The value of a future creating workshop to establish educator-learner relationships built on moral values

Title: The value of a future creating workshop to establish educator-learner relationships built on moral values
Elsa Bosman
Marinda Neethling
Corresponding author:
Illasha Kok
Faculty of Education / Fakulteit Opvoedkunde
Potchefstroom Campus / Potchefstroomkampus, NWU

Ensovoort, volume 43 (2022), number 10: 1


Indiscipline in South African schools is escalating. The National Education Policy Act of 1996 emphasises that no learner shall be subjected to corporal punishment and the South African Constitution of 1996 states that everybody has the right to be treated with respect. For this reason, corporal punishment in schools was outlawed in 1996. From that point on, educators had to develop alternative ways to deal with discipline-related issues in the classroom. However, alternative measures of dealing with indiscipline seem not to have the desired effects.

The National Policy on Religion Education, introduced in 2003, paved the way for the secularisation of the education system and together with school violence and other societal influences, aggravates the indiscipline in schools even further.

This article draws from findings of a Participatory Action Learning and Action Research (PALAR) project followed by a Future Creating Workshop (FCW), conducted with educators from the uMzinyathi District in KwaZulu-Natal. The focus of the project was to assist educators in rural secondary schools to respond to indiscipline in the classroom.

Mezirow’s critical transformative learning approach guided the participants to discuss the primary research question: How can a participatory and collaborative action research approach enable educators to develop an understanding of learner behaviour in their classrooms and develop relationship-centred strategies to support themselves and their learners in dealing with school discipline in rural secondary schools?

The findings indicated that educators must be exemplary role models and demonstrate positive moral values in their lives as a foundation to build positive educator-learner relationships.

If a country is to be corruption free and become a nation of beautiful minds, I strongly feel there are three key societal members who can make a difference. They are the father, mother and the teacher” — Abdul Kalam, former president of India

Keywords: learner behaviour, educator-learner relationships, participating action learning and action research, future-creating workshop, moral values, religion.

Afrikaanse titel: Die waarde van ‘n toekomswerkswinkel om onderwyser-leerderverhoudings te bou wat op morele waardes gegrond is.


Onaanvaarbare gedrag in Suid-Afrikaanse skole is besig om handuit te ruk. Die Nasionale Onderwysbeleidswetgewing van 1996 beklemtoon dat geen leerder aan lyfstraf blootgestel mag word nie terwyl die Suid-Afrikaanse Konstitusie bepaal dat elkeen die reg het om met respek behandel te word. Dit verklaar hoekom lyfstraf in skole afgeskaf is. Onderwysers moes noodgedwonge alternatiewe metodes ontwikkel om met dissiplineverwante probleme te handel. Ongelukkig blyk dit dat alternatiewe metodes nie die gewenste uitwerking het nie.

Die Nasionale beleid vir Godsdiensonderrig van 2003, het die weg gebaan vir die sekularisasie van die onderwyssisteem. Sekularisasie, geweld in skole en ander swak invloede uit die omgewing vererger die swak dissipline in skole.

Hierdie artikel maak gebruik van bevindings uit ‘n Deelnemende Aksieleer en Aksienavorsingsprojek verkry deur navorsing wat gedoen is deur onderwysers in die uMzinyathi-distrik in KwaZulu-Natal. Die fokus van die navorsingsprojek was om onderwysers te help om swak gedrag in die klaskamer te hanteer. Die deelnemers het die primêre navorsingsvraag, hoe kan ‘n Deelnemende Aksieleer en Aksienavorsingsbenadering die onderwysers bystaan om leerdergedrag in die klas te begryp en om strategieë te ontwikkel vir eie en leerderondersteuning in die hantering van dissipline in die klaskamer in plattelandse sekondêre skole, vanuit Mezirow se kritiese transformerendeleerbenadering. Die bevindings het aangedui dat opvoeders voorbeeldige rolmodelle moet wees en positiewe morele waardes in hul lewens moet toon as ‘n grondslag om positiewe opvoeder-leerderverhoudings te bou.

“As ‘n land korrupsievry wil wees en ‘n nasie met ‘n pragtige geestesingesteldheid wil word, voel ek sterk dat daar drie belangrike samelewingsfaktore is wat ‘n verskil kan maak. Hulle is die vader, moeder en die onderwyser.” — Abdul Kalam, vorige president van Indië.

