneutical injustice (Anderson 2005; Medina 2012). In the context of discipline in schools, Fricker asserts that testimonial injustice takes place when a person's knowledge and understanding are ignored or if they are ignored because the person is a member of a particular social group. This type of injustice includes aspects such as gender, "race", socio-economic, religious, and epistemic oppression. Hermeneutical injustice, on the other hand, occurs when someone's experiences in terms of poverty, family background, abuse or violations of other ethical values are not understood.

However, the key aspects of bullying, as a form of indiscipline, and teacher-learner relations inform the discussion in this study in the sections to follow.

 

Bullying

As highlighted before, teachers and learners describe bullying as a serious problem in schools.

Bullying is a social phenomenon that is established and perpetuated over time as the result of the complex interplay between individual and contextual factors (Thornberg 2015). To deal with ill-disciplined children, to reduce barriers to learning, and to increase participation of learners require insight into where these barriers may come from and why and when they arise. In support of this, Caravita, Blasio, and Salmivalli (2009) are of the view that it is very important for a teacher to be aware of the socioeconomic and family background of children to be able to understand non-academic factors that influence their learning. Many social factors that affect learning cannot be altered, but understanding these factors will enable teachers to see learners' "failures" in context and create learning environments that reduce, instead of increase, the effects of these factors (Cassidy 2009). Some teachers consider this a personal and professional challenge. The timing of teaching-learning interactions is part of learner discipline management. Learner indiscipline can be overcome by managing the classroom environment better and by improving the timing of classroom activities. Teachers tend to point out learners' deficiencies rather than praising them for their efforts and improvements. For many children, this is very discouraging and may result in them feeling inferior and like a failure. Effective teachers have learned and experienced that learner indiscipline is relatively rare in classrooms where learners are actively engaged and interested in the work and when they are appreciated for where they come from, whom they are, and what they are able to contribute (Ashworth et al. 2008).

 

Positive Teacher-Learner Relations

Positive teacher-learner relations and classroom environments are important factors that will have an influence on how learners experience school. In the same vein, teachers do not only teach knowledge and skills, they also help learners to define whom they are (Charles 2002).

From their daily interactions with teachers, learners learn whether they are important or not, bright or slow, liked or disliked. Teachers transmit these messages through their behaviour, gestures, and words. From the messages learners receive, they decide whether to risk participation in class activities or not. Spaulding (1992) contends that teachers must recognise that involvement may not always come easily and that this requires a trusting, psychologically comfortable classroom environment. The motivation to learn and to behave is based on interest. If teachers manage to stimulate curiosity among learners, they will also discover willingness among learners to learn and to behave. Teaching that satisfies learners' curiosity motivates them far more effectively than forcing them to perform tasks they consider irrelevant and boring. Therefore, the way teachers interact with and teach learners is crucial in preventing misbehaviour.

According to Charles (2002), despite efforts of positive interaction, bad behaviour may still occur and teachers must be prepared for this by using different techniques, ranging from counselling, focusing on understanding, or mutually solving a problem to ignoring inappropriate behaviour while reinforcing appropriate behaviour.

 

Research Design and Methodology

According to Blaikie (2000, 21), a research design "is an integrated statement of and justification for the more technical decisions involved in planning a research project [...] This process is analogous to the activities of an architect designing a building." In addition to the explanation, a research design focuses on the end product and all the steps in the process to achieve the anticipated outcome. A research methodology refers to the strategies applied in any form of investigation (De Vos et al. 2002). According to Creswell (2014), descriptive research aims to explain the type of phenomenon surveyed in this study. This study was conducted in six selected secondary schools in the Vhembe district and involved Grade 10 learners. An interview is an effective research instrument to get relevant information from the respondents if it is well prepared (Tuckman 1978).

A qualitative case-study research approach was employed to answer the question of how learner discipline practices can be turned around through epistemic social justice theory to improve the quality of teaching and learning in schools. According to Leedy (2013, 141), "a case study is used to study a particular situation in depth for a specific period". The qualitative research methodology was adopted because it allowed for interaction with participants, which enabled the researcher to construct their social reality. To achieve the aim of this study an interpretive, naturalistic approach was pursued to reach an in-depth understanding of the phenomenon under study. Three principals and three teachers from secondary schools agreed to participate. The qualitative research methodology was chosen because it derives meaning from the research participants' perspective (McMillan and Schumacher 2010). This is supported by Reaves (1992) who posits that qualitative researchers are primarily concerned with the process rather than the outcomes of the products. The qualitative research in this article focuses on how the turnaround of learner discipline in secondary schools will be attained. The researcher chose a qualitative paradigm because it facilitates inductive and descriptive research that commences with data collection and builds on the theoretical framework, which in this study is linked to the turnaround of learner discipline practices through epistemic social justice in schools.

 

Population

Okeke and Van Wyk (2015) refer to a population as a group of persons, objects or items from which samples are taken for measurement, for instance a population of dissertations and theses of postgraduate students. This study's population included principals, teachers, parents, and learners of secondary schools in the Vhembe district.

 

Sampling

By means of the convenience sampling method, six secondary schools in the Vhembe district were selected. This sampling method was used because the schools are easily accessible in terms of distance. Purposive sampling was used to select three principals, three teachers and three parents-nine respondents. The teachers were selected because of their daily learner discipline practices. Learners were selected as participants to gain their perceptions of disciplinary issues from their experience as the major victims. The role of the parents was to provide views on disciplinary issues from an educational and social perspective. The teachers' role is to maintain learner discipline from both an educational and social perspective. The principals, representing the SMT, provided perceptions based on their experience of interpreting and exercising disciplinary measures according to policy. In the context of this study, the SGB is considered as representative of the parents.

Permission to conduct the research pertaining to learner discipline practices was first sought from the Department of Education in Limpopo Province. The researcher selected the schools from the list that was secured at the various ward offices in the region. Phone calls to the principals produced a roster of teachers, learners and parents who would participate in the research. There were informants in each of the three categories: principals, teachers, and parents. Since the SGB represents the parents, the researcher did not deem it necessary to obtain permission from the parents. After permission had been granted, the researcher met separately with the informants (principals, teachers, and parents) and explained the outline and objectives of the research and the role of the informants. A general meeting was set up after school hours for this purpose in each school. It was difficult to accommodate the parents' work schedules, and as a result, few parents attended these meetings. At this gathering, the researcher assured the parents, principals, and teachers of confidentiality, privacy and anonymity during the research process. The rights of the informants were spelled out clearly; that is, they could refuse to answer any questions during interviews, withdraw from the research at any stage, and demand to see any notes or recordings.

The principals, teachers, and parents were reluctant to become involved. However, three principals and three teachers from secondary schools agreed to participate. The informants were diverse with respect to "race", gender, school setting and social and economic contexts. Pseudonyms are used for all informants throughout the project.

 

Data Analysis

Qualitative techniques were used to collect the data, which included the interviews with respondents, field notes, and an analysis of documents and education policies of the Department of Education (DoE) and relevant audio materials. The researcher reviewed the data after each interview to extract issues covered during the interview in order to ensure that those issues received preference in the subsequent interview. The actual data analysis took place after all the interviews had been conducted. The data was transcribed, and the analysis was categorised into various stages. In the first stage, data was segmented into categories, and in the second stage related themes were compared to implemented learner discipline practices.

 

Findings

The researcher established themes concerning turnaround learner discipline practices as perceived by principals, teachers, and parents of learners in six secondary schools in the Vhembe district of Limpopo. I also examined the views of principals, teachers, and parents regarding current classroom management practices and the factors that play a role in learner discipline practices.

The findings include, the school was seen as a machine and the classroom as a part of the "machine bureaucracy"; the teacher was seen as a supervisor and the learner as a worker. Common assessments were used as quality-measuring tools employed to rank the learners' performance. Authority was hierarchically structured. Furthermore, the patriarchal and hierarchical social pattern was maintained by a system of command and controls at all the levels of the hierarchy.

A discussion of the results is presented below under the topics that emerged during the data analysis. These are the following: implementation and knowledge explosion, bullying, politics and teachers' unions, multicultural education, and human dignity.

 

Implementation and Knowledge Explosion

One finding that emerged from the perceptions of the selected principals, teachers and parents shows that, as part of an exercise to turn around learner discipline and the piloting of standards through a form of training, the Department of Education initiated a teacher-training model intended to spread knowledge and skills (Van der Horst and McDonald 1997). Although the intention was theoretically viable, the programme was simply not workable in an environment that was so unreceptive. The Department of Education procured the services of non-governmental organisations to deliver the nationwide training and evaluate the cascading of training in the entire province. The following are selected comments from the respondents, mostly principals, teachers, and parents:

Participant 1 (Teacher) said:

Classrooms with positive behaviour have a common vision, mission and support the value of citizenship from learners.

Participant 2 (Teacher) declared that:

The management seminars to train social skills to assist learners deal with anger in a constructive and positive manner.

Participant 3 (Teacher) asserted the following:

The curriculum recognises the bad behaviour is due to loss of control. Trained learners and facilitators guide participants through the management curriculum that offers learners a wide variety of alternative options to express and deal with anger.

Participant 1 (Parent) expressed that:

Learners who have been involved in a fight must attend this programme. Other learners may attend the seminar.

Participant 1 (Principal) echoed the sentiments expressed by Participant 1 and stated that

[t]he outcome of the teacher-parent campaign, parental and school governing meetings is to increase parental involvement for the programme's success and to encourage parental participation.

Participant 2 (Principal) said that what is required is

[a] whole school discipline policy, implemented curricular measures, empowerment of learners through conflict resolution, classroom management and peer counselling. Teacher supervision has increased at a key time.

 

Bullying

The interviews indicated that bullying is a violent, physical or psychological form of behaviour that is prevalent in schools and can be reduced, if not eliminated, by actions taken by schools and parents. The respondents indicated that bullying is intolerable behaviour, because it is the cruel oppression of a powerless person by a more powerful person without any justification. The following selected comments from the respondents support this.

Participant 3 (Teacher) related that

[b]ullying is a sign of bad behaviour and affect[s] the ability of other learners to mentally, physically, socially and academically perform.

Participant 1 (Learner) stated that

[l]earners who engage in bullying seem to have a need to feel powerful, in control and to dominate.

Participant 3 (Teacher) said that a

[d]iscipline plan that addresses bullying is a right decision considered.

Participant 2 (Parent) claimed that

[t]he plan should involve all learners, teachers, principals and parents to make sure that all learners can attend a safe, caring and responsible classroom.

 

Politics and Educators' Unions

The analysis brought to light that involvement in politics and teachers' unions is detrimental to discipline and the smooth running of the classroom. Secondary teachers, like other teachers, organise themselves into professional unions and associations for several reasons, namely, to improve the status of the teaching profession, to raise and maintain professional standards, and to look after their interests as employees.

Participant 3 (Parent) contended:

The involvement in politics and teacher unions is detrimental to the smooth running of the classroom and discipline.

As employees, teachers are concerned with their personal needs and economic welfare. The teachers' associations negotiate with education authorities on issues such as the increment of salaries, housing subsidies, medical allowance, working and appointment conditions. The unions constitute the official channel for grievances to be stated to the DoE.

Participant 2 (Teacher), supporting the views of Participant 3, claimed:

The various political organisations are viewed by some of Vhembe secondary teachers as problematic for the effective implementation of classroom management and discipline. Teachers who belong to the same political organisation always club together and support each other on various issues. When staff meetings are to be held, teachers belonging to the same political organisations always caucus in advance on issues to be addressed. Teachers who belong to the minority political organisation are defeated on issues. Those whose political party is well supported receive a reasonable workload at the expense of others.

 

Multicultural Education

Based on the researcher's findings, it was evident that multicultural classrooms pose huge challenges to classroom management and discipline. Benson (2008) shows that multicultural education is an approach to teaching and learning that is based upon beliefs, attitudes, knowledge and values, and affirms cultural pluralism within a culturally diverse society and independent world.

Participant 2 (Parent) emphasised the following:

Multicultural education is comprised of the movement towards equity, classroom reform, the process of becoming multicultural and a commitment to combat prejudice and discrimination.

 

Human Dignity

Human dignity (Section 10 of the Constitution [RSA 1996b]), the right of people to be treated with respect and dignity, plays a significant role (Coetzee et al. 2015). Teachers should in all their dealings with learners keep the learners' right to human dignity in mind. Dignity is regarded as the backbone of the South African Constitution. Everyone is entitled to be treated with respect and dignity. In this article, dignity implies respect for the teachers and learners as well as other school communities.

 

Discussion

It is evident from the findings that the turnaround of learner discipline in secondary schools in the Vhembe district of Limpopo poses challenges for principals, teachers, and parents. To achieve effective learner discipline, the principals, teachers, learners, and parents must work together. According to Blandford (1998), the learners have human rights that they expect to enjoy, and they also have the right to a learning environment that is conducive to effective learning, safe and non-threatening. Teachers should respect the learner as an individual with human rights such as freedom of expression (Coetzee et al. 2015). Similarly, learners have the right to a learning environment that is free from bullying and intimidation. Parental workshops should be organised by the schools to educate the parents on their roles in enhancing learner discipline in the school. In the same vein, parents should be informed that the home is a socialising agent for children and should be safe and conducive to their well-being and social development. It follows that classroom-based strategies that actively teach and reward positive learner discipline expectations have been shown to be effective at reducing learner discipline problems, and in turn may improve the classroom climate. According to Epstein (2011), there is a shift from the use of exclusionary learner discipline practices to the use of positive, proactive learner discipline and classroom management practices, such as establishing learner discipline expectations.

 

Opportunities for Further Research

To successfully implement the modern idea of educational and personal guidance means that educators must have sufficient time to talk to learners about their personal adjustments and needs. Parents must be brought into the picture if the needs of the learners are to be fully met. Modern education, in the core curriculum, also envisages extensive community relationships. The educators must have free time to develop these relationships. At this stage, the school should be planning and effecting a change in the teachers' schedules to provide extra time for them to meet the learners, parents and the community, and have some time to plan and take care of the details of the general problem.

Positive classroom discipline practices thrive on consistency and teamwork. The staff and administrative team should be expected to reinforce the same behaviour for the learners and follow common disciplinary practices. All teachers should work hand in hand to the benefit of learners, the school and the classroom. Learners and teachers want to be certain that they are safe, and every precaution and intervention should be considered to make sure that this outcome is accomplished. Rewarding learners for good behaviour and positive contributions to their community is important. Activities should be planned to focus on positive behaviours and appropriate actions of the learners. Every attempt should be made to put the names, pictures, and groups of well-behaving learners on classroom noticeboards and announce their names at assembly.

Evaluation should be an ongoing process and intervention strategies for reducing disruptive classroom behaviour should be assessed continuously for their impact on the overall success of learner discipline practices. One of the suggestions from teacher participants was to develop and establish focus groups that work with at-risk learners and counselling and positive peer mentoring for learners who receive repeated discipline referrals. Data should be collected and used to continuously improve classroom discipline and implement new procedures that could improve the process. An annual evaluation should be conducted on the strengths and needs of discipline practices. The parents suggested that potential barriers come from problems at home that are brought to the classroom environment. They also suggested that the schools should have various programmes to equip the parents and their children with positive knowledge. Parents noted that teachers and representative councils of learners (RCLs) need developmental training skills to equip them to deal with challenging situations. Parents spoke of the need for financial training and relevant seminars and workshops concerning classroom management training and professional development for the teachers. The teachers expressed their opinion that more adults need to be involved during the changing of lessons. A lack of consistent classroom routines was considered a barrier. According to teachers, parents who are passive in participation or unwilling to involve themselves in their children's education are another barrier.

Most participants expressed the idea that teachers should encourage parents to establish and maintain appropriate learner discipline and management practices throughout the academic year. Teachers suggested that it is very important to establish and communicate high expectations for the learners. Opportunities should be created for the learners to experience success in learning activities and good behaviour. They also noted that teachers could regularly monitor classroom activities and give learners constructive feedback to establish positive learner behaviour. Principals acknowledged progress when teachers maintain a brisk instructional pace and make smooth transitions between classroom activities.

