Category Archives: Education

Poor discipline in South African schools: Has it undermined teacher authority and academic achievement?

Title: Poor discipline in South African schools: Has it undermined teacher authority and academic achievement?

First and main author: Noorullah Shaikhnag  –
Id 0000-0002 1423 7696
Senior lecturer — Deputy Director, North West University, Faculty of Education — Mafikeng campus
B Com (UDW-UKZN), BEd, MED, PhD (Educational Psychology, NWU).

Co-author: Dr Shantha Naidoo –
North-West University, South Africa: Potchefstroom, North West, ZA
Lecturer: Life Orientation, Sub Area Leader: Edu-HRight (Bio-Psychosocial Perspectives)
MED (Learner Support), PhD (Educational Leadership and Management, UJ).
Member of Senate

Co-author: Professor Anna-Marie (AMF) Pelser —
Research Professor, North-West University, Faculty of Economic and Financial Sciences- Entity Director — GIFT, Mafikeng Campus.
HED (Home Economics, PU for CHE), B Com (UNISA), B Com Hons (PU for CHE), M Com (Industrial Psychology, NWU), PhD (Education Management, NWU)
Corresponding author Prof. A.M.F. Pelser —

Ensovoort, volume 41 (2020), number 11: 2


School officials and policymakers usually rely on personal anecdotes to argue that corporal punishment in schools improves student behaviour, achievement and teacher authority. In the North West province of South Africa, academic achievement in relation to disciplinary measures has not received much attention. The purpose of this study was therefore to investigate the effects of poor discipline due to the abolition of corporal punishment on teacher authority and school achievement.  In view of this, a sample of 400 learners and 100 teachers using 10 high schools in an educational region of the North West Province of South Africa was selected using random sampling and a survey approach to data collection. In contrast to the perceptions as identified in the literature review which revealed that the abolition of corporal punishment would probably lead to poor discipline, decrease in teacher authority and academic achievement, the research findings, particularly the application of the chi-square test, indicated no positive relationship between the abolition of corporal punishment, poor discipline, teacher authority and academic progress in the sampled schools. The main recommendation therefore is that alternative forms of disciplinary measures are necessary to supplement corporal punishment, as its use can at times be valuable in order to minimise misconduct among learners and possibly strengthen teacher authority and improve scholastic achievement.

Key concepts: Discipline, Misconduct, Academic achievement, Corporal punishment; Teacher authority.

1. Introduction and Background 

The abolition of corporal punishment in schools has made it virtually impossible to maintain discipline in the classroom and twenty years down the line teachers complain that since beating learners with canes has been outlawed, educators have little or no authority in classrooms as they have no other way of enforcing discipline in the classroom (Kubheka, 2019, Salem, 2013). Discipline in a positive sense refers to learning, regulated scholarship, guidance and orderliness, and may therefore qualify as an integral part of an effective educational endeavour in which parents and teachers give assistance to a learner seeking help (Stenhouse, 2015), while on the other hand, trying to maintain good conduct, violence must be avoided.

The situation in South African schools currently seems to suggest that a lack of discipline and increase in violence especially among high school students has led to teacher authority being undermined, hence poor learning and teaching take place in schools, this affects the lives of both teachers and learners (Makhasane & Chikoko, 2016; Mthanti & Mncube, 2014). Principals in the North West Province of South Africa also point out that bullying, assault and fighting among learners are the most common types of misconduct in schools. Research conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reveals that corporal punishment is less effective than other methods of behaviour management in schools, while praise, discussions about value systems and positive role models play a more important part in developing character, respect for educators and values than corporal punishment. This research further indicates that corporally punishing learners leads to several adverse outcomes such as increased aggressive and destructive behaviour, vandalism, poor school achievement, poor attention span, low self-esteem, depression, retaliation against teachers, undermining teacher authority and swearing at them (American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 2020, Ramadwa, 2020).

2. Problem statement

Research indicates that authority should be established by teachers showing a learner-centred approach which can be achieved by permitting the learners to voice their opinions (Keiler, 2018; Meador, 2019). In order to achieve this, a five-point paradigm indicating sources of power or authority can be used viz., reward which is the ability to give positive feedback in the form of points or comments; coercive authority, where learners are penalised for poor conduct; legitimate power which is associated with authority to set up laws; referent power which stems from learners’ respect for the educator and finally expert authority which is derived from the ability of the educator to show skills in the subject he/she teaches (Bhasin, 2019, Brame, 2016).

