Academic journal article Perspectives in Education

South African Educators' Mutually Inclusive Mandates to Promote Human Rights and Positive Discipline

Academic journal article Perspectives in Education

South African Educators' Mutually Inclusive Mandates to Promote Human Rights and Positive Discipline

Article excerpt


Human rights violations committed by educators while punishing learners are reported regularly in South African newspapers. Such violations include: an educator forcing a learner to put her hands into cold water before hitting her on her wet hands (Grobbelaar, 2011); a principal hitting a learner with a hosepipe (Mtshali, 2011); and a learner beaten with a board duster such that a wood chip was embedded so deeply in his thumb that it had to be surgically removed (Kotlolo, 2011). In 2011 more than 200 educators were investigated for administering corporal punishment (Govender, 2011). Various recent studies and reports confirm that corporal punishment is still supported and used, and that discipline is still equated with punishment (See: Maphosa & Mammen, 2011; Müller, 2010, 91; Olivier, 2010; US Department of State 2010; Kivilu & Wandai 2009, 9-10; Naong, 2007, 283, 293; SAHRC 2006, 36). This indicates that educators are not fulfilling their mandate of implementing a positive approach to discipline.

South African educators are also legally mandated to observe and promote human rights. One way educators can comply with this mandate is through teaching. In fact, the Revised National Curriculum Statement Grades R - 12: Overview (Department of Education, 2002, 8) states that the curriculum statement embodies the nation's social values as expressed in the Bill of Rights and envisaged that "the goals and values of social justice, equity and democracy ... be interwoven across the curriculum". However, educators find it difficult to include human rights in their curriculum simply because there is not enough teaching time and, as yet, there is no standard curriculum on human rights (Johannes, 2005, 118) to guide them. Consequently, many educators still fail to carry out their mandate of promoting and observing human rights.

The question, then, is: what can be done to help educators fulfil both their legal obligations of implementing positive discipline and observing human rights? The authors of this article contend that the mutual inclusivity of these mandates might hold the solution to the core challenge of each of these mandates (i.e. that teaching alone does not provide educators with sufficient opportunity to promote human rights and that educators find it difficult to replace corporal punishment with positive discipline).1 The aim of this article is not only to explain the mutual inclusivity of these two mandates, but also to illustrate how adopting a positive discipline approach provides educators with the opportunity to turn their theoretical obligation of promoting and observing human rights into a reality. To that end, we have used an intensive literature review of education law and policy to, firstly, establish educators' mandate to promote and observe human rights, and secondly, to indicate how respecting human rights is embedded in the formulation of educators' mandate to adopt a positive discipline approach. This is followed by a discussion of how understanding the reciprocal relationship between human rights and positive discipline can help educators to fulfil both these obligations.

Educators' mandate to observe and promote human rights

South Africa is bound by international law; not only because South Africa ratified the instruments mentioned below, but also according to certain provisions contained in the Constitution. Section 39 deals with interpreting the Bill of Rights, section 231 with international agreements, section 232 with international customary law, and section 233 with the importance of international law when interpreting legislation (RSA 1996a, ss 39, 231, 232, 233). It follows that if the state is bound by international law to promote human rights, schools as organs of state (RSA 1996a, s 239) will also be bound and mandated to promote human rights. Schools must thus have recourse to International Human Rights Law (IHRL) to give content to human rights (RSA 1996a, ss 39, 233). …

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