 

Multicultural Education

Cultures should be viewed on an equal footing, since no culture is superior or inferior to another-there are simply different cultures, each with its own strengths and weaknesses (Ashworth et al. 2008). Multicultural societies are also viewed as an obstacle to the epistemic social justice process because multicultural groups have different perceptions of turning around learner discipline. School principals and teachers should be properly trained in cultural aspects. They can in turn produce new quality materials and teacher guides, which will enhance teacher empowerment and curriculum development. Evertson and Weinstein (2006), in support of the idea, stated that a relevant curriculum is one that is culturally sensitive. Educators in multicultural societies, such as South Africa, are increasingly faced with the challenge of managing culturally diverse classes.

 

Suspension

Suspending a learner for unacceptable behaviour should aim at turning around learner discipline, maintaining peace and order, and protecting the learner psychologically and physically. In addition, it is also seen as an effective way of dealing with learner discipline. School principals who are using the epistemic social justice rules show that they are resolving learner discipline problems in schools (Shaw 2007). When suspension is used, its effect on the developmental level of the learner and its short- and long-term consequences for the learner should be considered. Furthermore, in-school suspension is recommended more than out-of-school suspension if its duration is clearly spelt out. A plan must be provided for suspended learners so that they can continue to learn. For this purpose, the establishment of in-school suspension centres accompanied by a well-thought-out learning programme should be considered.

 

Teacher Training Programmes

Teacher training sessions and in-service training programmes should include relevant modules that are devoted to the behavioural problems of learners and classroom management. The assumption that teachers learn appropriate discipline management skills during their pre-service training is misleading. Experienced and novice teachers get into classroom situations where they are confronted with a lack of suitable strategies to handle behavioural problems.

 

Conclusion and Recommendations

As this study has indicated, appropriate learner discipline is vital to attain successful teaching and learning. Without a classroom atmosphere conducive to learning, teachers cannot positively teach, and learners cannot positively learn. Appropriate learner discipline practices involve all stakeholders. Teachers should be at the forefront by being available and accessible. Moreover, teamwork, transparency, accountability, open communication systems and good public relations are necessary. The school management team and teachers are responsible and accountable for carrying out learner discipline practices to ensure success. The chosen learner discipline practices should reflect shared expectations and an obligation to deal with classroom and school problems in a real way. Positive practices will deal with the causes of learners' misconduct. Whatever the design, positive learner discipline practices should inspire a good climate in which the learners take responsibility for their behaviour, treat one another with kindness and respect and learn the value of productive work. Parents are the first link in preventing behavioural problems in learners. Parents who are involved in their children's daily classroom activities have a better understanding of what is acceptable in the classroom environment. Most parents are distressed to find that the classrooms they remember with orderly rows and learners paying quiet attention now look disorderly and chaotic. Acts of learner violence, chronic disruptions, bullying and intimidation frequently occur. A good partnership between families and the schools is required to turn the tables. Parents' involvement is the initial stage in cooperative pre-classroom education programmes where the learners learn discipline practices firsthand from early childhood teachers. However, parents must continue to be involved as essential partners throughout their children's school years.

School managers and teachers stated that they feel more confident about learner discipline practices evolving when they have access to quality professional development opportunities. These opportunities should emphasise prevention practices. Time for dialogue and administrative support is a key component. Teachers should be given sufficient time to engage in conversations about strategies that work with many opportunities for peer coaching and development courses. All the staff members should be assured that habitually disruptive learners will be suspended and made to attend alternative educational rehabilitation programmes, and the school climate should be free of intimidation. Learner discipline practices thrive on consistency and teamwork. The staff and administrative team should be expected to reinforce the same behaviour for the learners and follow common discipline practices. All educators should work hand in hand to the benefit of the learners, the school, and the classroom.

Evaluation should be an ongoing process, and strategies for reducing classroom disruptions should be assessed continuously for their impact on the overall success of learner discipline practices. One of the suggestions from teacher participants was to establish focus groups that work with at-risk learners, and counselling and positive peer mentoring should be available for learners that receive repeated discipline referrals. Data should be collected and used to continuously improve learner discipline and new procedures that could improve the process should be implemented. An annual evaluation should be conducted on the strengths and needs of discipline practices. Exclusionary learner discipline practices, such as the removal of a learner from the classroom, are not always successful. When a learner is sent to the school principal's office in an effort to reduce his/her disciplinary problems, some learners may regard the use of this exclusionary learner discipline practices as punitive, although other learners may be rewarded by such practices if they are actively encouraged to avoid the classroom.

 

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ARTICLE

 

Public-Private Partnerships in South African Education: Risky Business or Good Governance?

 

 

Jennifer Feldman

Stellenbosch University, South Africa jfeldman@sun.ac.za http://orcid.org/0000-0002-9367-0980

 

 


ABSTRACT

This article discusses the globalised phenomenon of public-private partnerships, which involve the private and public sector collaborating to provide infrastructure and service delivery to public institutions. Within the education sector, the most commonly known public-private partnerships exist in the United States as charter schools and the United Kingdom as academies. Discussing this phenomenon in the South African context, this article draws on the Collaboration Schools Pilot Project as an example for understanding how the involvement of private partnerships within public schooling is being conceptualised by the Western Cape Education Department. Framed within the debate of public-private partnerships for the public good, the article provides a critical discussion on how these partnerships are enacted as a decentralisation of state involvement in the provision of public schooling by government. The article concludes by noting that the Collaboration Schools Pilot Project, which involves significant changes in policy regarding how schools are governed and managed, requires more rigorous and critical dialogue by all stakeholders as the model unfolds in schools in the Western Cape.

Keywords: public-private partnerships; Collaboration Schools Pilot Project; public good; education policy; school governance and management


 

 

Introduction

The development of what is termed public-private partnerships (PPPs) has become a globalised phenomenon over the past two decades. There is no clear definition of PPPs. However, at the broadest level, PPPs can be defined as "co-operative institutional arrangements between public and private sector actors" (Hodge and Greve 2007, 545) where the private and public sectors collaborate to provide infrastructure and service delivery to public institutions. Typically, this involves the private sector sharing the risks, costs, and resources with the public institution (Tilak 2016; Van Ham and Koppenjan 2001). The sharing of responsibility, which is usually established as a reasonably long-term co-operation, comprises the parties involved sharing the decision-making and any risk associated with the joint venture, and includes an agreed outcome where all the parties involved stand to gain from mutual collaboration and effort (Forrer et al. 2010; Hodge and Greve 2007). In this way, PPPs are ongoing agreements between government and private sector organisations that allow private organisations to participate in the decision-making and production of public goods or services that have traditionally been provided by the public sector, and in which the private sector shares the risk of that production.

Within the international education sector, PPPs have brought about significant changes in how educational systems are governed. A World Bank report defines the concept of PPPs in education "as a system that recognises the existence of alternative options for providing education services besides public finance and public delivery" (Patrinos, Osorio, and Guaqueta 2009 in Levin, Cornelisz, and Hanisch-Cerda 2013, 520). The most well-known educational PPPs exist in the United States (US) as charter schools and the United Kingdom (UK) as academies. However, besides the US and UK, educational PPPs operate in various forms in both basic education (for example in Australia, India, Ireland, Germany, Chile) and tertiary education institutions (for example in Australia, the UK, Mexico) (see Robertson et al. 2012; Rose 2010; Tilak 2016). A further common type of PPP in the basic education sector is the involvement of corporate or private philanthropy in the form of sponsors from businesses, faith organisations or voluntary groups. Through the PPP model, in most cases, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), private corporations or philanthropic initiatives provide finance and services to help grow and develop public institutions to achieve educational, social, and economic policy objectives.

In South Africa, the concept of PPPs in the education sector is less well known. The 2017 National Treasury Budget Review listed 31 PPP projects concluded in South Africa. The projects that have taken place nationally fall under the headings of transport, water and sanitation, correctional services, health, tourism, information technology, and office accommodation (National Treasury 2017). No projects were listed within the education sector. However, under the heading of PPP projects under review, one education project is listed, namely the student financial aid programme, which falls under the auspices of the Department of Higher Education.

Despite no mention being made in the National Treasury Budget of school PPPs, in the Western Cape a project called the Collaboration Schools Pilot Project is currently operational in several schools in the province. Former premier of the Western Cape, Helen Zille (2016), stated that the project was established based on the academy school model that "enables public schools to be operated in partnership with nonprofits and sponsors".

This article focuses on the Collaboration Schools Pilot Project as a case study for understanding how PPPs are being conceptualised within the education sector in the Western Cape. It begins by framing the debate on PPPs in the education sector by considering the notion of education for the public good (see Jonathan 1997; 2001; Levin 1999; Sayed and Van Niekerk 2017). Second, the article provides a critical discussion of how these partnerships are enacted in practice as a decentralisation of state involvement or a "power-sharing" arrangement between the public and private sectors and local school communities. The article concludes by considering whether these partnership agreements, which impact significantly on school governance and management, are being rigorously and critically considered as an alternative to the governance of public schools, or whether the influx of additional private funding for poor schools is the driving force for the ongoing commitment by the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) to the current school PPP agreements.

 

Education for the "Public Good"

In this section, the article situates the debate on PPPs in the education sector by considering the notion of education as a public good (see Jonathan 1997; 2001; Levin 1999; Sayed and Van Niekerk 2017). This discussion considers broadly the role that PPPs play as partnerships that are developed between the public and private sectors and local communities to overcome certain shortcomings in the delivery of public services by the state.

The classic definition of a public good is one that is non-excludable and non-rivalrous and is valued by individuals. Non-excludable refers to a public good or service that does not exclude any individual from enjoying the benefits of it, while non-rivalrous refers to the fact that the consumption of the service or activity by one individual does not reduce the quality available for consumption by other individuals. Conventionally, a public good is "something of benefit to all which cannot be subdivided into individual shares and can thus only be effectively provided by all, for all" (Jonathan 1997, 78). Standard examples of a public good within a country's infrastructure include a national highway system, a public airport, national defence, or a common judicial system. Public good services are typically funded by the government out of tax revenue and provided free of charge or at an agreed upon rate by the government.

In general, education provided by the state is widely considered a public good in that it is provided by the state for the majority of the population as a service that is not for profit. Supporting this premise, Jonathan (1997, 78) states that "it is evident that on the dimension of benefit to society (prosperity, a prerequisite range of knowledge and skill, a certain level of culture and civility, a necessary level of social harmony and cooperation) education is a public good". However, public education does not always manifest as a pure public good. Jonathan further notes that "it is equally evident that on the dimension of benefit to the individual, education appears to be a private good from which all do not-and in many respects cannot-stand to benefit equally" (1997, 78). Not all schools are equal in their infrastructure or in the level of education they provide to learners. In addition, there are times when students may be excluded from some schools. The Department of Basic Education's (DBE) National Education Policy Act of 1996 clearly states that no learners may be excluded from public schools. However, it is well known that many school governing bodies (SGBs) find alternative ways to exclude learners. The most common method is when schools state that learners fall outside of their "feeder zone". As SGBs may determine a school's feeder zone, they can use this to exclude learners. Thus, not all learners have access to all public schools and education cannot be described as always being non-excludable. Similarly, it can be argued that one student attending a school prevents another child from benefiting from education at that school due to the cap on class sizes at schools. In this manner, schools are not always non-rivalrous, as a learner who takes his/her place at a school "consumes" the service, thereby excluding another learner from benefiting from the service of education at a particular school (Daviet 2016).

It is necessary to distinguish "public goods", which are provided by the state for all citizens, from "private goods", which are supplied and distributed by the market. The key difference is that a "private good" can be produced, distributed and consumed by individuals for the advancement of those individuals, while a public good should be available to all individuals and no single individual should benefit from the service. However, Jonathan states that in a social context "'goods' are too complex to be neatly divided into two categories, with those which are deemed unproblematically 'public' to be commonly provided and enjoyed under regulated conditions, and all the others to be deemed 'private' and best distributed and competed for through the market" (Jonathan 1997, 78-79).

Accordingly, despite education being touted as a public good in that it is provided by the state for all citizens, it does not fit the standard criteria for a "public good". Although all citizens might benefit from the existence of public education, "all do not-and cannot-share its direct benefits equally, however much opportunities are equalised" (Jonathan 2001, 41). It can, therefore, be stated that the "unique features of education as a social practice makes this 'good' neither 'public' nor 'private' but social" (Jonathan 2001, 41; italics in original).

Developing the discussion further, Tilak (2016) states that as education is neither a public nor a private good, PPPs are processes, and over time, under the strain of the state focusing on transforming the educational landscape, we will see the shrinking of the state's involvement in education and the growth of the private sector's involvement in education to become the dominant or even "the sole player in education displacing the public sector altogether" (Tilak 2016, 8). Similarly, Daviet (2016, 6) asserts that given the need to provide quality education for all, coupled with public budget constraints, the trend towards growing the broadening and diversification of non-state actors in education will become the norm. Thus, the role of PPPs in education has become the latest mantra of development in many developing as well as advanced countries, and "while many claims are made about the potential benefits of the PPP, going by the available empirical evidence, which is not abundant, these seem to have produced a mixed bag of outcomes" (Tilak 2016, 2).

In the South African context, in order to find ways to provide all students with quality government education, particularly in schools serving students from low socioeconomic contexts, the involvement of the private sector in education has taken on several different forms. To date, schools in poor communities have mostly been supported through informal philanthropic initiatives run by NGOs. The more formal aspect of purposely finding and collaborating with a group of external funders to provide support for government schools has only been developed in the Western Cape more recently.

Unpacking the ideological thinking behind education policies in the Western Cape province, Sayed and Van Niekerk (2017) recently published an article titled "Ideology and the Good Society in South Africa: The Education Policies of the Democratic Alliance". In this article, the authors present an analysis of the education policy of the Democratic Alliance (DA), which is the elected governing party of the Western Cape. Sayed and Van Niekerk note that "[p]olitical parties and their education policies are underpinned by ideologies that have direct consequences for sustaining or eroding education as a public good in South Africa" (2017, 53). Supporting this premise, they (2017, 53) cite a 2017 parliamentary policy speech by the former DA leader, Mmusi Maimane, that positions the politics of the DA as advocating for "non-state actors, increasingly performing a central role in finding solutions to under-performing public schools (education), but managed and regulated by the provincial state". Furthermore, within the framing of education provision, particularly for schools situated in socio-economically poor communities, the DA, in a document titled Learning for Success: DA Policy on Basic Education (2013), states that to resolve South Africa's education crisis and turn around the education system, there must be a focus on encouraging innovative solutions to poor schooling. The DA goes on to state:

In terms of this framework, any group of individuals who possess certain defined qualifications, recognised experience, and who are able to produce a viable business plan, will be able to apply to take over the management of a school and to run it as any other state school, while continuing to receive state subsidies. ... The DA would encourage the institutions that currently run some of South Africa's private schools, as well as organisations from other countries who have proved their success in this area, to take on this challenge. (DA 2013, 15)

Sayed and Van Niekerk (2017) provide a useful background and overview of the ideological underpinnings of the DA's educational policy framework, policy ideas and strategies proposed for the governance of the Western Cape. Aspects of this article, as it relates to the political ideology concerning education in the Western Cape in the development of PPPs, will be incorporated in the discussion below.

