South Africa is a multi-cultural diverse country; this is in spite of the many disputes within our historically rich nation. Our history as a nation has for many years defined us, and categorized people into derogatory groups, not individually but collectively, where gender and race have been paving the forefront of many of our nation's downfalls. Since our transition as a country from an Apartheid ruled nation to that of a democracy in 1994, there has been a substantial decline in the quality of our education system as well as the confusion of the role of teacher authority in the eyes of the student.
The infamous history of South Africa can be highly related to the overbearing inequality the people have dealt with for many generations. This inequality reached the household of every individual of colour and affected them either directly or indirectly in a detrimental fashion. However, what most citizens of colour of the Apartheid regime can agree upon is the manner in which the education system has drastically altered over the years. The government have been trying to implement a system that works for all and has thus far failed to do so. The education system remains an unsolved puzzle post-apartheid. 'The very name apartheid indicates the importance of race-based geography and race based policy', says Leibrandt and Woolard, by exploring the impact that poverty has on the economic history of South Africa post-apartheid, they also formulate the link that the inequality of the education system provided and due to apartheid has on procuring ill fit individuals for society.
This article serves to explore whether there is a correlation between the history of the South African education systems throughout the pre- and post-apartheid years and whether the political background of South Africa has influenced the learners' perception on teacher authority. This article will also highlight possible recommendations that can be incorporated and implemented within the education system, to improve the current complications and quality in the education system of South Africa.
The overall intent of this article is to find the relevance of Jansen's statement; 'What is wrong with our schools- [is] the complete loss of authority in education', to that of previous literature studies with regards to the education system and the effects that the history of the South African education system, during and post-apartheid, has had on the manner in which learners currently perceive teacher authority in South African schools.
In order to understand the true definition surrounding the word 'authority', one first needs to understand its basis of its context in which it affects. Authority in South Africa has been as of yet quite controversial, and before we can understand the authority roles of the government we need to understand their roles in the history of South Africa. We need to delve into the historically rich controversies of this nation, with complete emphasis on the South African education system during and post-apartheid, which dates back from 1948 to 1994. There are two important themes circulated throughout this article; the history of the education system in South Africa and the theme of teacher authority in South African schools. This will be accomplished by making reference to that of previous literature studies, as well as making reference to that of specific theorists and scholars which excel in their concepts of authority. The ultimate purpose of this article is to explore whether the political background of South Africa influenced learners' perception on teacher authority, providing a final stance on the agenda by providing recommendations in order to increase the quality of the education system of South Africa.
The history of the education system in South Africa
During Apartheid (1948-1994)
Hartshorne states that an education in any given country reflects the political and traditional preferences as well as the values of that particular country and that education exists in the perspective of certain social, economic, political and constitutional authority (Hartshorne, 1985). This is a profound opening statement with reference to his article on the state of education in South Africa, as he raises valuable arguments that support it, with special reference to that of the pressures for reform in the country that started with the Soweto uprising on 16 June 1976. It is the 'black education' as Hartshorne says, that remains the critical area of education. It is there in which so many students are not exceling and for this reason the South African Council for Education (SACE), which had to report to Parliament, was formulated.
During apartheid the education system was divided into eighteen separate systems; Indian, Coloured (mixed race), eleven black and five white. Not only were people of colour discriminated against their race but were also devastatingly discriminated against with regards to the blatant lack of financing, resources, facilities, quality and outcome of their education. Hartshorne states that instead of education having a common purpose, which is to create a competent society of individuals that can contribute greatly to the economic uprising of South Africa and its future, that apartheid allowed for the complete separation of individuals due to the composition of its divisive nature.
With all of the stigmas associated with the terrible regime of apartheid, how then, did the teachers of that era produce a lineage of learners that questioned themselves before they questioned the system? How did the ones in authority, remain in authority for so many years before being overthrown? What made the students of apartheid disciplined enough to not overthrow the authority of the teacher or the system itself?
These are the questions that we will explore in this article and ultimately attempt to answer with reference to that of previous literature studies.
Post-Apartheid (1994- present date)
The theme throughout the apartheid regime was that of separation geographically and most devastatingly racially. According to Ramdass (Ramdass, 2007), the ultimate aim of apartheid to non-whites was to create a scenario of inferior education, where whites remained in power over people of colour. He highlights many challenges that the democratic individuals that originate from the apartheid era as well as their offspring will face post-apartheid. As of 1994, South Africa has been a democratic country and the purpose of the country has been solely on rectifying the inequalities within our precedent history. He also states that due to political corruption caused by our government, the authority figures of our country, the education system will remain unstable.
