Approaches to education quality in South Africa

Type Journal Article - The search for quality education in post-apartheid South Africa
Title Approaches to education quality in South Africa
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2013
Page numbers 39-60
Although the focus in this chapter is particularly on South African approaches to
education quality, these approaches resonate with the experiences of and approaches
to education quality elsewhere in the world. There are two critical points that
specifically need to be mentioned at the outset, since they capture the central
problem that seems to bedevil any discussion on and about education quality,
whether this discussion is in South Africa or in other parts of the world. These points
are related to the definition of ‘quality’, and its measurement.
In South Africa, as elsewhere, what is meant by ‘quality’, and ‘education quality’
in particular, is by no means straightforward. Implicit in the idea of quality is that
which is desirable, better and of some superior value (Kumar 2004). Quality, it is
assumed, is that which is ‘better than’. However, what does not seem to be clear is on
what bases such judgements of being ‘better than’ are actually made; in relation to
what and using which criteria. As Lawton (1994) notes, ‘questions such as, “quality
of what? quality for whom? quality in relation to what?”’ (1994: 1) need to be raised
and, when they are, what quality means is then not that clear at all.
The problem may be demonstrated by way of an example. Let us take the view that
corporal punishment in schools is assumed to be a bad thing. In this scenario, if
corporal punishment is practised, it is thus assumed not to be a good or desirable
thing. It is also assumed that if corporal punishment is not in use then it is better, and
such pedagogical encounters can be viewed as being of better quality. In fact, this is
assumed to be the case in South African education policies and legislations, aspects
of which are discussed later. In this example, corporal punishment is not viewed
as a qualitatively good practice because, in the main, it is viewed as an abuse and
violation of learners and of their human rights. However, what if the non-practising
of corporal punishment leads to more school discipline problems, reduces learner
achievement levels, and de-motivates and paralyses teachers and militates against
actual teaching and learning; would it still be regarded as a ‘good thing’? Some could
also argue, as they do, that corporal punishment is an acceptable practice in some
indigenous traditions.

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