Kernbegrippe: leerdergedrag, onderwyser-leerder verhoudings, Deelnemende Aksieleer en Aksienavorsing, Toekomswerkswinkel, morele waardes, godsdiens

1. Introduction

Corporal punishment was banned in South Africa in 1996 (Shaikhnag & Assan, 2014) because it was viewed as a form of child abuse (Mayisela, 2017). Mthanti and Mncube (2014) stated that fear, bunking classes, absenteeism, anti-social behaviour, low self-esteem, negative attitudes, and feelings of revenge are among the many negative consequences of corporal punishment. Afifi et al. (2012) mentioned that several studies have shown a notable link between personality disorders, substance abuse and physical punishment.

After corporal punishment was banned, learner discipline deteriorated drastically (Olivier, 2013) implying that educators are unable to perform effective behaviour management in class. Even though the Department of Basic Education published a document called Alternatives to Corporal Punishment in 2000 (DBE, 2000), no effective disciplinary measures replaced corporal punishment (Kelly & Mottee, 2018; Shaikhnag & Assan, 2014). More than a decade later, Singh (2014) indicated that indiscipline was continuing to deteriorate rapidly and educators were losing hope.

This research focussed on learner indiscipline in schools and alternative ways of dealing with indiscipline in the classroom.

2. Literature review

Escalating violence and lack of learner discipline are huge concerns for educators not only in South Africa (De Witt & Lessing, 2013; Mohapi, 2013) but also internationally (Greene et al., 2013; Spaull, 2013). A number of aggravating factors has been identified.

2.1 Factors causing indiscipline

2.1.1 The influence of the media and society

The influence of the media on the escalation of violence is of great concern because it desensitises children. Tamborini et al. (2017) reasoned that the media encourages anti-social behaviour rather than pro-social behaviour. The influence of the media is especially visible in the consumption of sexual attitudes, pornography viewing, substance abuse and aggressive behaviour. Bandura (2009) explained that a person develops social norms by being subjected to influences from the environment. Children learn through experiences and by observing other people as well as characters in the media. This exposure results in children “cued into social norms through media exposure” as an attractive model (Tamborini et al., 2017, p. 2). Exposure to media violence results in children experiencing real-world violence as less disturbing and acceptable. Walton et al. (2016) and Zolkoski (2019) advocated that educators as in loco parentis must be positive role models to combat the influence of the media and society on the behaviour of learners. Learners do not always have positive role models at home (Zolkoski, 2019) and come to school ill-mannered (Sax, 2015).

2.1.2 Violence on school premises

Violence on South African school premises is a common sight, not only between educators and learners but also among learners themselves and between rival schools (Ncontsa & Shumba, 2013). The situation is aggravated by gangs and gangsterism (De Wet, 2016; Nkosi-Malobane, 2019) as well as drug and substance abuse (Ncontsa & Shumba, 2013). The Mail and Guardian (Macupe, 2019) reported that long-standing arguments between rival adults are fought out on school premises, closing schools for long periods. Research done by Tugli (2015) revealed that large numbers of rural schools experience regular faction wars while Wolhuter and Magubane (2016) reported that faction fights disrupt matric examinations in the Masinga area in rural KwaZulu-Natal. Sithole (2021) described an incident between two groups from the Nkawini and Dakeni villages at the Gcotoi high school near Kranskop in rural KwaZulu-Natal which left the learners in fear of going to school. These tendencies result in unsafe classrooms (Gubbels et al., 2019).

2.3 No effective measures to deal with indiscipline are in place

The South African Constitution requires educators to respect learners’ rights and to identify new ways to deal with classroom indiscipline (Marais & Meier, 2010). Alternatives to corporal punishment, such as detention and suspension, do not always produce satisfactory results. Some educators revert to sarcasm and humiliation as ways of punishment, but this tends to aggravate the situation in the long term as it facilitates disrespect for educators and causes learners not to want to attend school (Eriyanti, 2018). As a result, many educators still see corporal punishment as the only effective way to instil discipline in the classroom and deter the upswing of indiscipline (Lapperts, 2012).