Ramdass argues that the quality of South African education relates to that of skill shortage with regards to teachers, that government is not doing enough to ensure that all teachers are skilled. There are arguably less training colleges dedicated to teachers to aid them in their teaching abilities. According to Ramdass, during the apartheid regime there were ample teacher training colleges that produced teachers of the highest calibre for the primary and secondary sectors (Ramdass, 2007).
'There is a total lack of discipline in schools. It has deteriorated to such an extent that students severely injure teachers and fellow colleagues to the extent that the crime kills them' (Berger, 2003). This statement highlights the impact that crime has on education post-apartheid. Ramdass, emphasises how crime and violence occurring within the surrounding areas of a school can jeopardise the students motivation to learn. However, the main theme explored within the works of Ramdass remains the fact that so little skilled teachers are available to teach the basics.
Which poses yet another question; do unskilled teachers that lack content knowledge also lack authority?
Authority- what is it really all about?
Hannah Arendt (1954)
According to Arendt, there are many controversies circulated around the word 'authority'. We should define what authority was and not what it is, for she argues that the concept of authority has vanished from the modern/westernised world. The very term is apprehensive and clouded by misunderstandings derived from generations of uneducated individuals. Yet again there is a correlation between politics and that of authority, where Arendt states that authority is initially political in nature. She also raises the undeniable importance of the differences between the conceptions of authority and that of an authoritarian nature. Authority to her originated from the Greek philosopher Plato, where he defined authority as originating from the Greek method of supervising domestic affairs; persuasion and the way in which to handle foreign affairs; violence and force.
In the opinion of Arendt, it is evident that to her authority encompass the definitions of persuasion, violence and force based on Greek philosophy. However, it shares the common ground of stability or discipline. She makes mention of a man Machiavelli, who never quite used the term authority but practiced it. Whereas authoritarianism is when force is used to crumble the stability of which that authority is built on. Both terms were coined by the Greeks, however, sanctified by the Romans.
Hirst and Peters (1970)
Hirst and Peters emphasises on the role of the teacher with regards to the students. The teacher earns authority from the community and that authority should be used to enforce certain rules that are expected from the learners and that those rules enforced should relate to educational purposes. The authoritarian teacher is one that relishes in the giving of orders and formulating particular rules to suit their own needs or status. However, according to Hirst and Peters the complete disregard to enforce rules required for learners to excel in education is illogical.
In the 1960' and 1970's educational ideologies were explicitly analysed where progressive educational thinkers completely rejected traditional authority, for it was seen as an oppressive force or as Hirst and Peters would state; was a practice of thorough authoritarian nature (Hurn, 1985). However, in the 1980's schools were renounced by conservatives for completely eradicating the practice of authority in classrooms.
Hirst and Peters speaks of the traditional teacher and the progressive teacher. Where the authority of content knowledge was attributed to the traditional teacher and whereas the progressive teachers' attributes were more acclimatised for the development of children. Thus there should be a balance between the two, as a teacher you cannot be completely traditional for then you lack empathy with students and you cannot be completely progressive for then you will lack classroom management. A teacher should aspire to be in authority, however, disregarding complete authoritarian behaviour. Teachers should see themselves as 'provisional authorities'; that do not only provide learners with the content knowledge that they require to excel in society but also to stimulate the development of learners with the intention that the learners will ultimately be equip with the necessary skills to manage individually. 'The good teacher is therefore a person who is always working himself out of a job', (Hirst and Peters, 1970).
Paulo Freire (1992)
Freire communicates authority as being that which can only exist within exercising certain disciplines, be it intellectual or political; however highlighting the fact that it needs to be healthy discipline, which encourages the freedom to disagree if necessary, for authority cannot exist without discipline. Whereas authoritarianism cripples the disciplines of the foundations of authority; it threatens the freedom of decisions and is gained through the internalisation and misuse of authority. For there to be discipline one is required to be able to have the right to formulate one's individual ideas and be able to exercise them in the appropriate manner under the guidance of authority. The absence of discipline derives from the absence of authority; they can only live together and not as separate entities. He relates the importance of authority and discipline with regards to learners and specifies that if any form of discrimination; for example that which is placed upon a learner by an authoritarian figure onto a country or education, exists against the learners they cannot and will not exercise their right as a citizen. There are clear links between authority, discipline and our education system; authority implies freedom, freedom implies citizenship and citizenship cannot be exercised as a peaceful right if a democratic education cannot be realized apart from an education of and for citizenship.