Thus, for teachers to maintain peace and order in classrooms, they need to have authority (Esmaeili, Mohamadrezai & Mohamedrezai, 2015). Debates based on religious, social and cultural values on the other hand seem to suggest that it is essential to punish children physically because it helps to inculcate the values of society, good conduct, discipline and respect for teacher authority since the abolition of corporal punishment is tantamount to loosening the teachers’ grip on the learners. The inference here is that, if used correctly, this type of punishment brings about an immediate decrease in bad behaviour, produces respect for authority, obedience and self-discipline (Sekhonyane, 2018). However, no absolute certainty exists with regard to the claim that corporal punishment will improve learner behaviour and mental soundness (Bassam, Marianne, Rabba & Gerbaka, 2018, Russo 2015). As education involves the transfer of knowledge, values and ideals from one generation to another through the guidance of authoritative teachers, it is important that they be recognised as authority figures for the information they impart (Carr, 2019, Kitchen & McCloed, 2016). A study conducted by Chafi, Khouzai and Ouchouid (2016) emphasises the importance of exercising authority which is a routine feature of most teacher-learner interactions, hence classroom discipline is the core of educational authority as it guarantees obedience and acceptance from learners.

With this in mind, this article intends to shed light on and provide insight into the experiences encountered by teachers and learners due to the abolition of corporal punishment. The study, the findings of which this article reports, is aimed at exploring the undermining of teacher authority and its possible effect on academic progress as a result of the abolition of corporal punishment in South African schools.

3. Corporal punishment, discipline and authority in South African schools

Corporal punishment is and will always remain an emotional and controversial issue for many within South African schools as well as schools world-wide (Goodman, 2020, Naong, 2007). Although opposition is strong, corporal punishment still has some persuasive arguments for it (Josphine, 2018). However, in recent times, there has been international condemnation of physical punishment since it is morally degrading, which impacts negatively on the teacher-learner relationship (Holinger, 2018, Islam, 2019).

The view remains that banning physical punishment totally is pointless, arbitrary and destructive and it makes criminals of parents and teachers who are doing their best to raise the next generation. Physical punishment is thus good and works for the development of resilient people living in this world. Outlawing it completely, will break down the foundation of society and undermine teacher authority, the argument being that without corporal punishment, discipline will not be maintained, learners will not show respect to the teachers, will not work hard unless they are punished or threatened with punishment and the powers of educators will be taken away and will lead to a loss in prestige of the teachers (Alsaif, 2015; Kambuga, Manyengo & Mbalamula, 2018, Seidal, 2018). Thus in terms of classroom and teaching methods, it is important to note that teacher success will depend on the time allotted to learner activities of a practical nature (Nazari, 2014; Weiss, 2014).

For education to take place without interference, the educator must assume the position of authority which must be accepted by the learner and this authority is important for effective teaching, hence maintaining strict discipline is extremely important for learners’ academic performance (Fakhruddin, 2018, Simba, Agak & Kabuka, 2016).

Research in South Africa shows that schools continue to administer corporal punishment to curtail misconduct among learners even for minor offences, and more than half (55.6%) of those learners interviewed in 2016 had been subjected to physical punishment for bad behaviour (Rohrs, 2016). This means that the practice of corporal punishment has not diminished and teachers surveyed believed that it was necessary since it instilled in them a sense of authority and control which in turn helped with better learner achievement (Bailey, Robinson & Core- Desai, 2104; Josephine, 2018; Odhiambo, 2017, Shologu, 2012). Tozer (2012) and Perez-Izaguirre (2019) indicate that the use of violence is an issue of power and this type of authoritarian leadership style often creates resentment and hostility, which have been associated with learners dropping out of school and detracting from student achievement, consequently, schools should provide learners with an educational foundation to build successful independent lifestyles and maintain discipline which will lead to effective learning (Kelly, 2020; Makhubele, 2014). Through its constitution, South Africa is among several countries committed to abolishing corporal punishment of learners, thus being beaten is not a normal practice any longer (Govender & Sookrajh, 2014). In view of this, Frechette & Romano (2015) believe that, though corporal punishment may be highly prevalent, legal reforms and public education efforts to limit it will result in a decrease in its use. Despite this, as pointed out earlier, it should be remembered that teacher authority and class discipline are imperative to the student-teacher relationship and to overall teaching effectiveness and extremely important in maintaining effective classroom management (Haley & Ferro, 2012; Hanson, 2013; Molina and Martin, 2017). Authority thus is the establishment of a two-way relationship between the givers and receivers of orders, hence teacher authority is a key element in maintaining a functional class that strengthens student results (Barile, 2019; George, Sakirudeen & Sunday, 2017).