Public-Private Partnerships: Policy and Power-Sharing

Miraftab (2004), in her article "Public-Private Partnerships: The Trojan Horse of Neoliberal Development?", presents her concerns about power relations that may exist within PPPs. Drawing on research conducted in South Africa in 1998 on PPPs within community development programmes, Miraftab notes:

Private sector firms approach local governments and their impoverished communities with the message of power sharing, but once the process is in motion the interests of the community are often overwhelmed by those of the most powerful member of the partnership-the private sector firm. (Miraftab 2004, 89)

Her concern rests on the fact that in many developing countries PPPs are often given autonomy to operate freely, or, as she notes, as the "Trojan horses" of development within a particular sector, as "governments often have neither the will nor the ability to intervene effectively" (Miraftab 2004, 89). She goes on to suggest that in partnerships among school communities, government and private entities, it is important to consider who initiated the process and how the partnerships were established, as this plays a significant role in the unfolding power relationships in the agreement. All partners involved in the relationship will have some expectations, either of some gain (possibly from the school community) or a change in practice (from the private entity), and the partnerships are more likely to be sustained if these benefits are mutually established and explicitly detailed.

Considering PPPs and the concept of power-sharing within the South African context, and more specifically the Collaboration Schools Pilot Project in the Western Cape, there are two partnership models currently employed by the WCED. The first relates to the private sector's involvement in what the WCED terms "turnaround schools" or "transition schools", while the second relates to the private sector's involvement in the running of new WCED schools. Turnaround schools are schools that are identified by the WCED as requiring focused support to improve the quality of school management and teaching and learning in low-income communities, as measured by learner outcomes. In collaboration with the school's SGB, these schools agree to become collaboration schools and enter into partnerships with allocated school operating partners (SOPs).1 These schools retain existing educators as WCED posts, and they receive WCED cash transfer payments for new and growth posts. "New schools", on the other hand, are schools that have been newly established by the WCED, and which are handed over to an SOP to govern under the Collaboration Schools Pilot Project's agreement. New schools receive a full transfer payment from the WCED to employ all staff at the school as SGB posts.

Whether the school is a "transition" or "new" school, the collaboration agreement involves a shift of responsibility for managing and governing the schools away from the WCED to the private sector. According to a document titled "Overview of the Western Cape Collaboration Schools Programme, 2017",2 the key focus areas of the SOPs include 1) providing high performing central support that focuses on educator development and school improvement, 2) focusing on comprehensive school development and improvement plans to enhance the ability and accountability of educators to deliver quality education, 3) working closely with the parents and communities, and 4) school governance. Once the school, through consultation with the school management and staff as well as the broader community in which the school is situated, agrees to become a collaboration school, the SOP is given the majority of seats on the SGB,3 which ostensibly gives them the final say with regard to all management, governance and financial decisions taken in the school.

The majority rule of the SOP in the SGB is, therefore, a key power-sharing aspect that impacts significantly on how the school is governed once it becomes a collaboration school. The SGB's decision-making capacity also extends to the appointment of all school staff, as well as the renewal of existing staff contracts. Subsequent to the school becoming a collaboration school, all new staff appointments are made exclusively by the SGB, but the school continues to be funded by the WCED via cash transfers made by the WCED to the school. This significant change in the role of the SGB at collaboration schools, termed a "structural change" by the WCED, is of significance when discussed as a form of power-sharing. This is critically debated below where the Collaboration Schools Pilot Project is presented as a case study for how educational partnerships are currently being developed within the Western Cape.

 

Public School Partnerships in the Western Cape: The Collaboration Schools Pilot Project

Described as a way to "improve the provision of education to children who cannot afford to pay fees and whose academic performance is affected by their economic conditions", the Collaboration Schools Pilot Project is touted as a possible solution to supporting underperforming schools in the Western Cape (Collaboration School Pilot Office 2017b). The project draws on the UK academies and US charter schools PPP model to consider an alternative model for supporting schools situated in poor communities (DA 2013; Zille 2016). Both charter schools and academies are state-funded, but managed by the private sector, and they often serve students from disadvantaged communities. Within these PPP agreements the government retains overall responsibility for the school, but hands over the day-to-day running and operation of the school to a range of partners that include private sector companies, donors and NGOs. These schools continue to be inspected, regulated, and held accountable by a governmental education department, such as the WCED, in the same way as public schools. In this model, schools, via their partnership agreements with private funders, obtain finance and resources to assist in the running of the school, as well as professional development support to assist teachers and principals in their educational endeavours.

According to the Western Cape's Minister of Education, Debbie Schäfer (2015), similar to the UK and US PPP model, the Collaboration Schools Pilot Project seeks to improve the quality of education in public schools. The programme aims to achieve this through partnership agreements that strengthen public school governance and accountability and the implementation of interventions aimed at improving education for learners from low-income communities. In summary, according to David Harrison, the representative for the Project's funders' group, "our view is that the South African education system is so dire, so destructive to the lives of millions of young people, that we must be willing to try new ways of doing things" (2017a, 2). Harrison goes on to state that the aim of the Collaboration Schools Pilot Project is to draw expertise from the private sector into public schools by focusing on

bring[ing] new life into seriously underperforming public schools through the introduction of new capacity, new flexibility in terms of human resource management and budgeting, and outcomes-based accountability. This partnership is designed to strengthen and help revitalize the public system, and every aspect is designed to build accountability and achieve sustainability. ... [W]e need to be testing a variety of strategies for radical school improvement. (Harrison 2017b, 3-4)

Funders for the Collaboration Schools Project began discussions with the WCED in late 2014. The memorandum of agreement (MoA) between the WCED and the project donors was signed on the 1st of September 2015. Following the signing of the MoA, the Collaboration Schools Pilot Project was launched in January 2016 in five schools in the Western Cape (Schäfer 2015; Zille 2016). According to the WCED, collaboration schools are run based on four tenets: they are non-profit, no-fee schools, non-selective in their admissions and learner acceptance process, and remain part of the public sector (Motsepe 2016a).

As a collaborative project between various role-players, the document "Overview of the Western Cape Collaboration Schools Programme, 2017" states that the systemic effects of this project involve

[increasing] the ability, accountability and flexibility at a school level in the management of public schools . by introducing new management practices, high expectations for the quality of teaching, and additional capacity to schools serving the poorest communities. ... [T]here is an opportunity to take a transformative step towards closing the gap in quality education and in giving all children the opportunity to reach their full potential. (Collaboration School Pilot Office 2017b)

The stakeholders in the project include the WCED, the group of funders, the pilot support office, the SOPs and the SGB and principal of the school involved in the Collaboration Schools Pilot Project. The roles and responsibilities of each stakeholder are laid out in the table below.

 

 

Issues of management and governance in the project were addressed by the PSO in a presentation to potential SOPs in February 2017. The presentation's notes state that the pilot project involves two key structural changes with regard to how the SGB of each school is reconstituted. A school that joins the Collaboration Schools Pilot Project partners with the SOP assigned to the school. The majority of the seats on the SGB are then taken up by representatives from the SOP. It is argued, by the WCED and funders for the project, that this arrangement is necessary to enhance the accountability of the SOP to both the WCED and the parents of the school (Collaboration School Pilot Office 2017b). A second, structural change concerns the employment contracts of staff at the school. Existing WCED teachers remain WCED employees. However, all new appointments are made by the SGB through cash transfers from the WCED to the school. A new employee contract at a collaboration school, therefore, lies with the SGB, and not the WCED. All benefits and cost to company remain the same as for a WCED employee. However, the employee is now directly accountable to the SGB, and is paid by the SGB as opposed to the WCED.

In an article titled "Premier Zille, Privatising Schooling Is Not the Answer" (2016b), Tshepo Motsepe, writing on behalf of the non-profit organisation, Equal Education (an organisation that works towards quality and equality in South African education), presents concerns about the privatisation of public schools, as well as school governance and management issues involved in the model that, it is argued, contradict the 1996 South African Schools Act. It highlights concerns over the monitoring and evaluation of the project, stating that no clear directives have been provided that explain how the pilot project will be monitored and evaluated, or indeed who will be responsible for the monitoring and evaluation of the project. Although not explicitly, Equal Education, with their focus on equality in education, is pointing to concerns over issues of power-sharing. What they highlight is that, under the guise of providing quality education to schools in poor communities, the project is enabling the private sector to take over not only the provision of education, but also any "voice" that the school community might have in how the schools are governed and managed, as the funders of the project, via the SOPs, are given majority voting power in all collaboration schools.

This issue is echoed by the South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU), currently the largest trade union for teachers in South Africa, which states:

We condemn the idea of commodifying our education system by annexing public schools and delivering them into the hands of profit-driven consortiums ... the ploy by the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) is nothing more than the implementation of neoliberal policy, policy that will ignore and censor the community, parents, teachers and workers say in the governance of the school. (cited in TMG Digital 2016)

SADTU states that it is not against the sourcing of donors to provide additional finance to improve public schools. However, it points out that this should not be done by restructuring the school governance structure as it is currently outlined in the South African Schools Act. Joining Equal Education in their concerns over school governance, SADTU (cited in TMG Digital 2016) presents concerns about the draft policy bill that allows the SOPs the majority seats on the SGB. This effectively means that SOPs have the power to influence key policies in the school, such as language, admissions, and disciplinary policies.

While this project has forged forward, amendments to the Western Cape Provincial School Education Act, No. 12 of 1997, Section 12C to allow for the establishment of collaboration schools and donor-funded public schools, as well as the changed governance structure in these schools, were drafted and put forward to the public and civic groups for comment in August 2016 (Western Cape Government 2016). On 25 May 2018, the Standing Committee on Education in the Western Cape Provincial Parliament circulated an invitation to public hearings and for written comments on the proposed amendments to the bill.4 The public hearing was held in August 2018, with various education bodies such as Equal Education and teacher unions giving written submissions. The main foci of the objections to the Collaboration Schools Pilot Project were on the proposed changes to the SGB constitution that provide the operating partner with majority representation and voting rights, as well as the privatisation of public schools. The proposed amendment, according to Equal Education (2018), "runs directly contrary to the South African Schools Act 84 of 1996 ... and compromises democratic school governance". SADTU similarly expressed their concern over the changed composition of the SGB, adding that the project, as it was then conceived, in effect entailed the privatisation of public education. Quoting Harry Brighouse's (2004) warning with regard to the privatisation of schools in the US, SADTU (Montzinger 2018) warned that the "full privatisation of schools would involve states abstaining from providing funding or regulating schools . [and] would, in most circumstances, worsen social injustices in schooling". SADTU still argues that there is no independent, convincing research that indicates that any form of privatisation of public schools necessarily yields better results (SADTU 2018).

Currently, most of the literature in favour of the Collaboration Schools Pilot Project in the Western Cape is from David Harrison, who represents the funders' group for the project, and from ongoing DA or WCED press releases. These press releases state that public school partnerships, and specifically the Collaboration Schools Pilot Project, are an attempt to innovate the public-school system by providing non-profit partnerships to assist failing schools in the Western Cape. However, beyond stating that there is a dire need to find ways to assist failing or dysfunctional schools, no actual rationale that outlines how they intend to innovate and improve the schools in the project is given. Harrison simply states that "we just don't yet know ... [but] we need to be testing a variety of strategies for radical school improvement" (Harrison 2017b).

 

Risky Business or Good Governance?

There are currently no formal documents in the public domain that present any findings or data from the schools, SOPs or funders' group that indicate whether school management, school governance and learner outcomes have improved over the two-and-a-half-year period that the Collaborations School Pilot Project has been operational. According to one of the SOPs, the PSO has appointed JET Education Services to monitor and evaluate the pilot programme. JET is an independent, nonprofit organisation that works with education institutions in the government and the private sector "to improve the quality of education and the relationship between education, skills development and the world of work" (JET 2019). However, no reports or documents are available from either the funders' group or JET with regard to the monitoring and evaluation of the project. One might argue that it is still early days in terms of "turning around" underperforming schools. However, one would expect that some form of reporting is completed yearly on the status of the project.

The DG Murray Trust (n.d.), which has taken responsibility for managing the funders' group for the project, provides an overview of the project on its website under the heading, "Public School Partnerships: Testing a New Channel for Quality Education in Public Schools through Non-Profit Public-Private Partnerships". On the website, the project is discussed in general terms and several media articles reporting on the project are made available, as well as two Collaboration Chronicles (Western Cape Government 2017a; 2017b) published by the WCED. The two publications, of which there are only two issues, state that data from the Collaboration Schools Pilot Project is reviewed and analysed regularly to drive school improvement and accountability. They do not state by whom. The documents further state that targets for each school are established in agreement with the WCED's circuit managers, and are used to identify areas of accomplishment or development. However, no reports that present or analyse data from the project are available from the WCED or funders of the project. Apart from potential year-end targets presented in both issues of the Collaboration Chronicles, no additional information is available to show whether these targets were met at the end of 2016 or 2017, or what the new targets are for the future.

A media release from Debbie Schäfer (2017b) in March 2017 reports on the Collaboration Schools Pilot Project, stating that in the 2017/2018 financial year the funders committed over R75 million to the project. Of that amount, the media release states that R31.8 million flowed directly into the schools and R37.8 million was given to the non-profit partners, that is, the SOPs. The media release adds that the non-profit partners brought additional capacity to the schools in the form of governance, support, and social capital. However, no reports, data or financial indications as to how funds have been spent are provided to support this statement (Western Cape Government 2017a; 2017b). A media release by Schäfer (2017a) in November 2017 reiterates the potential of the partnership agreement and responds to press releases by Equal Education claiming that the project operates outside the law. Schäfer cites Section 12(1)(g) of the Western Cape Provincial School Education Act, No. 12 of 1997, which states that the provincial minister may establish as a public school "any other type of school that he or she deems necessary for education" (Schäfer 2017a) to show that as the provincial minister of education she is empowered to make policy decisions, and therefore the policy agreement via the MoA that was developed for the Collaboration Schools Pilot Project is not unconstitutional.

During the time in which this article was written, the draft Western Cape Provincial School Education Amendment Bill5 to amend the Western Cape Provincial School Education Act, No. 12 of 1997, was discussed in a public meeting in August 2018 and finalised in Provincial Parliament on 15 November 2018. Despite the draft bill being opposed by several concerned groups such as Equal Education, the Progressive Professionals Forum (PPF), the South African Communist Party (SACP), the African National Congress (ANC), the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) and SADTU, to name but a few (Parliamentary Monitoring Group 2018), the WCED touts the reform bill as "the biggest public reform package since 1994" (South African Government 2018). Following the acceptance of the amendments to the education bill, Schäfer, in a statement to BusinessTech (2018), stated that "the only way that the State can further narrow the income gap between the poorer and richer public schools is to harness private sources of funding". Schäfer (cited in BusinessTech 2018) further insisted that the Western Cape is not handing over public schools to private players, but that they are "trying to create sustainable partnerships within the ambit of public schools".

Ladd and Fiske (2016), discussing the debate on charter schools in the US and drawing on interviews with key stakeholders in the London Department of Education where the debate on the UK academies is under review, present several key points concerning the charter school and academy school debate. These points are apposite to the discussion on emerging PPPs in the education sector, and more specifically to the Collaboration Schools Pilot Project in the Western Cape. These authors first point to "the inefficiencies and challenges of a dual system of schools . where two sets of schools operate side by side but function under different rules with respect to matters such as school admissions and teacher policies" (Ladd and Fiske 2016).

As stated above, the WCED argues that under the Western Cape Provincial School Education Act of 1997, it can establish a different type of school model. They do not, however, elaborate further as to how this model will operate in the future. A second point made by Fiske and Ladd is their concern regarding "the risks of radical systemic change" within the context of the UK academy schools. They state that key stakeholders use phrases such as "reckless", "a disaster waiting to happen" and "risky" to describe the wisdom of replacing a known system with an entirely new and untried one (Ladd and Fiske 2016). In the case of the Collaboration Schools Pilot Project, this issue is of equal concern as the policy has been changed to enable a "dual system of school governance". These policy changes in school governance significantly affect how collaboration schools are managed, as well as the way in which school staff contracts shift from the WCED to the SGB. In effect, the SGB has the power to appoint, discipline, and dismiss school staff members, even though the WCED is financially responsible for paying all staff salaries.