John A.Coleman (1997)
Coleman states that on a large basis, authority cannot be entirely conceptualised with a singular direct definition and that for certain sociologists it is a sub-set of a larger concept; power. According to his article; Authority, Power, Leadership: Sociological Understandings, authority is addressed as legitimate power. With that said he also makes reference to other sociologists that refers to authority as both power and persuasion. However, with reference to Max Weber, he distinguishes brilliantly between what power is and what authority is, agreeing that there is a relation, yet both terms encompass their own definitions. Power; 'encompass the personal characteristics of individuals or groups' whereas authority refers to 'social positions or roles'.
Coleman explores different ideal types of authority in depth; the traditional authority, the charismatic authority and the rational-legal authority. All the above mentioned concepts are based on research done by Max Weber, who states that traditional authority that are based on established beliefs within a society that lack social change and tends to be conservative, traditional educators mistakenly expect students to obey them simply because of their occupation. Charismatic authority is associated with individuals that hold high prestige and which, according to Weber, is considered a highly unstable form of authority because they are not bound by official rules or laws. A charismatic teacher therefore is based solely on the teachers' ability to continue to entice students' needs and interests. Lastly, is the rational-legal authority which is supported by rules and policies based on rational of an institutional bureaucracy, this is where alterations within the system are orderly and rational-legal teachers possess the role of a boss within the classroom.
A fascinating statement made by Rahlf Dahrendorf highlighted in Coleman's article that unravels ones understanding of the terms authority and authoritarian 'Authority, as distinct from power, is never a relation of generalised control over others'. This statement is interestingly profound and allows the reader to rethink their understanding of the terms; authority and authoritarian. Authority to Coleman, according to Weber, is when a given group of individuals obeys a certain command, whereas authoritarianism is that 'generalised control over others' that Dahrendorf speaks of.
Judith Pace & Annette Hemmings (2007)
Pace and Hemming's aim is not to define authority or authoritarianism but to explore the concepts of social theories on that of classroom authority. They understand that authority is poorly understood and for that reason might be completely disregarded in a classroom setting. Their article on Understanding Authority in Classrooms: A Review of Theory, Ideology and Research delves into the depths of what authority entails and how empirical it is in every classroom, with explicit attention to that of authority. They argue that the relationship that lays between the teacher and the students with regards to that of authority is highly unstable that has the potential to crumble at any given time.
According to their article, social theories governing our society today distinguish between authority and power, with which authority is so readily confused.it is understood in their article that educational ideologies and even certain political agendas within a society affects that societies views on authority. Agreeing with Coleman's work with reference to Weber, that authority is 'the super-ordinates right to command and the subordinates duty to obey', however, this right and duty derives from a common ground that exits between the individuals involved and serves for the purpose in which 'exists for the moral order to which both owe allegiance'. Another statement that relates to that of Coleman is the fact that both Pace and Hemming's agree that authority is a social relationship, referring to social roles or positions, where someone is granted to lead and others agree to follow. This authority cannot exist if there is not a shared sense of moral order or discipline, therefore, students under a shared moral order can and will accept the authority imposed upon them within a classroom setting. Heming's and Pace, like Coleman used the research of Max Weber on social theories to derive their own understanding of the concepts of authority and its role in classrooms.
How has the political background of South Africa influenced learners' perception on teacher authority?
Now, with the above mentioned educational ideologies and social theories, is there a link between the historical backgrounds of South Africa to that of the learners' perception on teacher authority within a classroom?
Violence among school children and schools can contribute greatly to the loss of teacher authority within a classroom and a school as Ramdass mentions in his article on the challenges facing education in South Africa, and astonishingly enough according to Stabroek News; A crisis of teacher authority in schools, there is indeed a correlation between violence and learners' perception on authority. The article states that teachers are now protesting to uphold their authority and demanding that the government does something about the violence teachers face within schools on a daily basis, for if nothing is done to eradicate that violence, that the 'pyramid of authority' holding the education system together is in danger of being eroded. The call to the Minister of Education has been made and the efforts have been null and void.
