A model for the improvement of democratic school governance in South Africa : an education law perspective
The South African education system has been undergoing a process of transformation and democratisation. An historical overview of democracy in the South Africa education system confirms that the system had developed to become a highly centralised and bureaucratic system during the twentieth century, but it was transformed in 1996 to afford a greater degree of parental participation through local school governing bodies. Democracy is founded on a belief in individual rights, equality, and self-government by the majority of the people. The moral authority of the majority is based on the notion that there is more enlightenment and wisdom between many than in a single man. However, the power of the majority is always limited by the prerequisite of the rule of law and the implicit requirements of legality and justice. This implies that bureaucratic or undemocratic exercise of power by the majority or any person, including the state, would be contrary to the requirements of legality and democracy. An overview of the theories of democracy explains the complexities of the different orientations and ideological approaches to democracy. Critiques of democracy have identified an elitist, inegalitarian, and antiparticipatory core in liberal democracy. The sensible approach to these weaknesses of liberal democracy is to integrate the best features of the various theories of democracy towards a workable solution to manage the systemic conflicts. This includes the formal application of checks and balances and the substantive adjustment of the executive, legislative and judicial practice to maintain a harmonious equilibrium between equality and liberty. The theory of deliberative democracy suggests an additional way to improve substantive democracy. There is an inextricable link between democracy, education and the law. The South African Constitution provides for representative (political) and participatory democracy, as well as for the enshrinement of fundamental rights such as the right to basic education. In addition, the education legislation and policies contain numerous provisions that prescribe and necessitate democratisation of the education system. However, the empirical results of the study show that a number of controversial bureaucratic practices and a tendency towards increased centralisation of the system, constrain democratic school governance. The most prominent undemocratic practices in the system inter alia include: the over-politicisation of schools by the dominant teachers’ union; the bureaucratic appointment of educators; the interference by teachers’ unions with the appointment of educators, the bureaucratic imposition of English medium language policies on Afrikaans schools; and • the ambivalent attitude towards inclusive education. An investigation into the knowledge levels of senior education administrators, school principals and school governing chairpersons, which participated in this study, revealed that their knowledge of participatory democracy and Education Law was superficial. This ignorance of these stakeholders in education compounds the problem of effectively administering, managing and governing schools in a democratic manner. Conclusions drawn from the evidence of this study suggests that certain of the encumbrances to democracy in schools and the system can be attributed to systemic weaknesses, as well as to misconceptions and the misapplication of democratic principles. Finally, the study proposes two models to improve democratic school governance. The first model suggests a theoretical framework for improving the power relations, knowledge, civic attitudes and democratic values. The final model, which is based on the first theoretical model, proposes that Area School Boards be statutorily established to govern defunctive schools and that deliberative forums should be established and implemented within the organisational hierarchy of the education system.
- ETD@PUK