2.4 The secularization of the education system

During the previous decades in South Africa, the Christian religion was the dominant religion in schools and all learners had to attend Christian assemblies. This unfair discrimination against religions facilitated the release of the National Policy on Religion Education in 2003 to provide for the equal treatment of all religions and to promote religious freedom (Nthontho, 2017). This policy paved the way for the secularisation of the education system because moral order “is secularised when religion is not the only source of the sacred, and religion becomes one of many possible sources of sacred order” (p. 236) and regulates people’s thinking (Cawood, 2018). Van Schalkwyk (2016) drew a parallel between religious freedom and freedom of expression. Freedom of expression gives non-religious adherents the right to promote their own secular views and criticise religious content which lay the foundation for a secular state even though the constitution does not propagate a distinct separation between church and state (Damons, 2016).

Secular values address human affairs from a secular, naturalistic point of view (Galen, 2016) that supports non-religionism, atheism and naturalism (Roznai, 2017) and interpret life completely from a material point of view based on ideas, sentiments and reasoning (Durkheim as cited in Qoyyimah, 2014).

Tayob (2018) stated that secular influences reduce the religious influence on the state, empty churches, bring about a change in religious consciousness and morality and as such make belief in a supreme being a mere option or choice. Secularization changes the authority of religion in the lives of people.

Beyers (2015) summarised the consequences of secularism on society as a decline of religious institutions and a disregard for religion. Conservatives claim that secularism is partly to be blamed for the decline in moral standards (also visible in schools) as well as organised religion (Cordero, 2013; Zuckerman, 2020). Early writers like Dostoevsky (1990) posited that there could be no morality without God. Religion increases moral behaviour (Norenzayan et al., 2014; Shariff, 2015). Agha (as cited in Dick et al., 2020) argued that morality and religion were closely connected and inseparable.

However, Iwuagwu (2018) stressed another very important viewpoint. Presently there is a painful lack of synergy between morality and religion causing the impact of religion on societies to be diluted. Religious institutions must reinstate sound moral values and insist that their adherents keep these principles. These actions will make the world a better place for everybody.

Okere (as cited in Muhammad & Abubakar, 2018) defined morality as “that quality of human life by which it can be described as good or bad, good in the sense that it must be done, or bad or evil in the sense that it must be avoided” (p. 50). Morality involves the idea of good or right behaviour and is utterly hostile to bad or wrong conduct (Dick et al., 2020). Odey (2013) described decadence as the collapse of upholding these values and morality.

There is an obvious decline in moral values among teenagers. South Africa has for example experienced a huge increase in teenage pregnancies for girls between 15 and 18 years old in secondary schools (Sibeko, 2012). A child psychiatrist at Akeso Clinic in Kenilworth, Cape Town indicated that there has been a sharp rise in suicides among young people for the age group from 15 to 18 years (Gittens, 2021).

2.2 Results of indiscipline

The results of indiscipline in schools have devastating results on the teaching profession and the education system.

2.2.1 Educator resignations

South African schools experience widespread indiscipline, causing the teaching profession to be very stressful (Amstad & Müller, 2020). Educators feel powerless with no working alternatives to deal with discipline-related issues in schools (Mampane, 2012). Indiscipline has been identified as an aggravating factor causing educator stress and thus affecting educator well-being (Herman & Reinke, 2015; Prilleltensky et al., 2016). Many of them leave the profession because they are not able to deal with the indiscipline of learners (Masweneng, 2018). Statistics show that 30% to 50% of educators in South Africa exit the education profession within their first five years due to stress caused by indiscipline (Nkosi, 2020).

The National Policy on the Organisation, Roles and Responsibilities of Education Districts (NEEDU, 2013:15) specifies that the education circuit and district offices must oversee “school visits, classroom observation, consultation, cluster meetings, suitable feedback reports and other means; providing an enabling environment and organising provision and support for the professional development of managers, educators and administrative staff members,” but this oversight frequently does not happen (Van der Berg et al., 2016). This unsupportive environment contributes to educator stress, impacts educators’ well-being and job satisfaction (Evans et al., 2019) and weakens the education system (Child, 2017).

Researchers describe educator stressors as the management of classroom indiscipline, educator-parent communication, negative relationships with learners and colleagues, and a lack of professional development (Nkambule & Amsterdam, 2018; Nkosi, 2020). Educator well-being can be strengthened by minimising these risk factors and improving protective factors, for example, by establishing meaningful relationships in the school community including educator-learner relationships (Seligman, 2011). Southwick and Charney (2012) include a moral compass in the lives of educators to foster educator well-being and to build positive educator-learner relationships.