In conclusion, in the Western Cape, the Collaboration Schools Pilot Project is presented as the way forward to improve the delivery of education to schools in poor communities in the province. As stated in the Western Cape Government Education Budget Vote 2018/2019,

given the long-term effects of poverty and inequality in our schools, compounded by the financial constraints that we as a government are facing ... the aim of the [collaboration schools] project was to bring additional management skills and innovation into the public school system, through non-profit partnerships to improve the quality of teaching and learning in no-fee public schools. (Western Cape Government 2018)

What remains unclear, however, are the long-term, practical implications for schools involved in the project, specifically with regard to the changed governance of the school structure and related power-sharing concerns between the WCED, the funders and SOPs, and the school community itself. A further point of consideration is the sustainability of the project, particularly considering that the policy changes have a significant impact on how collaboration schools are governed in relation to other WCED schools, and on educators' employment contracts. The efficacy of these changes in the long term has yet to be addressed.

It is difficult, therefore, to conclude whether the introduction of the PPP model in education, as enacted via the Collaboration Schools Pilot Project, is yielding any of the optimistic results desired by the WCED and private funders. However, as noted by Sayed and Van Niekerk (2017), within the policy directive of the DA's tactic to solve the education crisis in the Western Cape, and in light of PPPs within the education context globally, one can expect to see an approach that diversifies education provision by enabling the private sector to play a role in public education. What this means in the South African context is that partnership agreements with non-state actors in education will most likely be developed further and become an accepted mode of delivering education to schools in areas of poverty. Whether or not PPPs present good governance practice in the context of South African schools remains to be seen. What is more expedient at this point, however, is the need for rigorous, critical dialogue, supported by monitoring and evaluation reports, that engages with the collaboration school model as it is currently unfolding in schools in the Western Cape.

 

Acknowledgement

The author would like to thank Prof. Aslam Fataar from Stellenbosch University and the article reviewers for the constructive comments and suggestions that informed the finalisation of the article.

 

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1 School operating partners are allocated to the school by the Pilot Support Office, which was established to manage the Collaboration Schools Pilot Project on behalf of the funders.
2 A document that is given to potential donors and SOPS interested in becoming involved in the Collaboration Schools Pilot Project (Collaboration School Pilot Office 2017b).
3 As stated in a PowerPoint presentation given on 22 February 2017 by the Collaboration Project funders to NGOs interested in becoming involved in the project.
4 It is to be noted that the amendments included the establishment of a Western Cape Evaluation Authority for monitoring and support of curriculum delivery in public schools, the establishment of collaboration schools and donor-funded public schools, the establishment of intervention facilities to which learners may be referred in certain circumstances, and the allowance of alcohol on school premises.
5 The amendments to the Education Act include the following: the establishment of a Schools Evaluation Authority, provision for the establishment of collaboration schools and donor-funded public schools, the establishment of intervention facilities for learners who have been found guilty of serious misconduct as an alternative to expulsion, the enabling of classroom observation, and providing for an exception to the prohibition of alcohol on school premises (South African Government 2018; Western Cape Government 2016).

^rND^sBrighouse^nH.^rND^sForrer^nJ.^rND^nJ. E.^sKee^rND^nK. E.^sNewcomer^rND^nE.^sBoyer^rND^sHodge^nG. A.^rND^nC.^sGreve^rND^sJonathan^nR.^rND^sLevin^nH. M.^rND^sLevin^nH. M.^rND^nI.^sCornelisz^rND^nB.^sHanisch-Cerda^rND^sMiraftab^nF.^rND^sRose^nP.^rND^sSayed^nY.^rND^nR.^sVan Niekerk^rND^sVan Ham^nH.^rND^nJ.^sKoppenjan^rND^1A01^nGrant^sAndrews^rND^1A01^nGrant^sAndrews^rND^1A01^nGrant^sAndrews

ARTICLE

 

Teaching Gender and Sexuality in the Wake of the Must Fall Movements: Mutual Disruption through the Lens of Critical Pedagogy

 

 

Grant Andrews

University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa gcandrews@gmail.com http://orcid.org/0000-0001-5268-0800

 

 


ABSTRACT

The recent Must Fall movements shone a light on how South African universities are exclusionary spaces in many respects. In addition to the focus on racial, financial, and epistemological exclusions, the movements also highlighted how gender and sexual minorities are marginalised in university curricula and spaces. In the wake of these movements, I taught a range of courses dealing with gender and sexuality to pre-service teachers at a South African university. Using an autoethnographic approach, I recount some of the challenges I faced in teaching subject matter that many South Africans consider controversial. Students often relied on simplistic discourses of culture and religion to voice resistance to my courses and to "disrupt" my classes, while the subject matter simultaneously disrupted their deeply held concepts of identity. These moments of disruption from students, while largely intended as resistance, offered considerable pedagogical value, especially when viewed through the lens of critical pedagogy that informs my teaching approach. In this article, I use autoethnographic reflections to describe some of these moments of mutual disruption. I examine how the discussions with students have shifted after the Must Fall movements, linking the philosophy and some of the events of the movements to the ways that students are engaging differently. I argue that these pre-service teachers also hold the potential to disrupt discourses of queerphobia, gender-based violence and HIV in the South African school system. Additionally, I contend that gender and sexuality diversity deserve greater focus in teacher education in order to create critical thinking spaces that can foster reflective capacities in teachers around how they relate to learners who are gender and sexual minorities.

Keywords: gender and sexuality education; queer studies; pre-service teacher training; critical pedagogy; pedagogy of discomfort; disruption in education


 

 

Introduction

Many South African scholars have highlighted the importance of teacher training in gender and sexuality (Bhana et al. 2010; Francis 2010; Morrell 2003), and have argued that this could impact homophobia, transphobia, HIV/ AIDS, gender-based violence and related societal issues in the school context (Bhana 2012; Francis 2010; Francis and Msibi 2011). However, social, religious and cultural factors in South Africa make discussions of gender and sexuality particularly challenging, and many teachers resist grappling with gender and sexuality diversity as they frequently cite "tradition" or "culture" (DePalma and Francis 2014) as being inherently opposed to these topics. In this article, I use an autoethnographic approach to discuss my experiences while delivering a range of courses and presentations, each discussing aspects of gender and sexuality, to pre-service teachers at a major South African university. Students frequently resisted lessons in these courses through various methods of "disruption". These disruptions included trying to derail class discussions, questioning the reasons for discussing gender and sexuality, appeals to culture and religion, and expressions of anger, laughter, or leaving the lecture halls mid-discussion. In turn, I understood these courses as "disrupting" students, challenging them to reconsider expressions of gender and sexuality that they saw as taboo or offensive. I argue that the nature of these disruptions has changed after the recent Must Fall movements in South Africa, which brought gender and sexual diversity into national conversations of decolonisation, equality and social progressivism.

This article first provides a brief history and clarifies certain philosophical underpinnings of the Rhodes Must Fall and Fees Must Fall movements, particularly outlining the ways that gender and sexuality were significant factors in these movements. I discuss the theoretical framework used to analyse the autoethnographic data in this article, including critical pedagogy, a pedagogy of discomfort and the importance of disruption in educational settings. I then present autoethnographic reflections of moments of disruption while teaching these courses. I argue that these moments of disruption adopted a new character in the wake of the Must Fall movements, becoming productive elements for pedagogy around sensitive topics.

I locate these changes as influenced by two factors: first, due to social changes, students who are gender and sexual minorities or allies now openly contest those who attempt to obstruct or resist lessons on gender and sexuality; and second, gender and sexuality have become part of the social justice agenda in South Africa in a tangible way, and this status creates different dynamics in educational settings including heightened self-consciousness and tentativeness among students who voice queerphobic or misogynistic views. While the frequency of student resistance has not changed, the changing nature of these resistances allows for more thoughtful, nuanced and personal debates to emerge, including changes to the style of student engagement in both the lecture setting and in one-on-one consultations.

 

The Must Fall Movements and Changing University Spaces

University spaces in South Africa have become arenas for heated social and political debates over the past few years, especially concerning decolonisation. Many of the largest and most prestigious universities in the country have distinctly colonial and racist histories that cause tensions in a country still grappling with the many social and economic injustices that linger decades after the end of formal apartheid. The symbolic and real violence committed on university campuses in South Africa against marginalised people is an enduring legacy, even as university managers publicly commit to the project of institutional transformation.

The symbolic violence is a large part of what students were protesting in the recent #MustFall movements, seeking to decolonise universities in many different ways. The first of these movements was the #RhodesMustFall (RMF) movement, which started at the University of Cape Town (UCT). Students began a series of protests against relics from colonial, Eurocentric ideologies that were foundational to many universities in the country. This was physically represented by the statue of Cecil John Rhodes, which stood at the foot of the Jameson stairs at UCT, and students were calling for this statue to fall as a symbolic and impactful step towards decolonising the university space. Additionally, many campuses had seen pressures to lower student fees, as capable students were being financially excluded due to the high cost of higher education and fee increases, at times in excess of 10% per year.1

These various tensions allowed for the #RhodesMustFall movement to ignite a spirit of protest across all major South African universities. When the statue of Rhodes finally fell in April 2015, it signalled the power that students had to change university spaces; it demonstrated their critical approach to education and their resistance to the coloniality and inequality inherent in the institutions of higher learning in South Africa, and it brought a clarity of purpose among students to hold government and institutions accountable for the continued exclusion, violence and marginalisation in university spaces.

The resultant movements collectively became known as Fallism, popularly centred around the #FeesMustFall (FMF) philosophy that, as outlined in the country's Constitution (RSA 1996, Section 29), education should be a right and not a privilege, and no person should be excluded.2 Students called for an immediate end to tuition hikes, and held that public education should be tuition-free for all students. Additionally, students refocused the discussions around decolonising education by calling for the Africanisation of curricula, for Eurocentrism to be expelled and for more black academics, particularly professors, to be employed at universities.

 

The Must Fall Movements' Focus on Gender and Sexuality

The Must Fall movements opened the door for many other concerns around higher education to be addressed. There was a particular focus on gender, sexuality and issues of sexual violence such as the End Rape Culture protests and dialogues. The mission statement of RMF emphasised the role of intersectionality in the movement, powerfully showing how the role of "race" could not be divorced from other identity markers that are marginalised or oppressed. The mission statement reads:

An intersectional approach to our blackness takes into account that we are not only defined by our blackness, but that some of us are also defined by our gender, our sexuality, our ablebodiedness, our mental health, and our class, among other things. We all have certain oppressions and certain privileges and this must inform our organising so that we do not silence groups among us, and so that no one should have to choose between their struggles. (UCT: Rhodes Must Fall 2015)

Khadija Khan stresses that "Black queer womxn and nonbinary people constituted leadership within both [the RMF and FMF] movements, contrary to many existing articles and narratives, and were actively addressing and resisting the country's historically androcentric and heteronormative social activism environment" (2017, 112). Prominent activist and academic Zethu Matebeni speaks about how queer issues were central and intertwined with the origins of the student movements (Davids and Matebeni 2017). Matebeni was present at the early conversations that students had about the Rhodes Must Fall movement at UCT, when students occupied the Bremner administration building and renamed it Azania House, and she notes how questions of identity were crucial to defining the purpose of the movements. She says in an interview with Nadia Davids:

Many of [the students] were talking about how to see themselves as gay students, as queer students on campus [.. .W]hen students got together it was very clear that they had a lot of things that they were dealing with: coming out issues, reconciling their sexuality, their gender identities with being African, with being at UCT. (Davids and Matebeni 2017, 166)

However, discussions around and within the Must Fall movements have been accused of erasing and sidelining queer voices. Davids explains that there is a "long history of sacrificing [conversations of gender and sexuality] on the altar of what the greater struggle objectives are" (Davids and Matebeni 2017, 166). The sense of hope around how gender and sexuality were prominently considered at the start of the Must Fall movements was arguably misplaced, as queer students began to realise that they were being excluded from conversations and efforts to historicise the movements. At UCT in 2016, the Trans Collective, a group of students representing trans, non-binary, nonconforming and intersex communities, a large contingent of early Rhodes Must Fall activism, disrupted an exhibition by RMF activists titled "Echoing Voices from Within". The Trans Collective protesters claimed that their voices were being erased from the RMF retrospectives, and that the broader movement should be "accountable to its commitment to intersectionality" instead of erasing or misrepresenting trans participation and leadership in RMF. A placard at the protest read: "The Trans people who built RMF are not a part of this exhibition" (Petersen 2016).

 

 

Ndelu, Dlakavu, and Boswell (2017) note how "sexism, heterosexism, homophobia and transphobia have emerged as characteristics that marred these movements, albeit unevenly, across various institutions. Cleavages emerged between students who identified as Black, queer and transgender feminists and sections of the movement who identified more explicitly with patriarchy" (2017, 2). This also led to queer members of the RMF movement declaring in early 2016 that the new Azania House at UCT (previously Avenue Hall) would be "declared a black trans womxn, cis womxn and non binary people's space" (UCT: Rhodes Must Fall 2016).

The tensions around queer issues within student movements are highlighted in a post on the social media site Facebook by RMF protesters. These students express that their "voices were stifled by overbearing misogynistic cis men who have repeatedly been called to check and reflect on the patriarchy they exhibit in the space. Attempts at challenging the patriarchy of RMF are reduced to [a] 'derailing tactic' or a matter to be 'dealt with later', to a time that will never arrive" (UCT: Rhodes Must Fall 2016). The silencing of queer voices, especially when these had been central to the formation of the movements, exposed a sense of unease around queer issues that persists within university spaces in South Africa. The idea that queer activists were "disrupting" the Must Fall movements, even when they were central to the formation of these movements, demonstrates the ambivalent nature of queer issues in the decolonial and Fallist movements, and these conflicts are still apparent in terms of pedagogy at universities.

 

Pedagogy at a School of Education

In the wake of the student movements, after free higher education had been promised by the country's ex-president, Jacob Zuma, and adopted as policy by the ruling African National Congress party, university campuses have become spaces of lingering trauma and anxious renegotiation of a new normal. I began working at the start of 2018 as a lecturer at a school of education that had seen a great deal of violence, hostility and anger. Students were clearly still reeling from the events of the past few years. Many seemed uncertain of how to continue with their studies when they were disrupted to such a great degree by ongoing protests, either through their own involvement, which often led to their studies suffering, or through the involvement of others with whom they shared lecture halls, dormitories and computer labs, and who had occupied spaces, torn up exam papers or blocked access ways to university campuses. To many students, these were necessary steps towards their goals. To others, resentment still lingered, and tensions persisted.

Staff, too, bore the weight of what they had been through, confiding in me about times they had to lock themselves in their offices fearing violence, telling me how to find alternative exit routes from campus in case of protests, letting me know that WhatsApp groups would be our means of communication if we noticed any major disruptions. There was still a sense that students should be mobilised, and indeed there were still chants heard in the hallways from groups, but there seemed to be much less drive and purpose, and neither staff nor students seemed to really know how they should exist in the university space after the Must Fall movements began slowing down3 and arguably reached their end.

The impact of the movements was also felt in terms of pedagogy. I was teaching as part of a language, literacy and literature team, so postcolonial theory, gender theory and ideas of power, intersectionality and access were already central to our work as with many working in these fields at South African higher education institutions. However, we began to think differently about how these topics are taught. One of my colleagues, who had taught a course on Conrad's Heart of Darkness for many years, faced a moment of "disruption" in one of her lectures-a student stood up, visibly shaken, and argued that even reading a text like Conrad's was a form of colonial violence and was representing blackness in ways that retraumatised students. My colleague was given pause and had to reassess the pedagogical value and the forms of violence inherent in teaching the novel in South Africa today.

I noticed that many of my colleagues had come to expect a greater deal of engagement from students, particularly around issues of "race". Campuses had become more politicised, and pedagogical methods and curricula were becoming points of meta-discussions with students, even during lectures as course content was being delivered. This context is creating powerful new terrain for transforming curricula and for greater input by students towards reshaping higher education. Within a school of education like the one where I teach, it also created the potential for major social impacts as many of our students would go on to teach in schools and be able to, potentially, look differently at school curricula and consider reshaping basic education to be more inclusive. These students could be agents of decolonisation within schools when they qualify as teachers.

