The voice of the teacher in the context of religious freedom: a KwaZulu-Natal case study

Jarvis, Janet (2008-03)

Thesis (MEd (Curriculum Studies))--University of Stellenbosch, 2008.


The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa (CRSA) (1996) ushered in a new dispensation with regard to the human right to ‘religious freedom’. Inclusivity in a school context of religious diversity underpins the Religion and Education Policy (2003) which is in turn informed by, and supportive of, the CRSA (1996). To date, the Policy (2003) has not been substantially implemented. In classroom praxis there has been little or no substantial cascading to teachers (and therefore also to learners), of the intention and substance of the Policy (2003). A possible cause of this is that many teachers do not necessarily understand the meaning of the human right to ‘religious freedom’. As a result, they have resisted a multireligion approach to education. The aim of this study was to investigate how teachers construct their understanding of the human right to ‘religious freedom’ and how they voice this understanding in a context of religious diversity in schools. Integral to the investigation was an interrogation of the influence of their biographical context in shaping their personal religious identity. The study also considered the impact of the school context in which teachers taught. This study anticipated the theoretical clarification of how teachers construct their social identities, and in particular their religious identities. This theoretical framework informed what emerged from the empirical research that was conducted. The key concepts of ‘religious freedom’ and voice were described and clarified by the sources employed in the literature review. It was clear from the literature review that while useful research had been undertaken in aspects relating to the acceptance of, or resistance to, the Policy (2003), no research had grappled sufficiently, if at all, with teachers’ understanding of the human right to ‘religious freedom’ and how they constructed this understanding. In order to conduct this study, an empirical, qualitative research design, including elements of small-scale ethnography, using a case study approach, was employed. Research methods included the use of semi-structured individual and focus group interviews and self-administered questionnaires. The data were triangulated. From the research it emerged that teachers’ biographical context and school context do indeed influence the construction of their understanding of the human right to ‘religious freedom’. The way in which they give voice to this understanding varied. It became apparent that many teachers lacked understanding of religions other than (and in some cases, including) their own. The Policy (2003) was also poorly understood as was the implementation thereof. Recommendations relating to the problems and shortcomings identified by the research have been made. These include possible intervention strategies by the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education and Culture; Human Rights Values Education as a teaching approach; and the empowering of teachers by affording them opportunities to engage in emancipatory discourse. Further research possibilities that can be influenced by this research include issues relating to teacher identity formation; further interrogation of the impact of the teacher’s voice; and the inclusion of parents and the school community in the implementation of policy relating to Religion and Education.

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