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The European Union and Beyond

South African Schools and Democracy Education: The Role of Teaching Methods and Classroom Environment

David Denemark
University of Western Australia
David Denemark
University of Western Australia
Robert Mattes
University of Strathclyde
Richard Niemi
University of Rochester
Graham Brown
University of Western Australia

South Africa’s first generation of citizens to complete their education in post-apartheid schools is less supportive of democracy than older generations who struggled against apartheid and fought to build the new Republic. This is the case despite having taken a civics education module designed to impart knowledge about and an appreciation for the nation’s new democratic system and citizenship in it. We use original 2012 surveys of 11th grade students and their teachers of the Life Orientations civics education module in 45 metropolitan Cape Town schools to explore the impact of the module itself and the approach recommended by recent civic education research, which places more importance on the classroom environment in which schools and teachers train students in democracy than the substance of what they actually teach. We have found in previous research that students’ low levels of support for democracy can be traced in large part to the failure of schools to impart basic facts about South African politics and an appreciation of the role of active, critical, and peaceful participation by citizens. In this paper, we test whether inclusive and participatory teaching styles have a direct effect in making students more democratic or, alternatively, have an indirect effect in allowing teachers to “teach the facts” about South Africa’s new democratic, or, indeed, have a negligible effect overall on student learning. All told, this paper provides important insights into the broader question: can the young “learn democracy” and the responsibilities and norms of citizenship in new democracies.
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