However, as with the FMF movements, there was resistance to intersectionality in these conversations. While many of the students I worked with seemed to have a much greater understanding of gender identity and sexuality diversity, and while a progressive mood dominated in these conversations, discussions of sexuality often led to students disrupting my lectures and voicing their opposition to exploring issues affecting gender and sexual minorities. There was a broad focus on the decolonial project in the way that students engaged within lectures, but they often resisted any links between decolonisation and discussions of gender and sexuality diversity.

In the following section, I outline my theoretical perspective in understanding the moments of disruption that I experienced while teaching courses on gender and sexuality. I frame these moments of disruption through the theoretical lens of Paulo Freire's critical pedagogy (2005) and through a pedagogy of discomfort. I also briefly examine some of the work done on gender and sexuality education in South Africa in order to demonstrate why I see these disruptions as productive in the current South African setting and as offering the space for social change, particularly in the context of working with pre-service teachers. Some uses of the concept "disruption" in gender and sexuality education are also explored to frame disruptions as assets in pedagogy.

 

Methodology and Theoretical Framework: Autoethnography, Critical Pedagogy and a Pedagogy of Discomfort

This article uses the method of autoethnography (Schmid 2019), and analyses the autoethnographic reflections using two theories of education, namely critical pedagogy (Freire 2005) and a pedagogy of discomfort (Boler 1999; Zembylas and McGlynn 2012). Autoethnography is a method of qualitative social science research that "allows [the researcher] to translate ... (self)discoveries into an academic framework, and permits [the researcher] to unashamedly connect the personal and professional" (Schmid 2019, 265). Jeanette Schmid (2019) adds that autoethnography is a method that allows for often marginalised or unheard voices to be heard in academic discourse, explaining that it "is a potential gateway for those with subordinated, subjugated identities to have voice and to express unheard, silenced, perhaps taboo-ised stories" (265). For this reason, it is important for the researcher using autoethnographic research to be reflexive about how their own identity might impact on their research, and how the narratives that they present in autoethnographic reflection could be shaped by whom they are (266). Schmid explains that autoethnography "uses the individual reflexive narrative to creatively highlight undisclosed, untold and potentially subversive texts. It is a deeply personal research approach, linking identity and culture, as well as the individual and social" (266).

I am an early career researcher and lecturer at a school of education in South Africa. I am a gay, Coloured4 man who was raised in a working-class community in the Western Cape, who has often experienced homophobia and racism in the various personal, educational and professional settings that I move in. I am committed to social justice, and I have worked for years with LGBTQ+ organisations. Thus, issues of gender and sexuality are deeply personal to me, and have been central to my research focus as well. I acknowledge that my identity and my past experiences might impact the way that I present and interpret the autoethnographic narratives in this article, and simultaneously I see this as a strength of my research in this article, as it is a part of how autoethnography "facilitates inclusion and allows for multiple voice(s) and knowledge(s) and thus adds to our collective, multifaceted understanding of South Africa" (Schmid 2019, 266). My hope is that these reflections offer useful insights for other educators5 who discuss gender and sexuality in their classrooms, and that it can add to the knowledge around current perspectives on teacher training on these topics.

In reflecting on the autoethnographic data that I present in this article, I use Paulo Freire's theory of critical pedagogy (2005), which is the approach I take in order to challenge students to consider social structures of marginalisation and exclusion in terms of gender and sexuality. Donaldo Macedo, in his introduction to the revised edition of Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed (2005), explains that he negotiated "a colonial existence that is almost culturally schizophrenic: being present and yet not visible, being visible and yet not present" (2005, 11). In addressing social transformation, Freire highlights that both those who oppress and those who are oppressed in societies need to transform, and that education is a central site of this transformation. He insists that the "banking model" (2005, 71) of education, where the educator is merely depositing information into students as receptacles of knowledge, is incompatible with this social transformation; rather, "[the educator's] efforts must coincide with those of the students to engage in critical thinking and the quest for mutual humanization. His efforts must be imbued with a profound trust in people and their creative power. To achieve this, they must be partners of the students in their relations with them" (2005, 75). This type of pedagogy decentres the role of the educator, placing them as equal agents in the collaborative educational process where students hold power to dialogically negotiate learning in the educational environment.

This type of pedagogy disrupts traditional models of teaching and calls for deep levels of engagement from students and educators. Freire emphasises that critical pedagogy invites students to engage creatively and humanistically with structures of power and oppression; this would not be an easy process as "the very structure of their thought has been conditioned by the contradictions of the concrete, existential situation by which they were shaped" (2005, 45). In other words, those who have relative power in certain contexts would be resistant to critically analysing that power as this would threaten their positions, and those who are oppressed "adopt an attitude of 'adhesion' to the oppressor" (45) as they are subsumed within ideologies that reproduce their oppression.

While Freire originally conceived of these dynamics in relation to class and racial oppression, the framework can be applied to dominant ideologies of heterosexism, misogyny and queerphobia that stifle critical engagement around gender and sexuality. Members of gender and sexual minority communities encounter a multitude of social oppressions, including violence and stigma in South African educational settings as well as pervasive heteronormativity in school settings (Francis 2017). These factors make gender and sexuality suitable topics for critical pedagogy where these normative ideologies can be challenged and the oppressions they reproduce can be dismantled.

In challenging dominant and oppressive systems, strong emotions often arise that must be recognised in the practice of critical pedagogy (Zembylas 2013). Michalinos Zembylas specifically refers to post-traumatic cultural moments, like South Africa after apartheid, as spaces where "troubled knowledge" (Jansen 2009), or knowledge that reproduces oppressive systems, is not easily engaged in educational spaces. Zembylas argues that traditional views of critical pedagogy must be nuanced by a focus on emotion and require "new ideas on how affect and emotion might be harnessed by teachers to deal with troubled knowledge" (2013, 177). Megan Boler (1999) argues for a pedagogy of discomfort, where emotions are constructively engaged within educational spaces, and where "educators and students ... engage in critical inquiry regarding values and cherished beliefs, and ... examine constructed self-images in relation to how one has learned to perceive others" (1999, 176-77). A pedagogy of discomfort

emphasises the need for educators and students alike to move outside their "comfort zones". Pedagogically, this approach assumes that discomforting emotions play a constitutive role in challenging dominant beliefs, social habits and normative practices that sustain social inequities and in creating possibilities for individual and social transformation. (Zembylas and McGlynn 2012, 41)

A pedagogy of discomfort could be useful in teaching about gender and sexuality diversity, especially in the South African context where these topics often elicit strong emotional reactions (Reygan and Francis 2015). Zembylas (2008) conceptualises emotions as "performances that produce action within the context of particular social and political arrangements" (2008, 3); this understanding of emotions is particularly relevant for this study, as the way that students expressed themselves in relation to gender and sexuality education could be seen as linked to dominant ideologies that oppress queer and gender-nonconforming people. Finn Reygan and Dennis Francis found in their study on South African teachers that "teachers deny their own emotional responses to issues about sexual and gender diversity" (2015, 106), and noted that the participants in their study "struggled with their own biases, emotions, discomfort and disapproval of LGBTI identities in an unreflexive and ultimately pedagogically ineffective manner" (106), leading to poorer engagement with these issues in their own classrooms at schools. In bringing these topics to the fore for pre-service teachers, I aimed to disrupt these dynamics and to potentially transform oppressive ideas of gender and sexuality that teachers perpetuate in classrooms. In my experiences with students' "disruptions" described in the next section of this article, I found that many students expressed these strong emotions and sought to stifle discussions of gender and sexuality diversity when heterosexist, cisnormative and patriarchal ideologies were critically interrogated in classes.

Zembylas notes that pedagogies of discomfort involve the disruption of "received (taken-for-granted) knowledge that perpetuates reductive binaries between perpetrators and victims and black-and-white solutions" (Zembylas 2013, 187). The educator disrupts dominant ideologies that stifle critical thinking concerning oppression and marginalisation. Disruption, thus, is a part of the process of critical pedagogy and a pedagogy of discomfort, specifically on the part of the educator, and the strength of emotional reactions also entails that students or learners might be likely to "disrupt" or resist ideas within teaching environments.

In addition to the definition of disruption from critical pedagogy, namely of challenging deeply held beliefs of students, the concept of disruption also takes on significance in the South African setting. Shepherd Mpofu offers a definition of disruption with a "positive twist" (2017, 358) in the South African setting that is useful for this discussion. Mpofu argues that disruption, through challenging power structures or the status quo, is a valid form of communication in a country marked by continued oppression in multiple ways (2017, 359). Disruption, Mpofu notes, "guarantees the poor of an audience with the powerful elite running important institutions in society" (354). Disruption becomes a way for those with relatively less power to assert their voices and views, a type of "resistance and defensiveness" (Sonn 2008, 164), which is often argued to be deeply tied to the work of a pedagogy of discomfort. Additionally, disruption has been viewed by gender and sexuality scholars like Deevia Bhana (2015) as a way of calling into question cultural and social norms that are stifling to oppressed groups or that silence their realities.

In this article, the term disruption will be used to describe actions and processes involving both educator and students. First, disruption refers to the ways that I was able to challenge the deeply held ideologies of students through teaching about gender and sexuality diversity. Second, the term is used for the ways in which students were able to challenge my classes, sometimes in how they aimed to derail discussions through acts of resistance or disagreement, but also how they were able to voice their discomfort with the ideas discussed in ways that were ultimately productive in the current South African climate.

These mutual disruptions were important in my teaching about gender and sexuality. In the autoethnographic reflections outlined below, I show how students' attempts to disrupt discussions of gender and sexuality became moments of deep critical engagement by these students and their peers, and opened the space for shifts in classroom dynamics that allowed students to become more personally invested in these discussions of gender and sexuality. I show how these disruptions and the reactions to them are markedly different from even a few years ago; disruptions that had once been coloured by unflinching homophobia and assertions of restrictive gender norms now became much more tentative, and other students were less apprehensive about engaging in conversations after these disruptions took place, even challenging the students who sought to silence critical conversations of gender and sexual identities and norms.

 

Moments of Disruption

I taught courses on gender and sexuality diversity at two other universities while the RMF and FMF movements were ongoing. I noticed certain patterns with these courses: male students would often stop attending, or would generally be disengaged during classes. At times, students would visibly be annoyed or antagonistic during lectures. In one lecture, a student rolled her eyes at me, shook her head animatedly and spoke loudly to her classmate sitting next to her, clearly trying to rally support from the uncomfortable looking peer who avoided her gaze and pretended not to hear her. I became flustered when she continued showing her anger through fidgeting and speaking even more loudly to her classmate. I asked her if there was a problem, and she laughed out loud, clearly excited that she elicited a reaction. In another class, I showed a short film to students about men who challenged gender stereotypes, and at the image of a male in the video wearing a dress, one of the students began to laugh loudly and incessantly, seemingly unfazed that her laughter was louder than the video being screened. I asked her why she was having such a strong reaction, and she refused to answer me, still barely suppressing her laughter.

Another time, during a lecture on sexuality diversity and gay marriage laws in South Africa, a male student stood up during my lecture, and loudly announced from his seat at the back that his religion did not agree with what I was teaching. There were times when I would engage with this line of discussion and give students the space to voice their discomfort respectfully; since religion and culture were such common points raised by students, I sometimes felt that they should be put on the table and considered openly. But the way that this student had stood up to deliver his message, his visible outrage, let me know that this was not one of those times. I told him that my class was about the realities of South Africa, that we took an approach of respecting human rights and academic inquiry, and that we could not allow personal religious convictions to prevent open discussion during class time. The student stopped attending my class.

I had similar disruptions in other classes, and conversations with my colleagues revealed that they had had similar experiences in almost every class they had taught where they had discussed gender roles or sexuality: female students would show their discomfort through their nonverbal expressions of resistance, and male students would feel the need to speak up and challenge the educator, often in front of the rest of the class but also at times in private discussion after class. There would be common arguments about why gender and sexuality should not be discussed: strict patriarchal gender roles and compulsory heterosexuality are part of "African culture", as many students told me, or religious beliefs prohibited same-sex sexualities or gender nonconformity. Students of all racial and cultural backgrounds would voice opposition in class, much more than for any other controversial topics. One colleague told me about a time he asked a group of students if they knew what cisgender meant, and a male student shouted out, "Normal!"

What marked these disruptions in the past was the fact that the conversation would often grind to a halt. Other students would seem too embarrassed to speak up, or perhaps some were pleased that someone was voicing what they felt. When I tried to continue conversations, there would be a feeling of disengagement, like I had "lost" the class and the conversation could not be productive pedagogically. I wondered if I had challenged the deeply held norms and beliefs of some students, and if this disruption was met with a need to silence me. Unfortunately, it was often effective as I could hardly ever reignite a productive conversation in these lectures, despite my impression that some students were critically engaged and grappling with these topics.

However, in the wake of the Must Fall movements, while the disruptions have not stopped, the nature of these interactions has changed in ways that I read as influenced by aspects of the movements. Now, disruptions become productive moments, reflecting changing social attitudes and allowing for critical engagement.

I recently taught a class with a group of fourth-year education students. They had begun their university careers as the RMF movement was catching fire, and they had been witness to (and many participated in) the heated protests. I taught a class on marginalised stories, looking at short stories, a film and videos about intersectional oppression, the often-silenced voices that rarely become part of school or even university curricula in South Africa. We spoke about the realities of transphobic violence, gender expectations, queerphobia and racism, using the texts to reflect these ideas and discussing the potential of these conversations in South African classrooms. In one class, one of the male students raised his hand and accused me of racism for pointing out the rampant queerphobic violence in South Africa and other African countries. I was taken aback. While many of my students had circled the issue of how my classes on sexuality were somehow against African cultural values, this was much more direct than I had experienced before.

However, an immediate wave of outrage spread across the rest of the class; perhaps the bluntness of the words had shocked them all as it did me, and they seemed to rally to defend me. I responded to the student by pointing out how I had shown examples of discrimination in many different racial and cultural groups in that very class, and how he was cherry-picking examples. He would not back down, but other students began to interject. I allowed them time to speak, and what followed was a very productive and nuanced conversation dealing with the lack of critical capacity around cultural practices and norms. Many other students spoke about their personal experiences with gender norms, and students were able to openly discuss their discomfort around or support for queer people. Even though I initially felt that my planned lecture had been "disrupted", as it had been many times in the past when topics of gender and sexuality were the focus, this disruption opened the space for deep critical engagement that made the rest of our classes together even richer.

I now see these disruptions as very different in nature, and the Must Fall movements seem to have offered many opportunities in teacher education in South Africa. In a country with so much gender-based violence, where HIV continues to be widespread and affect millions of families, and where gender and sexual minorities are still subject to "corrective rape", beatings and murder, it is essential that teachers are trained to discuss gender and sexuality in classrooms in South Africa. There are many opportunities to address this in pre-service teacher training at South African universities. The fact that students were given a voice through the movements, how intersectionality became a central focus, and the current limbo of discovering a new normal at universities all allow for these pedagogical disruptions to be productive and offer rewarding discussions. I argue that educators should be purposeful in including these topics in pre-service teacher training. First, because it honours the voices of the students who worked so hard to ensure a greater respect for the dignity of all in South Africa and who fought for LGBTQ+ voices to be heard, and second, because it is a part of the decolonial project at universities that is so necessary in the current climate. Educators should recognise that disruptions have become a greater part of higher education and embrace the potential of these disruptions.

In addition to class time disruptions, students were also much more willing to raise their issues about gender and sexuality education outside class time than they had been before. Whereas I had experienced class time disruptions as a performance or a way to rally support from classmates, students seemed to recognise that they would not receive as much support for their ideas in public spaces as they would have in the past. Instead, students were coming to see me after class, still demonstrating that they felt disrupted by the ideas I raised, and wanting to push back or voice resistance, but no longer feeling free to do this publicly.