With that said the mention of Freire's Letters to Teachers should be reanalysed; where special reference should be made to the practice of authoritarianism and the impact it has on a nation. According to her, authoritarianism can cripple a nation and can cripple every aspect of that nation, especially education. This is evident in the way in which South Africa was governed in the apartheid years, with an iron fist. Although education is critically required, occasionally it is disregarded due to other matters considered important to the authority figure (the South African government) or due to the fact that leaders in those countries misuse the authority placed upon them by the citizens and assume roles as authoritarians, with regards to the way in which apartheid completely disregarded the freedom of the citizens and therefore dismissed the concept of freedom and the people's right to exercise democracy.
Similarly, if a teacher exercises authoritarianism in the classroom and does not use the authority placed upon him or her in a disciplined manner, the learners will question the discipline in the classroom. Authoritarian teachers cripple the freedom of learners to express themselves in the manner in which they see fit, their word is final and there are no discussions with regards to necessary decisions; there is no democracy within that classroom. On the contrary, the practice of authority within a classroom in the correct disciplines will encourage learners to respect the teacher and can lead to their own self-discipline and self-respect within themselves as well (Freire, 1992).
The article of Jonathan Jansen; When the tail wags the dog, implies that he agrees with this question. He makes clear arguments that support his view on the aforementioned question, however, provides none to very little theoretical basis for his arguments. He states that the photograph that he saw of a principal being chased by grade 12 students, is a clear depiction of what is wrong with our education system in South Africa today; that there is a complete loss of authority in education. His statement is based on his perception of the type of leadership that is governed by parliament and how the South Africans today inherited a 'flat democracy' from their forefathers, where every individual decides on behalf of the country, however, according to him this is not true, for South Africans inherited a country that eludes the concept of decision making on behalf of our country, we as South Africans are under the illusion from our government that we hold the power (authority) to decide what happens to us and our country, 'that there was no authority that could take the lead in decisions without everyone participating'.
A question from his article that has stuck with me and that has baffled me; 'What if the followers believe they can violently attack or overthrow the leader since they put him there'? This is the dilemma in which South African teachers are faced with today, due to that 'flat democracy' we so willingly and eagerly inherited from the 'white man'. Learners now feel that they have the right to, because of apartheid, to question authority figures without consequence, is this really the democracy that our forefathers fought for? An education system that, amongst other downfalls, is failing to educate learners due to their preconceived misjudgements of the past. Students question the roles of teachers because they do not understand the concept of democracy, the concepts of order or authority within government. They do not understand their own role in a classroom, which allows them to question the role of the teacher as well. Teachers should educate students to understand the hierarchy of order within a society if they want learners to understand their role as an authority figure in a classroom, as Jansen says; firmly without fear.
Another article where Jonathan Jansen, the vice chancellor and rector of the University of the Free State, mentions his views on the how the value of education in South Africa has been lost is the article written by Lucy Holborn. In the article Holborn raises a recommendation to fix the problem of which so many students agree on, incorporate school inspectors to monitor teachers, ensuring that they know their content and can teach it appropriately. However, the general secretary of the South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU), Mugwena Maluleke, opposes this recommendation arguing that the incorporation of school inspectors is there to find fault within a school and with the teachers. Their stance harks back to apartheid when the National Party incorporated the use of inspectors to find fault in black schools.
The article written by Lucy Holborn; Education in South Africa: Where Did It Go Wrong?, she gives reasons and recommendations as to why South Africa's education system faces so many challenges post-apartheid. There are three main reasons; the teachers do not know the content knowledge expected from them, the management of the teachers and the outside disruptions experienced out of the school.
In Holborn's article, Johnathen Jansen claims that the Soweto uprising eroded the way in which the learners of today view the concept of teacher authority, ultimately leading to the destruction within our education system presently. Ramdass also makes mention of certain recommendations to aid the education system of South Africa such as; development of skills, curriculum development, policy on schooling, further education and training, education development programmes and the transformation of higher education.
The education system in South Africa is a reflection of poor governance since 1994, there is no doubt a lack of skilled teachers and inferior methods incorporated to train those teachers which led to poor policy implementations and thus the complete disregard of teacher authority within a classroom. Based on my opinions mentioned above, I agree with Jansen's arguments that there is a complete loss of authority in schools due to the incorporation and misguidance of poor policy implementation and the lack of skilled teachers.
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