A philosophical exploration of democratic participation in school governance in selected South African black schools in the Eastern Cape Province
Mabovula, Nonceba Nolundi
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Since the dawn of democracy in South Africa in 1994, the South African Education System embarked on an all important democratisation process. In schools, this included attempts to dismantle the concentration of powers to include all stakeholders in the governance of schools. Through this, government wanted to ensure that education in its entirety is geared towards development. This includes the birth of the South African Schools Act, which states that a school governance structure should involve all stakeholder groups in active and responsible roles, and encourage tolerance, rational discussion and collective decision - making. This, in spite of the Act, did not prevent schools, particularly black schools, from excluding learners from exercising their democratic rights in terms of the Act. This led to the perennial question underpinning this study: what idea of democratic participation could prevent the exclusion of learner voices in school governance? The study proceeds from using the broad theory of democratic participation to include a liberal democratic approach. It argues for an inclusive democratic participation to enable/promote a stable school environment. The basic concept is that each school governance individual is to be treated equally, and with due regard to his/her actual personal preferences. Three distinct and inseparable methods of inquiry, namely conceptual analysis, deconstructive analysis and the use of narratives, and three forms of data capturing in the form of questionnaires, focus group analysis and journal entries are employed. Research findings revealed six problem areas that had emerged from the data which shows that the situation in the structure of school governance is far from ideal. I then introduced the deliberative democratic school governance (DDSG) perspective as a tentative solution, as it became apparent that quite a number of crucial issues are lacking in the structures of school governance. These uncertainties and attitudes undermine the role of learners in governance and also segregate their legitimacy in the decision - making processes of a democratic state. Deliberative democratic school governance (DDSG) therefore becomes the vehicle through which schools should address the continuous uncertainties and impediments that govern their operations in the school community and the staggering lack of partnership within the school governance structure. I argue and suggest that deliberative processes could be effective if they can be fused with an African culture. The debate has to move from a ‘Western’ deliberative democratic participation model to one that both deals with and addresses the bigger picture of ‘African’ democratic participation which is driven by the belief that a person possessing ubuntu will have characteristics such as being caring, humble, thoughtful, considerate, understanding, wise, generous, hospitable, socially mature, socially sensitive, virtuous and blessed, thus marking a shift from confrontation to conciliation. Finally, the study identifies the need for moral ethics and democratic/social justice to help address the complex societal issues which influence learner outcomes and insists that schools become accountable for creating an authentic supportive school environment for all communities and its role players. Moral ethics, in its fight against violence and crime, will provide a guide for educators, learners and parents. Its aims of ethical living and democratic justice will provide the basis for a framework of balance and harmony within these groups or society.
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