Policies for Transformation: An Evaluation of Educational Policy Developments since 1994

By Ota, Cleaver C. | The Journal of Negro Education, Fall 1997 | Go to article overview

Policies for Transformation: An Evaluation of Educational Policy Developments since 1994


Ota, Cleaver C., The Journal of Negro Education


Through the lens of critical analysis, this article presents an overview of recent South African educational policy developments, occurring before and since the 1994 democratic elections, that have been heralded for their transformative potential. It interrogates the concept of transformational education as well as the educational programs resulting from the recent proposals to delineate the deeper forces structuring policy formulation and implementation such as technical verification, social validation of policy goals, systems analysis, and rational social choice. Key issues for developing norms and standards for monitoring the evolving educational system are highlighted.

The experience of educational policy making in South Africa reveals that policy recommendations for educational reform have two components, technical and political. For example, in the South African setting even modest changes in education, desirable though they may be from a technical perspective, can lead to substantial unrest and even violence if they are perceived to threaten various groups' access to certain societal benefits (Evans, 1994). Change in education thus requires public consensus and political acceptability to a degree not needed in other sectors. Moreover, the elements of the educational policy cycle in the South African context are not made up of discrete steps; rather, they are experienced as a continuously interactive process.l At all stages of policy construction, policy text production, and policy implementation, affected stakeholders have frequently sought to make changes that address and mollify their specific concerns.

Critical evaluation of South African educational policy thus demands consideration of the following dimensions:

(1) an evaluation of power relations, including the deeper forces that structure and often distort government behavior such as business influence, societal inequality, and impaired capacities for probing social problems;

(2) language and changing voices in policy making-that is, a consideration of the difference between an empirical analysis of policy texts per se and an analysis that distinguish between texts that give readers a role, function, and contribution and texts that render readers idle and redundant;

(3) the degree of policy recontextualization or the identification of forces of resistance, accommodation, subterfuge, and conformity within and between areas of practice; and

(4) the path from the context of influence (policy construction) to the context of policy text production and further to the context of practice (reinterpretation and re-creation). The transformational vision for South African education, as delineated in policy documents generated during the pre- (before 1994) and post-elections periods, is a comprehensive one that implies fundamental changes in all major aspects of that nation's educational system, from policy formulation and implementation to governance and curriculum. Through the lens of critical analysis, this article presents an overview of recent policy developments in South African education. Beyond that, it interrogates the concept of transformational education to delineate the deeper forces structuring policy formulation and implementation such as technical verification, social validation of policy goals, systems analysis, and rational social choice. The article begins with a brief outline of the major South African educational policy initiatives from the pre- to post-elections period. Subsequent sections present critical analyses of the logic of action contained within these initiatives, specifically examining the transformative potential of: (a) the policy context, via an assessment of the condition the initiatives address and an analysis of those conditions' underlying causes; (b) the principles that guide the selection of each policy; and (c) the policy conclusions or agenda for action. Further, the transformative programs resulting from the new policies are evaluated in terms of the critical analytical framework. …

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