Those who advocate corporal punishment argue that the ever-growing disregard for authority among the youth stems from the abolition of physical punishment both at home and at school, hence the belief that teachers no longer have authority since it denotes abuse and repression (Goodman, 2020). However, many psychologists assert that authority is a viable concept and a function of social enhancement demonstrated by leaders in an open society. Teacher authority is thus consequential in the teaching–learning situation and the teacher must always be above the level of the learner, hence strict discipline is imperative for the safety of all learners and their educational achievement (Matsitsa, 2008, Sharma, 2020). Many educators therefore still use corporal punishment as a means to control learners, believing that this type of punishment can rectify student behaviour which ultimately will bring about respect for the teacher and uphold his/her dignity (Ntuli & Machaisa, 2014).

As it is unethical to physically punish learners according to section 10 of the Schools Act no. 84 of 1996. The then Minister of Education, designed a comprehensive document entitled ‘Alternatives to Corporal Punishment.’ (ATCP). Disciplinary measures to be taken in South African schools are clearly outlined in different levels, and with the dawn of democracy in South Africa, emphasis is placed on protecting and respecting learners’ rights, posit Maphosa & Shumba (2010). This is supported by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (2020) who reveal that corporal punishment is less effective than other methods of instilling discipline at schools. The demerits are far greater than the advantages, hence schools should not use it as a means to try and expedite scholastic achievement (Frankie, 2020).

However, in recent times, though schools have shown a tendency to use alternative measures of punishment such as in-school suspension and after-school detention, a study conducted by Moyo, Khewu and Bayaga (2014) suggests that there is no established consistency prevailing between disciplinary practices in schools and the ATCP strategies. This study showed that teachers do not believe in alternate measures to corporal punishment and this was due to a lack of understanding in respect of ATCP. However, if achieved and implemented correctly it could be highly desirable (Gunderson & McKay, 2018).

4. Research, Design and Methodology

4.1 Research paradigm

The post-positivist paradigm was used to contextualise the research and was based on the assumptions that all knowledge is conjectural; hence knowledge is subject to supposition since the absolute truth cannot be established; also research is a process of making claims, refining them to accommodate other claims that require more attention. It must also be noted that post-positivism is not a form of relativism, hence can retain the idea of objective truth.  (Creswell, 2016). The data was collected using the quantitative method and was underpinned by a post-positivistic research theory whose assumptions represent the traditional form of research.

 4.2 Research Design and Approach

Status of the phenomena, tracing changes and drawing comparisons were undertaken using the survey design. In this research, use of the survey approach enabled the researcher to obtain information on the respondents’ opinions and beliefs related to the null hypothesis tested (Maree, 2012; Bryman, 2015, Showkat, 2017).

Empirical observation and measurement were utilised to determine the effects of poor discipline due to the abolition of corporal punishment on teacher authority and scholastic achievement. Thus it became apparent that using the quantitative method in analysing data would be best suited for the study since this approach involves collecting numerical data which are objective and not influenced in any way by the researchers’ prejudice (Eyisi, 2016, Steefkerk, 2020).

4.3 Population Sampling

The target population was high schools in one educational region of the North West Province (n=40) and it was selected with the assistance of the Area Project Office regional managers. The findings of the study are therefore valid for schools in this region only.

Simple random sampling was used and the sample size was twenty schools (n=20). In total, 400 questionnaires were distributed to 400 students and 100 were handed out to educators. The response rate was 90% for learners and 95% for educators.