2.2.2 Learners drop out of school

Violence, indiscipline and unsafe classrooms amongst others (Gubbels et al., 2019) cause learners to lose interest in academic aims and drop out of school (DuPont et al., 2013). Learner dropout in South Africa has reached crisis proportions. Nearly 60% of all public-school learners drop out of school before completing grade 12 (Makou & Wilkinson, 2018; Smillie & Mabotja, 2019).

Learner dropout and educator resignations reduce the success of funds spent on education in South Africa. Weak educational outcomes and insufficient educational skills hamper the learners’ future and the country’s economic growth (Greenberg et al., 2016; Mlachila & Moeletsi, 2019).

2.3 Possible solutions to deal with indiscipline

2.3.1 Positive educator-learner relationships

Evans et al. (2019) proposed that positive educator-learner relationships can counteract the negative effects of indiscipline on educators’ well-being (Konishi & Wong, 2018). The emotional, academic, and social-emotional growth of learners and educators can be enhanced by effective educator-learner relationships (Mihalas as cited in Zolkoski, 2019) to build positive moral values (Ergen, 2019; Pantic, 2012).

2.3.2 Value and religion education

The value of religion is emphasised by Graafland (2017) stating that religiosity discourages anti-social behaviour and attitudes. Other research revealed that all major religions uphold universal values and morals (Ives & Kidwell, 2019) and have a deep-rooted knowledge of morally acceptable and justifiable behaviour (Van der Walt, 2019; Wolhuter & Van Der Walt, 2020) which impact the behaviour and decision-making process of their followers (Ives & Kidwell, 2019; Shariff, 2015). Koehrsen (2015, 2018) emphasised that the good influence of religion acts as a change agent in the individual, the family and the community.

Grim and Grim (2019) pointed out that religious involvement is a strong deterrent to drug use among adolescents. Less religious instruction was associated with more drug use. Gorsuch (2010) explained that research found less substance abuse among religious people because they are more receptive to anti-abuse norms and values and have other ways of satisfying social needs and finding meaning in life. The Christian religion teaches reliance on God for help to overcome substance abuse (Grim & Grim, 2019). Muhammad et al. (2019) stated that Islamic guidance and treatment that focus on prayer and Islamic studies can assist drug addicts to overcome their addiction. Hinduism claims to address substance abuse successfully through a personalised approach by treating all the needs of the person and considering the person’s spiritual beliefs (American Addiction Centres, 2018).

Value and moral education are therefore an important component influencing the ethical, moral, cultural and spiritual growth necessary for the holistic development of the child and need to be uplifted (Amollo & Lilian, 2017). Weak and distorted moral values disrupt the smooth operation of communities (Klug, 2014). Turker et al. (2016) indicated that human values are deteriorating in schools and are visible in the deteriorating learner behaviour, burning of schools, school dropout, and drug and sexual abuse, all of which threaten the future development of the country as a whole (Segalo & Rambuda, 2018).

3. Problem statement

Given the previous explanations, learner indiscipline and a lack of respect (Ramadwa, 2018) as a result of the moral decay (Maphalala, & Mpofu, 2018) in secondary schools in South Africa has been identified as a major problem with many negative consequences (Amstad & Müller, 2020). Alternative ways of dealing with indiscipline have not produced satisfactory results (Eriyanti, 2018). Educators have expressed a dire need (Chonco, 2019) for guidance and skills to deal with indiscipline in the classroom, a challenge for which many educators are not sufficiently trained (Ntuli, 2012; Reyneke, 2013).

4. Research methodology

4.1 Primary research vision

This research endeavoured to assist educators with strategies to build positive educator-learner relationships in secondary schools.

4.2 Sampling method

Educators in the uMzinyathi district expressed a dire need for skills and strategies to deal with indiscipline in schools. This need was put forward to secondary schools in the uMzinyathi district and a research initiative was proposed.

Six volunteering educators from five different schools were chosen as part of the Participatory Action Learning and Action Research (PALAR) process and constitute the Action Learning Set (ALS); they are identified in this study as E1, E2, E3, E4a, E4b and E5. The ALS conducted Future-Creating Workshops (FCWs) with the educators of their respective schools; in this study, comments by these other educators are indicated by their school. S1 through S4 are public schools; S5 is an independent school.

The ALS proposed positive educator-learner relationships as a way of dealing with indiscipline in the classroom.