A student came to speak with me after a lecture about Dennis Francis's article on homophobia in South African schools (2017), asking: "Why do we have to learn about this stuff?" My defences went up. My quick response, which I was quite proud of in the moment, was, "Why not? Don't you think it is important for us to think about our learners who are gender and sexual minorities, especially when they are exposed to all of the things that Francis highlights in his article?" The conversation lasted about 25 minutes in the empty lecture hall, as we went back and forth, both of us feeling somewhat wounded by the exchange. We discussed decolonisation, how the student thought that I should not bring up decolonisation in discussions about sexuality because the two have nothing to do with each other; he quickly silenced me when I tried to counter this argument. It was a moment where I realised the potential as an educator of gender and sexuality as well as the limitations in a stark way. I said to him, as our conversation drew to a close, "My measure of success in this class is knowing that you are thinking about things you wouldn't normally think about. If you went through your entire university education only being comfortable, only reinforcing your own ideas, I will have failed." As the student told me that he was starting to think about the school experience from the perspective of LGBTQ+ learners, I felt my shoulders relax. Maybe he would be a different teacher to those learners. But I was quickly stopped in that easy denouement when he added, "But it is still against my values."

These types of conversations have become more common, where, even when I can see that students vehemently disagreed with being tolerant and affirming of those who are gender and sexual minorities, they were able to engage with me openly rather than simply trying to silence the conversation. I had a student come to my office looking unsettled after one of these lectures and share his personal beliefs in a way that was vulnerable and deeply respectful; this student was clearly disrupted by the ideas in the lecture, and needed a space to process this where he would not be judged. He left my office thanking me for listening to him even though we did not agree.

I recently hosted a lecture with over 400 first-year students on sexuality and gender identity before their first teaching experience at schools, giving them strategies on how to sensitively create classroom environments that could offer learners from gender and sexual minority groups a degree of comfort and safety that they mostly did not experience in their communities. A few students walked out of this lecture, and one male student was almost violently shaking his head whenever I moved to a new slide, clearly hoping I would notice and perhaps be disrupted by his displeasure. Despite this, the lecture went smoothly, against my expectations, and a large number of students came up to me afterwards, some to thank me for discussing the topic so frankly, and others to ask me for further information. An older, male student came to speak with me after the lecture, and due to my past experiences with male students being vocally unhappy with discussions of gender and sexuality, I expected the worst. However, the student said that he greatly appreciated the lecture, and that he wanted to know how to implement some of the ideas in the township school where he taught, where the community was generally very conservative. I could not answer him fully, but I told him that he could be an advocate for acceptance, even in small ways where he could normalise and affirm gender and sexuality diversity.

These interactions, even in the face of continued attempts at disruptions, have changed the nature of my lessons around gender and sexuality, and have opened the space for deep critical reflection with students that would likely have been impeded and silenced before. In the last few years, during large-class lectures, I have had a student speak about her experiences of discrimination as a black lesbian woman, another grapple openly with how she struggled to reconcile her community's gender norms with traditional feminism, and many more sharing stories of how they struggled in their own teaching practice when they worked with gender nonconforming learners and witnessed bullying and discrimination firsthand. These types of conversations, while not new in South African higher education institutions, seem to take on a different character in the wake of the FMF movements. They demonstrate a greater awareness of intersectionality and the importance of protecting vulnerable groups, a hallmark of FMF activism. They show affective, personal and critical engagement with these topics, something I read as reflective of how university spaces are being renegotiated to be more inclusive.

Even when students feel disrupted by these topics, and even when they in turn attempt to disrupt classes, the form of engagement now allows for sensitive, compassionate engagement to emerge from the rest of the class. What is more, like the lesbian student who spoke up about her own experiences, those on the margins are also much more willing to "disrupt" spaces that seek to actively exclude them, including the voices and systems of patriarchy and heterosexism that are still dominant in academia and in South Africa as a whole.

As Boler and Zembylas (2003) note, "A pedagogy of discomfort recognizes and problematizes the deeply embedded emotional dimensions that frame and shape daily habits, routines and unconscious complicity with hegemony" (2003, 108). In light of the emerging discourses of decolonisation, symbolic exclusion, rape culture, intersectionality and other important dimensions of the Must Fall movements, discussions of gender and sexuality are able to shift from limiting and often dismissive discourses of culture and religion, and instead invite engagement that can bring about deep reflection in classrooms.

 

Conclusion

In the Must Fall movements, gender and sexual minorities were often seen as "disruptions" to the dominant focus on class and racial inequalities by the cisheteropatriarchal elements within these movements. However, queer advocates, allies and bodies refused to be erased or silenced, and asserted their belonging as Africans, as South Africans, as members of the movements and as part of the university community broadly. Despite the attempts to silence them, these voices asserted themselves and recognised the structural and ideological forces that sought to reject them, even within the protest movements. The preponderance of male students vocally disrupting discussions of gender and sexuality can be linked to the many men who sought to deny the queer and feminist underpinnings of the Must Fall movements, or to divorce these concerns from the larger decolonial project. Wanelisa Xaba powerfully explains:

Middleclass Black men in the movement strategically aligned themselves with radical Black feminists in order to steal their intellectual labour, and their class privilege sheltered them from criticism of their "private school patriarchy". Individuals in the movement whose politics are informed by homophobic and patriarchal interpretations of Pan-Africanism, Black Consciousness and Decoloniality fail to recognise the critique and reimagination of gender, sexuality and bodies (in reference to differently abled bodies) as a crucial part of decolonisation. This must be called out for what it is-the internalisation of White supremacy and the normalisation of violence against minority groups. (Xaba 2017)

The reflections above speak to this desire to silence, importantly demonstrated by a range of students and not simply male students. This desire to silence has often been the catalyst for classroom disruptions, but there have been encouraging changes in the ways that other students have dealt with these moments. The Must Fall movements, I contend, have played a large part in allowing students to value their voices and in enhancing critical reflection around the realities of gender and sexuality in South Africa. Even in personal discussions with students who challenge pedagogies of acceptance, affirmation and honesty, I have noticed that they are more open to listening to opposing viewpoints and are less assured in their impulse to silence.

The potential of these discussions is great, and this article argues that educators should purposely include discussions of gender and sexual diversity, particularly at the current moment with calls to decolonise education and to advocate for those who are oppressed in intersectional ways. While not every discussion will end in the student "changing their mind", the productive critical reflection that becomes possible can have major impacts on transforming public discourse on gender and sexuality, and might allow for the pre-service teachers to become agents of change when they teach in schools and interact with young people, even if just in small acts of affirmation, normalisation, and empathy.

Finally, it is important to acknowledge the ways that I have personally been disrupted by these classroom interactions as well as by the changes in the university setting after the Must Fall movements. I have grown as an educator during this time, and this might have impacted how I teach gender and sexuality differently now; while many of the changes might be social and institutional, I am aware that some of them are also personal, and might make me able to better handle moments that previously would have stifled classroom discussion. As has been shown in the autoethnographic reflections above, the discourse has altered dramatically even in just a few years, and this creates powerful affordances for educators. In pre-service teacher education, harnessing these multiple forms of disruption could alter the ways that these future teachers engage with learners in schools, and could be extremely valuable in improving the lives of gender and sexual minorities in South Africa.

 

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1 For a detailed look at some of the early RMF philosophies, see The Johannesburg Salon, Volume Nine (Rhodes Must Fall, Writing and Education Subcommittees 2015).
2 It is important to note that the philosophy of Fallism is contested, and that many students who were involved in the protests that started in 2015 would not identify with this term. See Naidoo (2016) for more about the complexities of the student movements and the philosophy of Fallism.
3 It must be acknowledged that these changes in the student movements might have also been a result of the large-scale securitisation of university campuses, and the violent tactics of these security forces against students, including reports of gendered violence against female and queer activists during the protests. Kylie Thomas notes that "[w]omen and LGBTQI people were particularly vulnerable to the violence of the police and private security guards and several students recounted being groped and assaulted during the protests" (2018, 108).
4 The term Coloured is a broad and contested racial category codified during apartheid, and mostly used to describe those who are "mixed race" or who have indigenous South African (Khoisan) or Cape Malay heritage. The term still has wide currency in South Africa today (Andrews 2018, 37).
5 I use the term "educator" in this article to collectively refer to those providing instruction in educational settings, namely lecturers, school teachers and other teaching staff at basic and higher education institutions.

^rND^sAndrews^nG.^rND^sBhana^nD.^rND^sBhana^nD.^rND^sBhana^nD.^rND^nR.^sMorrell^rND^nT.^sShefer^rND^nS.^sNgabaza^rND^sBoler^nM.^rND^nM.^sZembylas^rND^sDavids^nN.^rND^nZ.^sMatebeni^rND^sDePalma^nR.^rND^nD.^sFrancis^rND^sFrancis^nD.^rND^sFrancis^nD.^rND^sFrancis^nD.^rND^nT.^sMsibi^rND^sKhan^nK.^rND^sMorrell^nR.^rND^sMpofu^nS.^rND^sNaidoo^nL.-A.^rND^sNdelu^nS.^rND^nS.^sDlakavu^rND^nB.^sBoswell^rND^sReygan^nF.^rND^nD.^sFrancis^rND^sSchmid^nJ.^rND^sSonn^nC. C.^rND^sThomas^nK.^rND^sXaba^nW.^rND^sZembylas^nM.^rND^sZembylas^nM.^rND^sZembylas^nM.^rND^nC.^sMcGlynn

We have argued that there needs to be more nuance in such a system and that institutions need to be wary about the extent to which a focus on payments reduces publications to their exchange-value. The use-value of publications as contributions to knowledge becomes of secondary importance or could even be seen as a constraint on output. We have argued that the effects of the structure of incentives are particularly problematic given the complementarity between this structure and a culture of instrumentalist conceptions of research and the commodification of knowledge. Having incentives that focus on one-sided indicators, that is publication rather than knowledge dissemination, "will ultimately lower the performance of the science sector in total" (Schmoch and Schubert 2009, 165), so the consequences of these processes go far beyond individual institutions. As Macleod (2010) states:

The incentive system is a blunt instrument that serves the purposes of increasing university income rather than supporting scholarship and knowledge production in South Africa. It is essentially a managerialist solution, in which bean counting trumps over concerns for scholarship.

This study's findings echo many of the concerns in the literature (for example, Muller 2017; Tomaselli 2018; Vaughan 2008) and add the empirical data of academics' perspectives on the unintended consequences of this phenomenon. We have argued that this requires a system-level change rather than blaming individual academics who make poor choices in their desire to achieve promotion and direct incentives, or chastising universities for developing policies and practices of direct reward that mimic that of the DHET. We need to revisit the metrics used to drive knowledge production and dissemination. At present, the funding formula rewards the supply of publications without any consideration of the demand for knowledge and thereby rewards "the pursuit of mediocrity" (Vaughan 2008, 91). Looking back at our social realist underpinnings urges us to question the perverse effects of structures, such as direct incentives, that are put in place without careful thought as to the desired culture. Vaughan (2008, 96) asks a key question:

What sort of behaviour do we wish to encourage in South Africa? Should we be rewarding universities whose academics produce the greatest number of publications, without regard to quality, or should our emphasis be on a system that inspires our academics to aim for a level of scholarship which can withstand the scrutiny of an international audience?

We would hope for the latter. If we want universities to be spaces of critical knowledge production and dissemination, and if we want academics who are committed to the pursuance of that knowledge, then we need to be very careful about the structures we put in place to drive this.

 

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1 Research output per unit capita is a measurement indicator for the number of research outputs produced in a South African university. It is calculated by measuring the total number of all research outputs (publications and postgraduate graduations) by a university and then dividing that total by the total number of permanent academic staff at the university (DHET 2011).
2 NRF grant number 876460 and 94969

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ARTICLE

 

Legitimation of Poverty in School Economics Textbooks in South Africa

 

 

Jugathambal RamdhaniI; Suriamurthee MaistryII

IUniversity of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa Ramdhanij@ukzn.ac.za https://orcid.org/0000-0002-1401-6463
IIUniversity of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa Maistrys@ukzn.ac.za https://orcid.org/0000-0001-9623-0078

 

 


ABSTRACT

In South Africa, the school textbook remains a powerful source of content knowledge to both teachers and learners. Such knowledge is often engaged uncritically by textbook users. As such, the worldviews and value systems in the knowledge selected for consumption remain embedded and are likely to do powerful ideological work. In this article, we present an account of the ideological orientations of knowledge in a corpus of school economics textbooks. We engage the tenets of critical discourse analysis to examine the representations of the construct "poverty" as a taught topic in the Further Education and Training Economics curriculum. Using Thompson's legitimation as a strategy and form-function analysis as specific analytical tools, we unearth the subtext of curriculum content in a selection of Grade 12 Economics textbooks. The study reveals how power and domination are normalised through a strategy of economic legitimation, thereby offering a "legitimate" rationale for the existence of poverty in the world. The article concludes with implications for curriculum and a humanising pedagogy, and a call for embracing critical knowledge on poverty in the South African curriculum.

Keywords: poverty; critical discourse analysis; ideology; legitimation; textbooks


 

 

Introduction

The South African school curriculum is based on the Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS), a policy framework that prescribes key content and skills that all South African learners should acquire before exiting the schooling system. A key challenge though is the bifurcated nature of the schooling system, with two distinct sectors: one, a small but well-functioning middle-class sector comprising well-resourced, functional schools with qualified personnel, and the other, a large dysfunctional schooling sector that services poor and working-class children (Spaull 2013). In both contexts, the school textbook (derived from the CAPS framework) continues to be an indispensable source of content knowledge. This article examines the worldviews on the content topic "poverty" that are transmitted to South African high school learners (both affluent and indigent) through the subject of Economics. In other words, it considers what legitimisations of "poverty" as studied conceptual knowledge manifest overtly, what subtexts they convey, and how critical discourse analysis (CDA) might unearth ideological persuasions not readily discernible to the untrained eye. As a point of entry into this article, a brief discussion of the state of global and South African poverty is offered with a view to contextualising this investigative focus.

The state of poverty in the world is such that half the global population is still mired in severe poverty and has access to less than 2% of the world's wealth. Because of this extreme inequality, one third of our world's population dies prematurely due to severe poverty (Pogge 2010). When an economy experiences prosperity, people who have material wealth generally do not concern themselves with those who are less prosperous. The theory of warm-glow philanthropy appears to explain the dominant motivation for why the rich disburse funds to the poor (Andreoni 2006). In such times, people also find it easy to accept the neoliberal belief that an economy adopting a market-driven approach and a social welfare system, together with a strict work ethic, can make an individual more prosperous (Lucio, Jefferson, and Peck 2016). While Erler (2012) asserts that the discourse on the plight of poor people draws on narratives that emphasise structural and contextual elements more than psychological and moral ones, neoliberal discourses foreground the individual as primarily responsible for her plight (Harvey 2007).

A prominent manner in which poverty is constructed and argued for is through the use of an economic discourse (see Avalos 1992; Bedard 1989; Bundy 2016; Minujin and Nandy 2012). This may refer to how economic systems create barriers for the poor to access institutions in society that offer, among others, employment, schooling, shelter, healthcare and security. Barriers to "gain economic power to achieve change" (Bradshaw 2007, 11) prevent economic advancement that could otherwise occur through "redevelopment, business attraction or enterprise zones" (Bradshaw 2007, 8) and entrepreneurship. It might also include "structural failings" (Bradshaw 2007, 12) of economic systems as well as constraints that prevent individuals from "making choices and investments" (Bradshaw 2007, 12) to maximise their well-being. Arguments against social welfare to assist the poor, systems that limit opportunities and resources to gain income and economic security, and capitalism or free enterprise that encourages unemployment and low wages through segregation of the poor also form part of economic discourses that posit a particular understanding of poverty (Bradshaw 2007, 12). The legitimisation of poverty using economic discourses is evident in the reliance on factors such as individual responsibility, structural limitations, discriminations within the economic system, and social welfare and globalisation. These economic discourses might stem from a neoliberal rationale that encourages individuals to become active players in the market, satisfying their own needs and accepting responsibility for their own economic problems (Lucio, Jefferson, and Peck, 2016).