Table 1: Population and Sample

Schools in one region of NW Number of students Educators Number of schools selected Learners selected ranged from Grade 8-12 Educators ranged from age group 25-45 and teaching experience ranged from 5-25 years
40 1200 300 20 400 100

4.4 Data collection methods

Based on the evidence at it was inferred that the best way of gathering information directly from respondents would be using a structured questionnaire. This method is based on a set of questions with fixed wording and indicators of how to answer each question, hence a structured closed ended questionnaire using a the four (4) point Likert scale was used since it is characterised by choices between alternative responses that are given (Strongly agree, Agree, Disagree and Strongly disagree). A self-constructed questionnaire with fifteen items was used (Burns & Bush, 2014, Jovancic, 2019, Kumar, 2016). The instrument was pilot-tested to ensure that the research design is iteratively improved and the research runs smoothly. Thirty learners from three schools Grade 8-12 and 10 educators were used in the pilot study. Data can be broadened and classified easily using this type of a questionnaire and the possible responses are limited.

The researcher personally handed out the questionnaires which had the advantage that the purpose of the study could be explained before any attempt was made by the respondents to answer the questions. The collection of most questionnaires was done immediately, except a small number which were collected at a later stage due to tests being written at some schools. 

4.5 Data Processing/Data analysis procedures

Computer-aided statistical analysis was employed in the form of calculating percentages, means, frequencies and the chi square by means of meta-analysis (Guererro, 2019). If the P-value is less than the significant level, usually 0.05, the hypotheses are rejected (Prabakharan, 2016).

These results were achieved with the help of a senior lecturer employed by the statistics department at the North West University.

4.6 Ethical considerations and trustworthiness issues

Ethical guidelines were followed, which included guaranteeing confidentiality and anonymity of the respondents. Permission to carry out this investigation was granted by the Provincial Department of Education and further consent was given by the principals and school governing bodies to conduct the research at their respective schools themselves as well as from their legally authorised guardians where applicable. This was necessary to prove that all respondents were taking part in the research voluntarily (Ragin & Amoroso 2013). To establish the reliability of the instrument, Cronbach’s alpha coefficient was calculated for the questionnaire dealing with teacher authority and abolition of corporal punishment; the result of 0.801 suggests that it was more than satisfactory (refer Table 2 below).

Table: 2 Cronbach Alpha

Variable N Mean STD Dev Cronbach’s Comment
School 20 500 3.75 1.27 0.801 Good & consistent

5. Findings

5.1 Abolition of Corporal punishment and effect on discipline, teacher authority and student achievement

Table 3 below presents the responses to the questionnaire relating to abolition of corporal punishment and teacher authority. The respondents were requested to respond to fifteen statements with regard to the above. They were asked to rate each item on a scale of 1 to 4 (1 =Strongly Agree, 2=Agree, 3=Disagree, 4=Strongly Disagree) 

Statements Strongly agree   Agree Disagree Strongly disagree Total
Poor discipline is prevalent since the abolition of corporal punishment (CP), hence   teachers have no authority to reprimand them which may affect learner results. 43 (8.9%) 146 (30.1%) 166 (34.1%) 130 (26.8% 485
Refusing to mark late submission of work does not improve their attitude towards teachers and could lead to poor performance. 115 (23.7%)


226 (36.6%) 89 (18.4%) 55 (11.3%) 485
No serious discussions take place with learners who do not submit their work on time because they have no regard for teacher authority. This affects learner progress. 204 (42.0%)  184 (37.9%) 87 (17.9%)  11 (2.3%) 486
Since the abolition of CP, teachers do not reprimand lazy learners because their authority is undermined, which could result in poor academic achievement. 170 (35.1%) 185 (38.2%) 106 (21.7%) 23 (4.8%) 484
Teachers should use sarcasm to ridicule the offending learner. This will help to improve learner conduct. 23 (4.8%) 113 (23.6%) 223 (46.6%) 120 (25.1%) 479
Teachers have no power to insult learners who do not do their work, this increases poor discipline and ultimately leads to poor results. 33 (6.85%) 86 (17.7%) 121 (24.9%) 246 (50.6%) 486
Since the banning of CP, teachers have no right to exclude the lazy culprit from the group as their authority is undermined. 91 (18.8%) 206 (42.5%) 115 (23.5%) 73 (15.1%) 485
Teachers cannot refuse privileges to the offending learner since they have little authority to do so. This further enhances poor discipline. 49 (10.2%) 226 (47.8%) 163 (33.9%) 43 (8.9%) 481
Reintroduction of CP will make the culprit change his attitude towards work and teacher, hence improve his behaviour and scholastic achievement. 109 (22.4%) 150 (30.9%) 107 (27.0%) 120  (24.7%) 486
Punching, pinching and knocking on the head could help learners to respect the teacher and improve their attitude towards work. 13 (2.7%) 76  (15.7%) 107 (22.1%) 289 (59.6%) 485
Teachers’ powers are unlimited, hence they can give the offender extra work during break which can help to change attitudes towards the teacher and work. 16 (3.3%) 21   (4.3%) 186 (38.4%) 262 54.0%) 485
Learners do not like being given more work in class as they undermine teacher authority and this leads to poor results in the examinations. 69  (14.3%) 201 (41.7%) 166 (34.4%) 46 (9.5%) 482
Since the outlawing of CP, teacher authority is not respected as learners do not accept detention orders anymore, this does not help the disciplinary process. 71 (14.6%)