4.3 Research design

This research is situated within a qualitative research approach as the purpose of this research was to investigate ways of assisting educators to deal with indiscipline in the classroom. The PALAR approach, which is a critical-transformative approach (transformation through critical reflection) (Wood, 2020) was employed for the research to find answers collaboratively to address the research vision.

PALAR as well as the FCW as participatory research processes were chosen, as applicable approaches for research in the community where the participants experienced the need (Setlhare-Kajee, 2018) and therefore understood the problem.

4.4 Data collection

Due to the COVID-19 lockdown regulations, data collection was done online by employing interactive electronic discussions utilising emails, WhatsApps, telephone conversations and reflective journals. After the relaxation of the COVID-19 restrictions face-to-face Future Creating Workshops could be done with the educators of the participating schools as a means of professional development and to involve more educators to obtain more authentic educator-learner relationship building strategies. The FCWs were very successful because the educators were brought together at their respective schools to discuss a common problem and collaboratively come up with possible solutions.

4.5 Ethical considerations

The five validity criteria, namely 1) outcome validity 2) process validity 3) democratic validity 4) catalytic validity, and 5) dialogic validity, as set forth by Herr and Anderson (2005) were employed to ensure credibility. Ethics clearance was obtained from the Education, Management and Economic Sciences, Law, Theology, Engineering and Natural Sciences Research Ethics Committee (NWU-EMELTEN-REC) of North-West University.

4.6 Data analysis

Data analysis was done following a thematic analysis approach in six steps (Braun, & Clarke, 2013) including coding (Lauttamaki, 2014), organising the findings into themes, reviewing the themes, defining the themes, considering the views of the participants and lastly validating the findings with the participants. Emerging data were recorded systematically and organised collaboratively into themes (Miles, Huberman, & Saldaña, 2013; Saldaña, 2015), and then returned to the ALS participants to reflect on.

5. Findings

Several themes emerged from the data revealing the complexity of building educator-learner relationships. This review will concentrate mainly on two themes, namely positive educator-learner relationships and the dire need for value and religion education in teaching and learning. The reason for focussing on these two themes is that whereas the other suggestions made by the educators were typical remarks, a new distinctive dimension was added to these two themes which added a new facet to classroom management. The matter of moral values and religion, as part of the educators’ demeanour, to assist educator-learner relationship building, emerged spontaneously throughout the data collection and was grouped as a theme on its own.

The two themes are connected in a very special way as effective educator-learner relationships are enhanced by positive moral values (Ergen, 2019). The two themes will be discussed now, and relevant literature and verbatim statements will support each theme.

5.1 Theme 1: Educators’ role in building positive educator-learner relationships

Both the ALS and the FCW (indicated only as educators in the findings and discussions) emphasised the importance of positive educator-learner relationships as the foundation for effective discipline-related classroom management and the major role of the educator in building positive educator-learner relationships. Learners often do not have role models at home and therefore it is all the more important for educators to fulfil that role. The following comment summarises the educators’ views on being a role model: … teachers are the only “constant” adult in their life. Educators must be good role models as second parents. Teachers thus teach the learners so much about life. And if you are going to spend that much time with them they will look up to you. It is thus critically important that teachers model good behaviour, morals, ethics and attitude, since learners watch you all the time (even out of school) to gauge what acceptable behaviour looks like.

The educators prioritised the fact that everything an educator does, both during and after school hours, is instrumental in building educator-learner relationships. The educators reacted by accentuating … that educators are one of the key role players in and out of school so they must always behave accordingly in moulding the learners. Kids love to have role models and if educators behave in respectful ways, use appropriate language, and respect the learners, even after hours, it will facilitate educator-leaner relationships in a positive way.

For this reason, it is of the utmost importance that educators themselves live in a morally upright way as an example to the learners and the community in which they find themselves. This statement was endorsed by the educators in the following statement: …we are role models, in and out of school so we must always behave accordingly. Even after hours to facilitate relationship-building in a positive way. Learners are aware of what we do in private. Teaching is not isolated to the school situation only.

These statements emphasised by the Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention in cooperation with the Department of Basic Education (DBE, 2015) as well as Mardliyah (2019) who suggested that a “mutually respectful relationship with learners” (p. 7) may influence learner discipline in the classroom in a positive way. This statement was underscored by the educators as follows: We like the issue of respect. If you give respect to learners, chances are that you get a lot of it in return. A positive educator-learner relationship depends mainly on the example of the educator. They must be exemplary role models in all aspects of life.