Arguments that move beyond the individual point to structural limitations as preventing the poor from gaining access to the world of work and economic emancipation (Albrecht and Albrecht 2000). The economic system is designed to make it difficult for the poor to achieve economic independence (Bradshaw 2007). Economic-related reasons for poverty are attributed to the limitations caused by discrimination on the grounds of "race" and gender, and the segregation that resulted from economic changes after World War II (Albrecht and Albrecht 2000). The cyclical nature of poverty also suggests that patterns of inequality tend to repeat themselves over time (Pacheco and Pultzer 2008). Despite these repeated patterns, Pogge reminds us that the international response has not been successful in disrupting this persistent repetition (Pogge 2010). He is critical of institutional reports on poverty, suggesting that the report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, which declares that over one billion people are chronically undernourished, is not treated with the gravity it deserves, especially when the World Bank asserts that its progress in eradicating poverty is "impressive" (Pogge 2010, 4). The world will not make real progress against poverty unless powerful advocates commit themselves to eradicating it (Pogge and Sengupta 2014).

In South Africa, poverty levels increased from 2011 to 2015 (Lehohla 2017). Since 2011, poverty levels have risen from 53.2% to 55.5% in 2015, which amounts to a staggering 30.4 million people who are deemed poor. While documented statistics on poverty are available in various forms and several theories and explanations are proffered, there is little research on how poverty is constructed in school textbooks used to teach economics to South African learners. It is concerning that Streib, Ayala, and Wixted (2017) have found that poverty and social class inequality are portrayed in the media as "legitimate" and as "appropriate and fair" (2016, 1). They assert that the media portrays poverty and class inequality, particularly in children's movies, as "benign" (16). Poverty is framed as non-threatening. Such portrayals are problematic because they mask the realities people are exposed to in their lives (Streib, Ayala, and Wixted 2017). The extant field of poverty theory is expansive. For a critical discussion of contemporary theories, see Ramdhani (2018), and David Brady's (2019) very recent synthesis of the key causes of poverty in which he classifies theories of poverty into three main categories, namely, behavioural, structural and political.

 

Research Problem

While statistical data on poverty are available, the extent to which poverty is understood and how it is interpreted, as well as the specific definitions presented for public consumption, are still uncertain in the South African context. Poverty as a content topic features in the subject Economics in the Further Education and Training Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS). CAPS offers a skeletal description of key topics and sub-topics to be taught. The textbook serves as an important source of disciplinary knowledge on topics such as poverty. In this article, we report on a study that examined portrayals of poverty in contemporary school economics textbooks in South Africa.

The Department of Basic Education (DBE) recognises the textbook as an effective resource for ensuring uniformity in content coverage. In the Action Plan to 2014: Towards the Realisation of Schooling 2025, the DBE (2011) emphasised the importance of ensuring that every learner has access to textbooks and that teachers are required to use textbooks in the teaching process. However, this emphasis on the textbook policy pays minimum attention to the ideological messages embedded in textbooks' content. Although textbooks play an important role in schools, they are not impartial resources (Apple and Christian-Smith 1991; Williams 1989). The concept of a "selective tradition" is used to describe how compilers of textbooks decide to include certain meanings and to omit others (Williams 1989). The content selected is then passed off as "the tradition [or] the significant past", thereby retaining the dominance of a specific set of power relations both in the economy and in the political institutions of society (Apple and Christian-Smith 1991, 3). Studies on ideological underpinnings in economics textbooks have been rare. Early research focused on the readability of economics textbooks (Gallagher and Thompson 1981; McConnell 1982). A study of introductory economics textbooks over a 10-year period (1974-1984) by Feiner and Morgan (1987) revealed the under-representation of women and minorities in the textbooks, a phenomenon also confirmed by Robson (2001). Some later research on economics textbooks focused on how specific topics such as economic dumping (Rieber 2010) and entrepreneurship (Phipps, Strom, and Baumol 2012) were framed as content to be studied.

In the only study that dealt specifically with depictions of poverty, Clawson indicates that the portrayal of poverty in economics textbooks was dominated by depictions of poverty among black people (Clawson 2002). The gap that this article wishes to address relates to the rationales for the existence of poverty that are presented in South African school textbooks, teaching artefacts that are derived from prescriptions in the South African school curriculum.

As a political institution of society, the South African Ministry of Education views education as a means to eradicate poverty, as can be seen in the rhetoric used to state the goals of the National Development Plan (DBE 2016). The ministry contends that the eradication of poverty is inhibited by economic constraints (DBE 2016). The education sector notes severe poverty among children and declares a commitment to addressing this poverty within schools. Severe poverty, however, persists, especially in the African community. A dualistic schooling system still exists within the education sector (Spaull 2013). One caters for the wealthy that is functional, while the other is for the poor and, in many instances, is dysfunctional (Spaull 2013, 14). That schoolchildren (including millions who are poor) are the recipients of state-sanctioned knowledge (via textbooks) on poverty presents a complex and compelling problematic, namely, discerning specifically what ideological legitimisations of poverty are packaged for consumption by South African learners.

In essence, the research problem that this article attempts to address arises from the multiplicity of possible explanations of poverty that prevail, the fact that this topic/concept is taught to a large section of South African learners who are in fact victims of poverty, and that there is limited knowledge of what strains of poverty theory permeate the programmatic curriculum (school textbooks) for South African learners. While we note that concepts such as economic development or inequality could well have been the research focus, these appear as broader, overarching, meta topic areas in the school economics curriculum, whereas "poverty" is foregrounded as a key economic phenomenon signalled for mandatory in-depth study.

 

A Brief Methodological Note

This study drew on the tenets of critical discourse analysis (CDA), which, according to McGregor (2003), has its roots in Habermas's (1973) Critical Theory. It allows us to understand the issues that plague societies dominated by mainstream ideology and power relationships. Conventional ideology and power relationships are preserved and maintained by the words and language in texts (McGregor 2003). For the purposes of this article, we adopted the perspective of ideology as described by Thompson (1990, 58), who explains that meaning underpinned by "symbolic forms serves to establish and sustain relations of domination". This article recognises that symbolic forms encompass a wide array of "actions and utterances, images and texts, which are produced by subjects and recognized by them and others as meaningful constructs" (59). The linguistic utterances and expressions written, in this regard, in the textbooks mask the representations of power, hegemony and the social construction of poverty. We extracted the meaning behind these utterances using "form-function analysis", "language in context analysis" and "situated meaning analysis" (Gee 2005, 54-55). The intention of CDA is to reveal the socio-political assumptions embedded in the language found in text and oral speech (for a detailed account of CDA tools of analysis of language, see McGregor 2003).

CDA is a theoretical tool used to "make sense of the ways in which people make meaning in educational contexts" and to "answer questions about the relationships between language and society" (Rogers et al. 2005, 373). Because "language is a social practice", and because not all habits, customs, or traditions in society are treated equally, it is imperative that we investigate how language is used to construct certain realities (Rogers et al. 2005, 367). The tools adopted in language can be located "everywhere" and are always "political" (Gee 2005, 1). The word "political" refers to "how social goods are thought about, argued over and distributed in society" (Gee 2005, 2). Our world "is constantly and actively being constructed and reconstructed" (Gee 2011, 29). The term "politics" is used to explain the distribution of social goods to certain people, groups and institutions at the expense of others (Gee 2011, 31). It is important to note that CDA is not without its critics. It is often criticised for being too exploratory, interpretive and politically motivated and lacking the rigour that quantitative protocols for empirical research offer (Flick 2009).

In this article the mode of analysis employed attempts to ascertain the legitimation strategies (Ferguson et al. 2009; Thompson 1990) used by textbook writers to legitimate poverty in the selected textbooks. Legitimation is the act of making something lawful and authorial, and illustrates how certain worldviews become considered "right and proper" (Tyler 2006, 376). Three techniques are typically used to legitimate preferred positions. The first, rationalisation, is where power relations are justified because reasonable explanation/s can be provided (Ferguson et al. 2009, 897; Thompson 1990, 62). The second strategy is that of "universalisation" (Ferguson et al. 2009, 897; Thompson 1990, 62). Here, the interests of a few are projected as the interests of all. The concept of legitimacy is built on the conviction of a "common interest" that goes beyond private and partial benefits (Easton 1965, 312-19; Gilley 2006, 502). The third strategy is that is of "narrativisation", in which past "traditions and stories" are offered as treasures to be cherished. These three strategies work in concert to legitimise certain value positions.

The table below shows the textbooks sampled for this study. These Grade 11 Economics textbooks were in use at the time the study was conducted and were sanctioned by the DBE.

 

 

With regard to ethical issues related to this study, due University of KwaZulu-Natal ethical clearance protocol was followed. As the textbooks are in the public domain, there was no necessity for gatekeeper permission that might apply to other empirical studies.

In the section that follows, we present one aspect of the findings of the larger study, namely that of economic legitimation as it relates to the manifestation of poverty as a concept. This brief methodology section describes the methodological approach from a meta-level. It must be noted that a systematic sorting and coding of data from the corpus of five textbooks was undertaken. For explicit details of the research protocol followed for the entire study, see Ramdhani (2018). For the purpose of this article, sample data that are germane to the argument we make have been selected and presented.

In the section that follows, legitimation strategies used by the selected economics textbooks are presented.

 

Economic Legitimation of Poverty through the Strategy of Rationalisation

In the five economics textbooks, the theme of rationalisation emerges through various themes and sub-themes. These include the following: discrimination in the economic and social systems, structural limitations, individuals bring on their own problems (deficit of need for achievement, genetically poor intelligence, laziness and irresponsibility), the effects of globalisation, access and proximity to resources, capitalism and low wages, prices of goods and a lack of infrastructure.

Discrimination in Economic and Social Systems to Rationalise Economic Legitimation of Poverty

The findings reveal that the economic system provided the foundation for discrimination (see sample data of independent and dependent clauses below). This is evident in Book A, Book B, Book C, Book D, and Book E. Below are extracts from the texts with form-function analysis:

Despite all efforts, income distribution is still not equitable [independent].

A mixed economy still faces problems of unemployment, inflation and business cycles.

Workers are still exploited in the private sector [independent]. This contributes to income inequality, increased poverty and human rights abuses.

Because the government controls the legislative process, there is a risk that it could provide excessive social and welfare services with excessive taxation of the private sector [independent]. These taxes, together with increased public sector enterprises, may reduce the private sector contribution and lead to decreased economic growth and job creation. (Book A, 58-59)

In South Africa discrimination [independent] played a great part in creating poverty [dependent] among certain groups. During apartheid [independent] the government discriminated [dependent] on the basis of race, ethnic group and gender. Few opportunities were given to some groups to obtain well-paid jobs, adequate housing, a good education or health care [independent]. (Book B, 189)

The free market [independent] is possibly the best way of solving the problem of unequal distribution [dependent] whereby new businesses create new jobs for previously disadvantaged people. However, markets take time to equalize wealth and income even after democracy has had a chance to improve matters by reducing discrimination [independent]. In such instances, the government [independent] is often called upon to the tackle the problem [dependent] head on. In South Africa economic redress is applied to improve the standard of living of all people. This is done by improving everyone's access to economic resources through equal opportunity [independent]. (Book C, 164)

To address the issue of unequal distribution of wealth and income, and poor productivity rates [dependent], we need more [independent] than just anti-discriminatory regulations. Participation and access by marginalized groups need to be increased at all levels of the economy in South Africa [independent] to redress the imbalances in the ownership and control of South Africa's resources [dependent]. (Book D, 24)

Disadvantages of a market economy.

The distribution of income is unfair, the rich become richer and the poor may be poorer. (Book E, 48)

The economic practice of discrimination is an apparent rational explanation for poverty. The theme is prevalent in the texts and can be seen through the use of words in independent and dependent clauses such as "discrimination" (Book B, 188; Book C, 164; Book D, 24; Book E, 48) and "not equitable" (Book A, 58-59). Discrimination is present in the disparity in income in the mixed economic system. The disparity is presented through the clauses, the context, and the justification for poverty. The following phrases taken from independent and dependent clauses show disparity in the distribution of income and make explicit references to poverty in South Africa: "disadvantages of mixed economies" (Book A, 58-59), "In South Africa discrimination" (Book B, 188), "The free market is possibly the best way of solving" (Book C, 164), "more than just anti-discriminatory regulations" (Book D, 24) and "distribution of income is unfair" (Book E, 48). The importance of privatisation is affirmed through the insinuation that the free market surpasses the current mixed economies of private and public (Books A, B, D and E) and all other economic systems as well.

The dependent clauses in Book A (58-59) above state the following: "Despite all efforts, income distribution is still not equitable", "still faces problems of unemployment, inflation and business cycles", and "excessive social and welfare services". The independent clauses assert the authority of the system and the regulations of the system. These assertions are linguistic illustrations of legitimate reasons for the existence of increased poverty.

The argument presented is that the mixed economy apparently encourages disparity in the distribution of income, which should be accepted as normal. What is noteworthy is the contradiction introduced with the use of the word "despite". The word "despite" (Book A, 58-59) apparently shifts attention away from the "efforts" that have been made to distribute income equitably, but it is not clear from the text what efforts have been made and which group is served by these efforts. In contrast, the word "still" (Book A, 58-59) emphasises the persistence of the problems of gaining employment in the market under a mixed system. The repetition of the word "still" (Book A, 58-59) appears to reinforce the system that legitimates private business mistreatment of the workers, and explains the increase in poverty. Book A (58-59) seems to validate this rationale by explaining that the mixed economic system contributes to poor "efficiency" and does not "reduce poverty speedily". Invariably, this subscribes to the thinking that there is unfairness and discrimination inherent in the mixed economic system.

Poverty is rationalised by presenting the disadvantages of a mixed economic system and it is apparent that a free market is favoured in Book C (164). This text states that the situation of poor people is possibly due to discrimination arising from not having access to "equal opportunities" to wealth and income. The words "the free market is possibly the best way" (Book C, 164) influence the reader's acceptance of the discrimination inherent in the choice of an economic system. Book D (24) is in agreement with this way of explaining the lack of "access by marginalized groups" due to inequity in the "distribution of wealth and income" arising from a lack of "participation" in the economy.

Poverty is explained using the rationalisation of prejudice, as indicated by the word "discrimination" in Book B (189). The findings demonstrate that prejudice was practised using racial, cultural and gender categorisations. The implication is that the marginalised groups did not get access to jobs that paid well, decent homes and respectable education and health care. In Book B (188), with respect to the distribution of "opportunities" in terms of access to "well-paid jobs, adequate housing, a good education or health care", discrimination and unfairness seem to be the basis of the explanation. The phrases "distribution of income is unfair" (Book E, 48) and "the poor may be poorer" (Book E, 48) appear to support the theme of discrimination being used to explain and rationalise the existence of situations of unequal access, and hence the prevalence of poverty in South Africa.

In Book E (48), the discussion is about the "disadvantages of a market economy", but the use of the word "may" in this discussion creates uncertainty for the reader. This apparent uncertainty is evident in the boldness of the title, which can be seen as a strategy of "topicalisation" (McGregor 2003, 5). Topicalisation places a particular sentence or words in a topic spot, and thus influences the reader to think in a particular way. In this instance, the reader is being manipulated to think of the free market as the market of choice. However, ambiguity is introduced with the use of the word "may", which creates uncertainty that discrimination in the free market is responsible for the fact that "the rich become richer and the poor may be poorer" (Book E, 48). The ambiguity creates uncertainty about whether the free market situation could worsen poverty. There is an implicit favouring of the free market as the system of choice. The implication is that in Books A, B, C, D and E, the economic practice of discrimination is used to explain poverty in the texts. Discrimination against the poor within the free market system (capitalism) is promoted through unethical behaviour.

