A framework on democracy to critically evaluate school governance practices and policies in South Africa
This study is premised on the perception that South Africa, as a sovereign and democratic state and a member of the United Nations, champions the concepts of democracy and basic human rights. Some of these principles are reflected in the Constitution. Yet, a review of the literature and relevant newspaper articles suggested that undemocratic school governance practices are in abundance. In the current debate on decolonisation, one should thoughtfully consider what democracy really means in the African and South African context, and I therefore set out to develop a framework on democracy to critically evaluate school governance practices and policies in South Africa. Such a framework had to stimulate and enable critical introspection regarding how school governance practices and policies reflect democracy. The framework was derived by engaging with literature regarding different perspectives and theories on democracy. Not only did I use generic literature on democracy, but I also considered the views of African intellectuals, to ensure that my framework is context-relevant. It yielded two sets of criteria, namely elements of a conducive environment for democracy and essential principles of democracy. The elements of a conducive environment for democracy comprise condemnation and rejection of acts of corruption, prioritisation of education and socialisation for democracy, promotion of deliberation and dialogue, promotion and display of trust, and the creation of a learning organisation (specifically transforming School Governance Bodies (SGB) into learning organisations). The essential principles of democracy comprise participation, representation, free and fair elections, respect for human rights, respect for the rule of law, separation of powers transparency and accountability, free and independent media, and the promotion of genuine partnerships. The elements of a conducive environment and the essential principles for democracy laid the basis on which the framework on democracy was built. An argument for the justification for the inclusion of each of the elements of a conducive environment for democracy and essential principle of democracy is provided in the study. The derived framework on democracy was checked to see whether it was legally aligned with the South African legal framework for education (Constitution, the NEPA, SASA, EEA and case law), its usefulness was tested, and based on the consideration of the whole process, was adapted and declared ready for use in the South Africa education and school governance context. The test was to determine whether the derived framework on democracy is useful in the critical evaluation of school governance practices and education policies in South Africa. To achieve this, the national Admission Policy for Ordinary Public Schools (1998) and Norms and Standards for Language Policy in Public Schools: Language in Education Policy (1997) were purposely selected. In addition, related court cases were also used to solicit the opinions of certain SG stakeholders regarding their experiences with the selected education policies. It was found to be useful. Through the use of the framework, it was apparent that in spite of the signposts clearly provided by the Constitution and subsequent legislation, we have seen a decay in terms of democracy and unity that had and still has devastating effects on the state of the nation. In this regard, it seems that at the core of this is that the elements that enable democracy are largely missing, which prevents democracy from flourishing. Furthermore, it exposed that democracy in SG practices and policies in SA is susceptible to abuse, manipulation and misrepresentation, whether innocently through ignorance, or consciously. In order to mitigate this, it is clear that democracy requires vigilance and requisite knowledge, and also definite checks and balances. In addition to providing these, this comprehensive framework on democracy is able to provide information regarding how and which elements have the potential to enable democracy and the essential principles of democracy in a particular context, or obstruct it. Furthermore, it has shown to be able to provide information regarding silences, gaps and contradictions in either policy or practice or both. It can be used at a single or multiple sites, to critically evaluate either or both elements that enable democracy and the essential elements of democracy through practice and policy. Since it is incumbent on SA citizens to be democracy-compliant, either through policy or practice, to check whether they comply can be informed through inter alia, the use of this derived framework on democracy. I thus recommend its use.