Throughout the research the power of prayer and religion in building relationships with learners was mentioned by the co-researchers and summarised by E4b by stating that … to build a positive educator-learner relationship is possible if you ask for God’s intervention through prayer and endorsed by the other educators claiming that without God’s help, we cannot accomplish that which we are called to do. As educators all our actions are accountable before God and before the learners; how we interact with our learners at all times and behave in front of them as part of building relationships with them.

Educators, in their capacity as in loco parentis, must always fulfil their teaching role by being good role models and displaying acceptable values and norms in their lives (Walton et al., 2016). The educators echoed the overwhelming need for values in education as described in the following statements: The media are wreaking havoc on the values, ethics and morals of our children. Children have become very entitled. The degeneration of society and media influence have produced a demise in the belief that your body is God’s temple. And with it comes lack of conviction for all kinds of bad conduct. The way they were raised plays a major role. It’s a matter of the values they have been taught or not taught. Good values, morals and attitudes will teach them to be responsible citizens which in reality is not happening. Parents are not teaching their children. Educators must teach and model skills, knowledge and above all, solid moral values.

E1 noted in agreement with the above statement that, … she sees the teaching profession as an opportunity to teach norms and values to the learners and so influence their futures. Don’t just teach them morals and values but demonstrate it to them by being a role model. Many learners display a lack of love in their lives and educators must often fulfil this function in the lives of the learners.

The educators explained this responsibility of educator-learner relationship building as … very important, and we must take the lead in this. Learners must be able to find us approachable and give them attention. We must give account before God one day for loveless attitudes and actions. Good educator-learner relationships are of a better quality if God is part of the relationship. E2 expanded on this statement by saying that, … I know that it’s probably impossible to reach every single learner who walks through my classroom, but relationship building helps a lot—I pray and hope that God gets through to them. Positive educator-learner relationships most definitely make the managing of discipline much easier and to get the best out of a child.

Since positive educator-learner relationships is built on moral values like respect, and leads to human dignity, it is the ideal way of enhancing the teaching and learning environment (Cook et al., 2018; Sparks, 2019). This brings us to the second theme that emerged during the research.

5.2 Theme 2: Values, morals and religion in education

The importance of moral values and religion in education was mentioned repeatedly during the informative ALS discussions as well as during the FCWs. The fact that this topic was mentioned spontaneously throughout the research makes it more difficult to ignore this very important aspect, which impacts very prominently in the lives of people and communities. The participants, who comprised mainly Christian and Hindu educators, mentioned the positive influence they experience in class as a result of the religious convictions of some of their learners.

E3 and E4b shared their solution to very problematic indisciplined cases in their statements, in public schools there are learners that cannot be helped due to the bad influence from either family members, friends and peers. The only solution is repentance to the gospel of the Lord Jesus, otherwise no hope.

This was endorsed by E5 in the following way: I would like to give the (ALS) more advice and information on how to achieve this. I start each of my lessons with a prayer—that immediately settles the children and it sets the tone for the lesson. … Once I have finished praying all the learners are focused on me and will listen to my instructions. I pray daily for troublesome learners and it helps. The educators summarised this by stating that … it is a nice response. We like the praying part.

The question was asked why some learners behaved well though they come from disadvantaged backgrounds. E1, a Hindu educator, highlighted the good influence of religion on behaviour by indicating that, these learners are from strong religious backgrounds and are taught values and morals. A solid religious foundation supplies this background. Religious values play a major role to teach respect and then all other things improve. This comment was confirmed by E3 and E4a and E4b stating that … nothing compares to the love of God and religion and culture. Learners from concerned parents often have the ability to respect. Rules and church (faith) guard us. Learners who are loved unconditionally (and even more so when they find that love in a relationship with Christ) are confident in themselves and can face authority without feeling intimidated or threatened by it.

Closely connected to value education is the matter of drugs. Drug abuse in South African schools is widespread and increasing (Van Rensburg et al., 2018). Research done by Hlongwane (2013) confirmed that it is also the case in the uMzinyathi district where this research was done and it is an aggravating factor in the deterioration of discipline in the schools. Most educators emphasised this fact by confirming that there is a big prevalence of drug problems in schools. Drugs, truancy and alcohol are taking over the schools. Learners come to school drunk. Learners lack morality – values.

