An Analysis of South Africa's Education Policy Documents

Author: Paasche, Karin I.
The language of education policy documents indicates the nature of the society South African educational policy-makers envisioned in a country where people from diverse backgrounds share the same geographical space. The language indicates how they perceived both themselves and the various groups in their society and points to concerns which, couched in similar-sounding terms as regimes have changed, often have the same ideological content and reflect the aspirations of the respective dominant group. Today, this is no longer the white minority, but what it has perhaps always been, the “first-world” – global – economy. South Africa’s educational policy documents from four periods are examined: the Period of Colonization 1652-1910; the Era of Segregation 1910-1948; Apartheid: the Years After 1948; 1994: the ANC, South Africa and a Government of National Unity.

Concepts of the ‘self’ and the ‘other’ present in the non-homogenous society within which the documents were formulated are identified, as are the concerns underlying educational policies. Models developed by Van Dijk on the relevance of political, social and historical context in discourse analysis, by Halliday and Hasan on cohesion, by Fairclough on language as the carrier of ideology, by Lakoff and Johnson on experimental metaphors, and by Vaughan on dominant themes in discourse, are adapted to examine how the language used encodes, reflects, and creates the reality of South African society in general and of education policy in particular.

Language, Christianity and nationalism are identified as the underlying concerns. Their subservience to the economic interests of the dominant group raises questions as to the practical possibilities of changing meaning systems when prejudice and racism are institutionalized to serve the purposes of those wishing to retain economic dominance. This study demonstrates that despite political change, the style and register of the language used and the concerns underlying educational policies in South Africa are continuous and congruous.


“As one enters Teachers College of Columbia University, one encounters the following words prominently displayed:

I believe that education is the fundamental method of social progress and reform – John Dewey, 1897

John Dewey’s optimism as he looked forward to a new century must be tempered for us as we look back on that century. We know that education can easily morph into indoctrination, that education has the power to erect barriers as much as to remove them, and that words, concepts, and metaphors, the necessary tools of education, can also lodge in the mind as insidious obstacles to social progress and reform. One can hardly find a more vivid picture of the operation of these antitheses than in the history of education in South Africa, reflecting as it does in the starkest terms a society molded not simply by differential power relations but by the perceived need for self-definition in opposition to ‘the other.’ The following study is not only a masterly analysis of that part of the South African experience, but a challenge to educators throughout the world to recognize its relevance to their own experience.” – Professor Franklin E. Horowitz, Columbia University

Table of Contents

Preface by Franklin E. Horowitz
1. Introduction: Background to the Study
2. Critical Discourse Analysis
3. Methodology
4. Education in South Africa
5. Conclusions
Texts Analyzed