Newsletter 68 Philosophy of Education


This is a summary of content which appears on the following website;



What is a philosophy of education, and why should it be important to you? Behind every school and every teacher is a set of related beliefs--a philosophy of education--that influences what and how students are taught. A philosophy of education represents answers to questions about the purpose of schooling, a teacher's role, and what should be taught and by what methods.

How do teacher-centered philosophies of education differ from student-centered philosophies of education? Teacher-centered philosophies tend to be more authoritarian and conservative, and emphasize the values and knowledge that have survived through time. The major teacher-centered philosophies of education are essentialism and perennialism. Student-centered philosophies are more focused on individual needs, contemporary relevance, and preparing students for a changing future. School is seen as an institution that works with youth to improve society or help students realize their individuality. Progressivism, social reconstructionism, and existentialism place the learner at the center of the educational process: Students and teachers work together on determining what should be learned and how best to learn it.

The Ministerial Task Team (MTT) on cash-for-jobs have made two recommendations regarding a common vision for education and developing a broad-based philosophy for education in South Africa.

6.6 Recommendation for developing a common vision for education - Since the abolition of the apartheid-based ideology of ‘Christian National Education’, no philosophy or overall vision for the post 1994 Departments of Basic and Higher Education and Training has developed. Various important strands of thought underpinned the education struggle from the 1980s onwards, including People’s Education for People’s Power, Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed and numbers of others. We have at present our Constitution, the Bill of Rights and crucial documents such as the Freedom Charter, but these admirable declarations do not provide a general and comprehensive vision of what education seeks to achieve in this country. The vision which an overall educational philosophy expresses should be the foundation of the education of teachers, the mission statements of schools and give coherence to the kind of education which should characterise this country. The task of developing such a vision or philosophy for education should be co-ordinated and funded by the DBE and the DHET with the participation of all teacher education institutions as well as a wide range of stakeholders including the Unions.

RECOMMENDATION 14: That the DBE and the DHET, with universities and other - stakeholders, including the unions, lead discussion aimed at developing a broad-based philosophy of education, consistent with our history and Constitution, which will underpin the education and training of educators and shape the practice of education in schools throughout South Africa. Behind every school and every teacher is a set of related beliefs--a philosophy of education--that influences what and how students are taught. A philosophy of education represents answers to questions about the purpose of schooling, a teacher's role, and what should be taught and by what methods.

The South African Constitution makes provision for the right of basic education. The policies of the ANC now includes the demand for free secondary and tertiary education. The underpinning value being that every citizen has access to a full education notwithstanding affordability. The South African Outcomes-based Curriculum and CAPS has a very clear underpinning set of values and educational philosophy.

“General aims of the South African Curriculum”

(a) The National Curriculum Statement Grades R-12 gives expression to the knowledge, skills and values worth learning in South African schools. This curriculum aims to ensure that children acquire and apply knowledge and skills in ways that are meaningful to their own lives. In this regard, the curriculum promotes knowledge in local contexts, while being sensitive to global imperatives.

(b) The National Curriculum Statement Grades R-12 serves the purposes of:

• equipping learners, irrespective of their socio-economic background, race, gender, physical ability or intellectual ability, with the knowledge, skills and values necessary for self-fulfilment, and meaningful participation in society as citizens of a free country;

• providing access to higher education;

• facilitating the transition of learners from education institutions to the workplace; and

• providing employers with a sufficient profile of a learner’s competences.

(c) The National Curriculum Statement Grades R-12 is based on the following principles:

• Social transformation: ensuring that the educational imbalances of the past are redressed, and that equal educational opportunities are provided for all sections of the population;

• Active and critical learning: encouraging an active and critical approach to learning, rather than rote and uncritical learning of given truths;

• High knowledge and high skills: the minimum standards of knowledge and skills to be achieved at each grade are specified and set high, achievable standards in all subjects;

• Progression: content and context of each grade shows progression from simple to complex;

• Human rights, inclusivity, environmental and social justice: infusing the principles and practices of social and environmental justice and human rights as defined in the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa.

The National Curriculum Statement Grades R-12 is sensitive to issues of diversity such as poverty, inequality, race, gender, language, age, disability and other factors;

• Valuing indigenous knowledge systems: acknowledging the rich history and heritage of this country as important contributors to nurturing the values contained in the Constitution; and

• Credibility, quality and efficiency: providing an education that is comparable in quality, breadth and depth to those of other countries.

(d) The National Curriculum Statement Grades R-12 aims to produce learners that are able to:

• identify and solve problems and make decisions using critical and creative thinking;

• work effectively as individuals and with others as members of a team;

• organise and manage themselves and their activities responsibly and effectively;

• collect, analyse, organise and critically evaluate information;

• communicate effectively using visual, symbolic and/or language skills in various modes;

• use science and technology effectively and critically showing responsibility towards the environment and the health of others; and

• demonstrate an understanding of the world as a set of related systems by recognising that problem solving contexts do not exist in isolation.

(e) Inclusivity should become a central part of the organisation, planning and teaching at each school. This can only happen if all teachers have a sound understanding of how to recognise and address barriers to learning, and how to plan for diversity. The key to managing inclusivity is ensuring that barriers are identified and addressed by all the relevant support structures within the school community, including teachers, District-Based Support Teams, Institutional-Level.

It is very clear from this extract from the Curriculum Assessment Policy Statement about the national curriculum that the South African philosophy for schooling is learner-centered and lies within the spectrum of progressive, radical and critical of philosophies of education

Education policy determined by the institutions of the state have both implied and explicit philosophy and values. The determination of a philosophy for the South African Education System is primarily a political activity and in the South Africa context part and partial of the transformation agenda. The recommendations made by the MTT may imply the lack of explicit philosophy and value. This however is not entirely true. Our education philosophy permeates our Constitution, our OBE curriculum and Educational policies albeit sublime.  I agree with the MTT that the philosophy must be clarified and clear but doubt whether a broad-based philosophy is possible. With conservative and radicalism as two polar opposites neoliberalism forms the grey in between – these three supra-structures are mutually exclusive and incompatible. Any attempt to seek a discourse on this matter will potentially divide more than it unite and the best is to infuse radical philosophy of education as a nuance of educational policy and practice.

If you want to read more about the basic tenet of the various philosophy of education streams refer to the pdf summary under “Resources”

Add Your Comment 

* Name:   
* Email:    
* Comment:    
  Please calculate the following and enter the answer below: 1 x 4 + 5 = ?
Please leave this box blank.