To become free of drug addiction and abuse can be very difficult (Oasis, 2020). E4b related his solution to the drug problem by the following narrative:

“I am reminded of a boy who was in grade 10. He really struggled academically due to problems at home and drug and substance abuse. His uncle introduced him to satanism and smoking dagga. They hijacked vehicles at gunpoint. He used to sleep in the classroom during lessons and was often absent. After talking to him, his mother and the school principal, we all agreed that he needed help. I suggested taking him during the school holidays to the nearby Mission for help under the Concerned Young People of South Africa (CYPSA). He was accepted and received help. When the schools re-opened, he was a changed man and the principal could also see the difference in his life. The Mission has had a very positive impact on the learners in the neighbouring schools. The learners are helped through the positive influence of religion in their lives. We work closely with them and the learners are thankful towards us for this help. Scores of young people come to the Mission for help due to drug addiction. They are helped through prayer and sometimes medication if needed.”

This is a positive example of the influence of religion in the lives of people and worth investigating in more detail.

The educators state that … there is an obvious decline in moral values in society and among female learners and this amounts to the escalation of teenage pregnancies as described by the following statement of the educators: Grannies want the daughters to have babies so that they can get the grant money. These girls are not interested in schoolwork. Girls are in relationships with older men (blessers). They take drugs and are not interested in changing their ways.

The educators made no secret about their role in teaching values and norms and this truth was summarised as follows: Educators must be passionate about teaching learners’ values and knowledge by choosing appropriate knowledge because the parents do not. This is an opportunity to teach them values as a religious matter and to have an influence on their future. Raising children with good values, morals and attitudes will teach them to be responsible citizens which in reality is not happening.

6. Discussion

The findings of the two themes will be now be discussed.

6.1 Discussion on theme 1: Educator-learner relationships

Educator-learner relationships as a means of dealing with discipline-related issues in the classroom are not a new idea but the all-encompassing nature of relationship-building gives a new dimension to the topic. Colnerude (as cited in Pantic & Wubbels, 2012) emphasised the way educators speak to learners, the way they dress, the language they use among others and even where they stand while addressing learners express their moral values. For this reason, educators must take special care of what they say to learners, in the classroom, on the playing fields as well as outside school hours (Sherab, 2013; Yıldırım et al., 2020).

Willemse et al. (as cited in Pantic & Wubbels, 2012) emphasised that educators must model the behaviour they expect from their learners. Johnson (2016) concluded that the educator’s moral behaviour is integral to building positive educator-learner relationships.

Educators as in loco parentis must be good role models, even more, as learners do not always have role models at home (Zolkoski, 2019) because children come to school ill-mannered (Sax, 2015). Problematic learner behaviour is also caused by societal influences because children observe what people do and as such reflect the morals of the society in which they live (Mweli, 2017).

For this reason the educators made it clear that everything educators do, in school and after school, influences educator-learner relationship-building. Educators must behave properly at all times (Eble & Hu, 2019; Subagia, 2020). The example of educators and the quality of relationships between educators and learners play a major role in shaping learner character (Narinasamy & Logeiswaran, 2015). Educators’ actions are the foundation of positive educator-learner relationships (Murray & Pianta, 2007). Improving educator-learner interactions also improve the learning environment, which positively influences learning outcomes for learners (Sutherland et al., 2010) and have a positive influence on the discipline and the dynamics of the whole class (Mardliyah, 2019).

Claessens et al. (2017) stated that through moment-to-moment interaction with the learners, educators must endeavour to build positive educator-learner relationships. To do this, educators must be role models (Zolkoski, 2019). FCWs can play a major role in equipping educators for this important task.

Flowing from the above discussion of the matter of values, moral and religion education came to the fore.

Discussion of theme 2: Values, moral and religion education

The educators’ comments were consistent with research by Graafland (2017), which emphasised that anti-social attitudes and behaviour are discouraged by religion.

A report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, accounting for 37 countries, claimed that South Africa leads the way in intimidation, bullying, violent theft, physical assault and injuries, verbal abuse, vandalism, and drug abuse (Gous, 2019). These claims were substantiated by the educators claiming, that drugs, truancy and alcohol are taking over the schools. Learners come to school drunk. E3 added that … we must deal with tribal and gang wars. Learners generally come to school with bad attitudes, bad manners, disrespect, etc.

