Pike, Edward Alan (2017). 'The South African Council for Educators’ Continuing Professional Teacher Development Management System: an analysis of the rhetoric and reality of freedom' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Cape Town 2017.


The capability approach represents a development of utilitarian approaches to education policy analysis such as Human Capital Theory and an alternative to human rights approaches to education analyses. Combined with its origins in Amartya Sen’s critiques of John Rawls’ social primary goods, the capability approach has a broad applicability that makes it useful in many developmental situations.

These benefits become complicated in educational settings where the normative foundations of valued capabilities are more debatable. Furthermore, the centrality of values to the capability approach causes tensions in educational contexts, where values can be created or deformed. Although the capability approach permits an analysis of education policy which focusses on the extent to which stakeholders have been consulted in the establishment of valued doings and beings, complications arise when one considers that the valued doings and beings of stakeholders were likely influenced by dominant discourses that conflict with the capability approach. In light of this, it is possible that the freedoms a policy promotes are framed within managerial discourses which, in reality, constrain the agency freedom of teachers and learners.

In 2016, teachers in public high schools in South Africa were obliged, as part of the professional ethics established by the South African Council for Educators, to utilise the Continuing Professional Teacher Development Management System, a professional development framework designed by the same institution. The policy places a responsibility on teachers to take control of their own professional development and seems to promote an expansion of agency freedom with regards to teachers’ developmental choices. Thus, the expanded agency freedom of teachers is a key means and end of the successful implementation of the policy. Teachers must employ autonomy in order to identify and pursue professional development options, which in turn develops their autonomy as part of a professionalisation of the teaching workforce.

This paper analyses policy texts surrounding the management system in order to construct, compare and critique two lists of capabilities: a list of pragmatic capabilities and a list of ideal capabilities. The discussion surrounding these two lists reveals the extent to which policy demands align with the capability approach’s discourse of freedom and highlights the dominant discourses which are imbued in the policy.

The analysis finds that many, nearly all, of the freedoms promoted throughout the policy are rhetorical. Instead, the policy contains multiple constraints, both obvious and elusive, which reduce the agency freedom of teachers concerning the organisation of their own professional development. While the study supports degrees of control in education, as Sen does, and the various benefits that organisation and guidance can bring to learning, this case highlights the constrictive policy mechanisms that can be hidden behind language that invokes notions of liberty. Moreover, the policy exhibits an implicit understanding that individual teacher autonomy acts against educational quality because it might not abide by the standards that are instrumental to a managerial discourse. Herein lies the danger that a rhetorical desire for autonomy might be in conflict with the managerial mechanisms of the policy, which can hinder teachers’ ability to successfully implement the policy. 

Furthermore, the study raises the difficult question of whether a rhetorical demand for autonomy, undercut by an environment which shackles that autonomy, will not engender the self-determination and confidence that professional development literature suggests will enhance teaching and learning in South African schools, or whether such a constrained environment is necessary to provide a scaffold for South African teachers to improve their teaching. The paper concludes with a criticism of the use of a rhetoric of freedom to achieve greater paternalism, especially when that paternalism hinders the ability of teachers to achieve freedom both within and outside dominant discourses.

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