The recurring theme of the segregation of marginalised people is observed in clauses in Book A (58-59), B (188), C (164), D (24) and E (48). The solution to inequality is the free market system, according to the texts. This proposition may influence the reader's acceptance of the discrimination in the choice of an economic system.

Structural Limitations Used to Rationalise the Legitimation of Poverty

Structural factors limit the opportunities for employment and provide a reasonable explanation for the poverty that exists in South Africa. These structural factors were listed with groups of words in the independent clauses in Books A, B, C, D and E. A list of potential structural explanations was identified in the texts. These were used to explain the economic structures that are given prominence and placed in independent clauses, such as "income inequality" (Book A, 158), "economic growth" (Book B, 190), "[c]ertain structures which exist in the economy such as access to markets" (Book C, 26), "economically marginalized" and "excluded from the decision-making processes in the economy" (Book D, 24), and "production in Africa" (Book E, 240).

While both Book A (158) and Book B (190) cite the issue of "unemployment" as a dependent clause, Book A offers the explanation that this results from the widening of the "rich-poor gap", whereas Book B (190) explains that "reducing unemployment can alleviate poverty". The explanation in Book B goes further by naming the policies of the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) and the Growth, Employment and Redistribution Act (GEAR) used by the government to reduce unemployment. Book A (158) and Book C (26) both list the subject of unequal access to the market through resources. Book A (158) and Book D (24) list the matter of probable gender discrimination against women as another explanation. Book A, while it has structural factors in common with Books B, C and D as discussed in the previous sentence, also deviates from them by including "education", "family size", "cultural and personal preference", "inheritance" and "globalization" (158) with the structural factors. Book E (48), while displaying an understanding of probable structural factors and providing a very brief explanation for poverty, cites the matter of "production in Africa is so low" as a reason for the persistence of poverty.

The structural limitations present in the texts are as follows: Book A (158) cites the issues of a shortage of skills and education and gender discrimination with regard to access to the labour market. These are the underlying reasons for income disparity between the affluent and the poor. Book D is similar to Book A in naming discrimination against women. Book D posits the exclusion of women's voices from the "decision-making processes in the economy" (Book D, 24) as an explanation for their non-participation in the economy. Book B (190) uses policies such as the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) and the Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) to justify the current situation regarding the position of the poor. In other words, the explanation provided is that although these policies have been implemented, a disparity in income still exists. Book C (26) gives details relating to "access to the markets" and the existence of "monopolies" as structural factors that explain the marginalisation of the poor. Book E (240) puts forth the slump in "production in Africa" as a structural factor that can be used to explain the difficulty in "finding solutions to high levels of poverty". The context of feasible structural limitations contained in the discourse of Books A to E is given as the reason for poverty.

Individual Deficits Used to Rationalise and Legitimate Poverty

The findings from Book A, B, C, D and E reveal that the strategy of legitimation is based on individual problems. Each of these books use individual factors as independent clauses to emphasise this, thereby justifying the existence of poverty.

In this paragraph, we look at the words and groups of words from independent clauses in each of the texts. Book A includes a discourse relating to "diseases" (206), indicating that the condition of poverty may be attributed to the ill health of individuals, which "decrease[s] the amount of work" (206) a person is able to perform. The text rationalises poor health, and specifically HIV and AIDs, as the likely cause of "reducing their income and driving them deeper into poverty" (206). It is also seen as a factor "which can cut off a main source of income for the family" (206). Book B's rationalisation for poverty is that "individuals may become discouraged by poverty, and they lose their self-esteem and confidence, because they cannot provide for themselves and their families" (188). This discourse may well be ambiguous. On the one hand, the implication is individuals are not encouraged to find ways to elevate their status in life. On the other hand, the discourse begins by contending that "the main impact of poverty is personal, because the most affected is the one who is poor" (188). Such ambiguity may confuse the reader insofar as it attributes poverty to individual apathy. Book B goes on to explain that this apathy could continue if the social grant is "too high" (188).

Book C, like Books A and B, looks to the individual to explain poverty. The findings in Book C claim that "endless opportunities exist for anyone to become rich, yet so few people seem able to do so-while the rich get richer, the poor get poorer" (Book C, 157). The use of the word "yet" (157) implies that even though economic opportunities exist, the poor have low achievement levels and this is the reason for their poverty. The reader is being channelled to think in this way and this is clear from the instruction that follows: "[w]ith this in mind, attempt to answer the following questions" (157). This logic is reinforced by the further reasoning that if "three million black middle class adults" (157) could take advantage of the economic opportunities, why is it the poor are not able to do this? This is clear from question two of the activities, which requires answers to the following question: "What factors are hampering poor people from obtaining their share of South Africa's wealth?" (157).

Similar attitudes are evident in Book D (121) where it is argued that the "government spends about 6% of GDP on education and South Africa's teachers are among the highest paid in the world (in purchasing power parity terms) but, despite this, quality of education remains a problem. Literacy and numeracy tests scores are low by African and global standards." The use of the words "despite this" may influence the reader into thinking that the problem of poverty should not be blamed on the government but rather on the individuals' lack of initiative to increase their proficiency in language and mathematics. This rationale is carried forward in Book E, where individuals are held responsible for their poor economic position "because they do not have the appropriate skills" (37-38), and further that "even if you do give them the skills, it will take ten to twenty years for them to find jobs" (37-38). The words "yet" (Book C, 157), "but" (Book D, 121), "they" and "even if" (Book E, 37-38) insinuate that poverty is due to individuals not taking advantage of opportunities, and suggest an unwillingness on the part of the poor to relinquish their status. The discourse in Books A, B, C, D and E relies on the agency of the individual, and not the socio-economic context, to explain poverty.

The Effects of Globalisation Used to Rationalise the Legitimacy of Poverty

The strategy of using controversies surrounding globalisation as independent clauses and as institutional factors that explain poverty is prevalent in Books A, B, C, D and E. The justification is explicit in some cases and indirect in others. The negative effects of globalisation as a probable cause of poverty is advocated very strongly in Book A. On page 208, the discourse manipulates the reader to accept that poverty exists because of "lack of education, malnutrition, violence inside and outside their homes, child labour and diseases". This situation is apparently due to "the global financial crisis ... a global problem from which we in South Africa cannot escape" and which "has a huge effect on child poverty". The reasoning is that poverty is a result of global challenges that exist throughout the world, and not only in South Africa. This manipulation in Book A is also evident in Book B. Book B's (222) position is that through the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), Africa is being marginalised in the globalisation process. The apparent argument is that Africa should pursue "its full and beneficial integration into the global economy". The text bullets one of the chief objects of NEPAD as eliminating poverty (222), but offers no explanations or details, which may suggest that NEPAD will not be able to eradicate poverty. However, the linking of the three objectives of NEPAD may imply that through growth and development, as well as increased participation in the global arena, NEPAD may eradicate poverty in Africa.

We also uncovered an incidental reference to globalisation in Book C (26), which occurs in a discussion that compares the "development and standard of living" of countries within Africa. This text does not use the words global or globalisation but the use of the words "African countries" suggests a comparative African approach. It also suggests that a low economic growth rate and increased populations appear to be the reason for the poverty crisis in African countries.

Book D uses an ambiguous discussion of globalisation to validate potentially the existence of poverty. On the one hand, the position is that "the natural resources of poor countries are often exploited by richer countries" (225). On the other hand, Book D asserts that the "fight against poverty can only be won if it is a global effort, with the richer countries supporting the poor countries in their fight against poverty" (225). The implication is that poor countries are dependent on affluent nations to solve their poverty predicament. Book E (251) uses a straightforward approach to vindicate and support globalisation as being "able to reduce the poverty level by a large margin".

Access and Proximity to Resources Used to Rationalise Poverty

A strategy of legitimation used to rationalise poverty, which Books A, B, C, D and E share to a greater or lesser extent, relates to access to, and the proximity of, resources. Book A emphasises the "lack of productive resources" (206) by placing the writing in bold and also by crafting the words "in poor countries, there are not enough productive resources" (206) as an independent clause. This topicalising and inclusion as an independent clause are intended to rationalise the reality of poverty. The text positions poor countries' lack of access to resources that can increase production as a possible reason for poverty. These resources include the following: first, human resources are insufficient due to impoverishment, health issues and low education levels; second, poor maintenance of natural resources; third, a lack of infrastructure in "poor rural villages" as a result of short-term economic decisions that do not favour saving; and finally, "[e]ntrepreneurship is non-existent, because of a lack of education and skills development" (206).

The positioning of access to resources to rationalise poverty also materialises in Book C and Book E. On page seven, Book C uses the following words as a heading: "Accessibility of the Economically Marginalised Groups". Book E includes the issue of access to resources by subscribing to the following definition of poverty: "Poverty can be defined as a condition in which a person or a family does not have the resources to satisfy basic needs such as food, shelter, transport and clothing" (175). Book B asserts that the government may be able to provide better access to resources and, therefore, reduce poverty by giving consent for "projects to be started and that as soon as these projects become economically viable, they can be privatized" (56-57). Book D relies on the issue of development to explain the "access to basic needs" (175) by the poor. The implication is that not having access to and not being within the vicinity of resources is a justification for poverty.

Using Capitalism to Rationalise Poverty

Capitalism is also used as a strategy to legitimate poverty. Book A (52) states that one of the disadvantages of a free market system is that "the distribution of income is not equitable". Wealth that is created apparently goes to those with capital. Hence, the rich become richer and the poor become poorer. The unemployed, sick, and homeless suffer. To convince the reader, a detailed explanation is provided to illustrate the disadvantages of capitalism, and this is presented using bullets. These include the following: first, "[r]esources are often under-utilised or not efficiently utilised". Second, "the distribution of income is not equitable". Third, "the freedom of choice does not apply to the poor". Fourth, "the profit motive can lead to the exploitation of workers". Fifth, "the use of technology and capital leads to increased unemployment levels and poverty". Sixth, "freedom of enterprise can lead to under-provision of merit goods" and "the market economy has no mechanism for reducing the equalities between the rich and the poor" (Book A, 52). These independent clauses emphasise the reasons for poverty under capitalism.

Book B discusses the problems of capitalism and the need for the involvement of the government. The discussion ends with the following quiet insertion: "As soon as these projects become economically viable, they can be privatized" (Book B, 56-57). This style of writing paradoxically both blames capitalism for poverty and vindicates it as a means of ending poverty. Books B, C, D and E all argue in this paradoxical manner, with the likely intention to confuse the reader into believing that poverty exists because of capitalism, but capitalism is required to end it. This is evident in the activity given in Book D, with two questions on capitalism and one question concerning the command system and the poor. The context of capitalism as a discourse is applied as a potential explanation for the situation of the poor. The apparent presentation of the definition of capital as neutral may be misleading. The reader may be led to a false understanding that capitalism's only role is to obtain and utilise capital to enable financial and economic operations. However, the apparent social power of wealth distribution and its accompanying effects that exploit the poor are masked.

Low Wages, Prices of Goods and Poor Infrastructure to Rationalise the Legitimacy of Poverty

The findings show Books A, B, C, D and E use low wages, the prices of goods, and poor infrastructure as a strategy to rationalise poverty. These texts prioritise certain economic instruments to explain the possible poverty of people relative to low wages and consumption. The following quotations from independent clauses are used in the texts: "A country's income distribution" (Book A, 157) and "the standard of living in developing countries is generally low-mostly due to low income" (Book E, 159). These clauses explain the disparity in spending between the rich and the poor. The discourse in both texts (A and E) comments on the disparity in spending between the rich and the poor, with the poor having difficulty in purchasing basic or essential items of food. We believe it is reasonable to assume that this disparity in spending is attributed to the differences in income between the rich and the poor, with the poor having a very low income. The rich have access to a variety of products and choices. The poor are denied access to goods and services as well as infrastructure. These patterns of denial are carried through in the following discourse contained in Books B, C, and D. Book B (11) contains the following quotations from independent clauses: "[g]ood jobs, earnings, and allowances", "[r]ecent economic growth", "[a] lack of economic opportunity", and "[t]he informal sector". These clauses are used to explain the inability of the poor to take advantage of the products and services in the manufacturing sector. These independent clauses reveal the following:

First, an apparent acknowledgement of the importance of having a decent income for the poor;

Second, that this denial of access to a decent income probably fuels labour unrest;

Third, that the challenges in the labour market are recognised as a "development issue" (11) for South Africa that has been topical for the past 20 years;

Fourth, that the informal and formal sector roles may have an impact, with the informal sector playing a significant role in creating income for "70-90%" (11) of the people.

"Marginalized groups" (Book C, 26), "example" and "income elasticity" (Book D, 109) are used to explain the expenditure of the poor on essential goods. The implication is that this is due to low wages or a lack of wages. Book D speaks of "economically marginalized" (Book D, 109) people. Here, the example of a candle is used, an essential item that is required by marginalised people who do not have access to electricity. The change in demand for such an essential item is affected by changes in the income of the poor. In Book E (159), the standard of living of marginalised people is captured as "low income that results in poverty" and "people who struggle to meet their basic needs". The implication of the discourse on low wages, the price of goods, and the lack of infrastructure is that these present presumed reasons for poverty.

 

Discussion

Although Brady categorises poverty theories into three distinct groupings (behavioural, structural and political), he laments the somewhat insular manner in which researchers in these sub-fields work to negate or nullify one another's hypotheses (Brady 2019). He argues instead for integration and greater interdisciplinarity as scholars of poverty. It must be noted that writers of school economics textbooks (usually experienced school teachers and economics curriculum specialists/advisors in South Africa) may not be poverty specialists. As such, the causes of poverty and the theoretical bases for such causes are not comprehensively articulated nor effectively categorised. It is also important to recognise that poverty is only one of an array of topics that feature in the school curriculum. It might thus be unfair to expect nuanced/sophisticated explanations of poverty that might be found in a textbook exclusively on poverty. Textbook authors appropriate existing theories of poverty deemed to be constructively aligned to the content specifications of the CAPS, the national policy statement that spells out the state's ideological orientation. This "worthy" and "valued" knowledge is selected and programmed for study by school learners. The Department of Basic Education sets up content vetting committees to assess the validity and relevance of textbook content, a screening process that attends to issues of content accuracy and unwarranted bias and prejudice as it relates to race and gender in particular. This latter emphasis is particularly salient in the South African context given the country's history of racial prejudice and contemporary gender discrimination. While these appear as commendable objectives of such screening committees, the data and the analysis presented above suggest that less overt bias as it relates to the subliminal messages embedded in state-sanctioned content goes completely undetected. Textbook publishers, in their quest to remain on preferred, officially sanctioned and recommended catalogues, adhere tightly to CAPS prescriptions and proceed to compile their texts accordingly. It is in essence a strategic compliance so as to be favourably positioned in the lucrative school textbook market.

So, while textbook content selection is presented as transparent and state-approved, there is much to be concerned about in terms of what is projected as truths in disciplinary subject fields where there are stark theoretical contestations. It may be reasonable to argue that school textbook publishers (and their commissioned writers) may not be consciously culpable and that there may have been no malicious intent at the time of writing. It does, however, raise concern, given that particular distortions (of truths) are in fact prevalent in the selection of school textbooks under study, that similar patterns might be at work in other school subjects. Of importance are the implications that these findings have for the various stakeholders in the textbook production and consumption enterprise.

Through an intense and rigorous CDA protocol, this study was able to discern that poverty is legitimated using the legitimating strategies described above and that the causes of poverty are presented to the potential reader in a somewhat random fashion. In essence then, while the various articulations of the causes of poverty might well fall into any of Brady's three sub-categories (behavioural, structural or political), these explanations live at a somewhat superficial level. This study revealed how particular legitimating strategies work as convincing mechanisms or techniques to position particular truths. I