The Department of Education’s Values, Education and Democracy report looks at new ways of dealing with diversity at school level.
THE release of the Values, Education and Democracy report by the Department of Education last month should trigger some interesting and long-overdue debate on the nation’s value system—or on what the nation’s priorities should be when it comes to the education of our children.
The report, compiled by a working group consisting of Wilmot James (chair), Franz Auerbach, Zubeida Desai, Hermann Giliomee, Pallo Jordan, Antjie Krog, Tembile Kulati, Khetsi Lehoko, Brenda Leibowitz and Pansy Tlakula, identifies several key values that it recommends be promoted in schools, including equity, tolerance, multilingualism, openness, accountability and social honour.
The panel recommends:
- a social contract on these values be made between educators, administrators, parents, trade unions and professional associations
- educators receive pre-service and in-service training on the need for education equity, an African language and the performing arts
- a panel of historians, archaelogists and human biologists be appointed to improve the quality of teaching in these areas in a way that allows pupils to properly understand ethnic, cultural and racial diversity
- schools begin artists-in-residence programmes to strengthen and promote the teaching of performing arts
- strict policies to stop discrimination in schools be adopted
- debating societies be established at schools
- South African national symbols be embraced: this includes the national flag being flown and the national anthem being sung at school
- research be conducted on the diversity of both students and teachers
- adult learning opportunities be promoted.
Framing the report’s recommendations is the panel’s identification of underlying responsibilities of schools: to develop learners’ abilities to think critically and independently, to embrace all children regardless of race, gender or culture and to give children problem-solving tools that extend beyond academia into the realm of life challenges.
The following values are identified as critical in the process of fulfilling the above responsibilities:
Equity: teachers need to be taught about the educational inequalities of the past and about how equal opportunities are essential for a flourishing country in future.
Tolerance: understanding each other and appreciating our differences, which can only come about by “deepening our understanding of the origins, evolution and achievements of humanity”, by celebrating people’s diversity with dance, theatre, music and sports, and by disallowing any form of discrimination in schools.
Multilingualism: learners should be able to learn in their home language and should also learn a second language. All learners should speak English or Afrikaans and an African language.
Openness: to stimulate children to think for themselves, to be open to new ideas and hungry for knowledge; a richer reading and debating culture needs to be nurtured.
Accountability: in a climate where public perceptions about both schools and teachers are negative, teachers need to dedicate themselves to their profession and view it as a vocation. A fellowship between all those involved in education should ensure that “quality learning and teaching take(s) place”.
Social Honour: South Africans should feel comfortable with their own cultural identity as well as a national one. Education should involve understanding what it means to be a citizen in a democracy and “what it means to exercise democratic freedom with the restraints of personal moral character”. The “symbols of national identity and a South African social honour should be celebrated”, meaning the national anthem be sung, national flag be displayed and a pledge of allegiance, such as the following, could be made at weekly school assemblies:
I promise to be loyal to my country, South Africa, and to do my best to promote its welfare and the well-being of all of its citizens. I promise to respect all of my fellow citizens and all of our various traditions. Let us work for peace, friendship and reconciliation and heal the scars left by past conflicts, and let us build a common destiny together.
What do you think of the values, ideas and recommendations identified by this report? Please write or e-mail us (firstname.lastname@example.org) with your opinions. The Teacher is keen to stimulate debate around these values and reflect further on ways in which we can meet the challenges of diversity. See editorial for comment.
—The Teacher/Mail & Guardian, June 7, 2000.