Together with the family, the school plays a very important role in the upbringing of children but often, the educators who are supposed to lead and guide the learners as role models are morally corrupt themselves (Njoku & Njoku, 2017). Fengu (2017) and the South African Council for Educators (SACE, 2019) reported a substantial rise in educator misconduct and see this trend as challenging because it relates to norms and values. Pijoos (2020) reported that several educators only in one school in Gauteng are under investigation for sexual misconduct and there are many more.

Although many schools endeavour to teach values such as respect, kindness, honesty, integrity, self-respect, tolerance and good citizenship, such values are not taught as a religious component even though the majority of religions underline these values (Anti-Defamation League, 2020). Research suggested that religiosity and spirituality influence the acceptance of values and norms in a much more effective and permanent way (Bigger, 2013; Weeden & Kurzban, 2013) because religion is a way of life and has a major influence on behaviour (Cawood, 2018; Nuriman, & Fauzan, 2017). Francis et al. (2014) found that learners from independent religion-affiliated schools have a greater tendency to reject drugs and illegal activities, show less racism and shy away from other social evils. Advocates for religion-based schools have claimed that these schools supply learners with an identity that makes them fit into society in a much better way (Short, 2003; Wright, 2003). Research found that learners from religion-based schools perform better academically (Cawood, 2018) and maintain better relationships and more acceptable behaviour (Baloch et al., 2014; Cawood, 2018). Loots (2016) found that educators draw parallels between the decline in learner behaviour and the absence or lack of religion education in schools.

Another reason for promoting all religions in schools is that religious groups know very little about one another’s rituals and beliefs. This lack of knowledge causes suspicion and intolerance towards other religions as well as disrespect (Ekanem & Ekefre, 2013; Nthontho, 2017). When people are not knowledgeable about other people’s beliefs and customs, they are religiously illiterate (Ekanem & Ekefre, 2013; Sulaiman, 2016).

For the above-mentioned reasons, at least all religions represented in a school must receive equal treatment and promotion at school level. It is a way to enhance learner performance, help to build positive educator-learner relationships and improve learner behaviour. The South African Constitution states that religion may be practised freely not by schools but at schools (Greyling, 2017). This implies that learners may be taught about other religions but not indoctrinated into a specific religion. The latter must be done at home by the parents or at religious institutions.

7. Limitations

The findings of this study are limited in the sense that they cannot be generalised to other contexts because they only include the experiences of educators in secondary schools in rural settings in KwaZulu-Natal.

8. Summary and conclusion

Education in South Africa is at a crossroad. Decisions we make now will influence not only the effectiveness of the future education system but the well-being of the whole South African society. Literature reveals that the absence of a value system in schools firmly rooted in religious worldviews could be the reason for the decline in positive learner behaviour.

There is therefore a dire need for dedicated educators committed to being positive role models in and out of school as an antipole to instil moral values and a religious sense within the learners. Values and morals supported by religion education must again take their rightful place in the school curriculum because they are closely connected with building positive educator-learner relationships. Through religion education, the schools should play a more prominent role in the development of their learners (Nuriman & Fauzan, 2017) and supply them with much-needed support system to cope with social ills at home and in society (Ilosvay, 2016).

To combat secular education and the decline in moral values among the youth (Arthur & Carr, 2013), educators must take on this huge responsibility to ensure that values and morals should take their rightful place in education again (Cordero, 2013; Genç, 2018). Moral values like chastity, honesty, trustworthiness, and integrity are inborn in the hearts of people and must be nourished (Idris, 2012).

Poor discipline, in most cases, may only be symptomatic of a lack of moral values in the lives of the learners. Values must be rooted in morality based on a religious worldview. To strive for wealth and fame is a value but it is not necessarily a moral value. Teaching and learning cannot be separated from values based on strong religious principles.

South Africa’s 2003 National Policy on Religion Education was instituted as a means of not discriminating against other religions, but it has reduced the morality of our learners and left them unprotected against rampant social ills in society. Schools must move away from religion discrimination to religion accommodation (Nthontho 2017).

Another significant finding in this research is the fact that educators can communicate values like respect, honesty, compassion and kindness to the learners not only through formal teaching but also through their everyday contact with the learners (Sherab, 2013).

FCWs with educators, parents and other stakeholders in the communities could assist schools to identify and solve the problems. Educators as part of communities are in an ideal situation to arrange these workshops, critically investigate these problems, envisage solutions and monitor the practicability of the ideas. FCW workshops as a participatory problem-solving method can play a tremendous role in achieving the ideal of a value and religion-based teaching and learning environment.


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