278 (57.2%) 188 (22.2%) 29 (6.0%) 486
Teachers have no power to chase the culprit out of the class, this aggravates teacher disrespect and could lead ultimately to unacceptable academic achievement. 50 (10.4%) 220 (45.9%) 172 (35.9%) 37 (7.7%) 479
Teacher authority is undermined by learners since CP is no longer applicable, hence they refuse to take any form of advice which aggravates misconduct and poor achievement. 49 (10.2%) 226  (47%)


163 (33.9%) 43 (8.95%) 481

 Figure 1: Teacher and learner responses with regard to corporal punishment and its effect on poor discipline, teacher authority and academic achievement.

The analysis indicates that 39% of the respondents believed that teacher authority was undermined because they had no power to reprimand learners, while 61% indicated to the contrary. 61% indicated that refusing to mark late submission of work does not improve learners’ attitude towards teachers, hence teacher authority is undermined. 79.9% of the respondents believed that teachers do not have serious discussions with learners regarding non-submission of work because teachers do not have much authority due to CP being outlawed. Furthermore, 73.3% asserted that teachers do not reprimand lazy learners because their authority is undermined, while 26.7% believed to the contrary. Only 28.4% indicated that teachers do not have the power to use sarcasm to ridicule learners, while the majority said they had the power to do so. 75.5% of respondents pointed out that teachers had no power to insult learners who do not do their work, hence teacher authority is seriously undermined which in turn could affect academic achievement. 61.3% of the participants said that teachers do not exclude lazy learners from the group as they have no right to do so. 57.2% agreed that teachers cannot refuse privileges to the offending learners as his/her authority is limited. 53.3% argued that reintroduction of CP will not change student attitude towards the educator. 81.7% concurred that punching, pinching and other kinds of action will not help learners to respect the teacher. Only 7.6% accepted the fact that teachers’ powers are not limited, but 92.4% believed that they have limited power to give extra work. 56% agreed that students do not like being given more work as they undermine teacher authority. 72.2% believe that teacher authority is not respected any longer since learners do not accept detention orders. 56.3% of respondents indicated that teachers no longer have power to chase students out of the class and finally, 57.2% concur that teacher authority is undermined since the abolition of CP as learners refuse to take any form of advice from them.

5.2 Relationship between abolishing of corporal punishment and teacher authority

Based on the findings of the study, it is evident that the abolition of corporal punishment played a part in undermining teacher authority and learner progress as applied at schools. However, the chi-square test applied to the findings confirms an insignificant relationship between the abolition of corporal punishment, the undermining of teacher authority and learner progress at schools. Consequently there was no need to reject the null hypothesis; this suggests that there was no significant relationship between the abolition of corporal punishment and the undermining of educator authority and academic achievement (see Table 4).

Although the data, taken at face value, indicated that the abolition of physical punishment did have an effect on teacher authority, discipline and learner achievement, the chi-square test applied to the data indicated to the contrary, hence the failure to reject the null hypothesis. As the Pearson chi-square (P value) value was 0.453 greater than 0.05 which is the significant point (Table 4), the null hypothesis could not be rejected. Acceptance of the null hypothesis implied that the abolition of corporal punishment did not play a major role in influencing teacher authority/academic achievement although the literature survey indicates to the contrary.

Table 4: Chi-squared tests

Value df Asymp. Sig. (2-sided) Exact Sig. (2-sided) Exact Sig. (1-sided)
Pearson Chi-Square 563a 1 .453
Continuity Correctionb .000 1 1000
Likelihood Ratio .872 1 .350
Fisher’s Exact Test 1000 .667
Linear-by-Linear Association .500 1 .480
N of Valid Cases 9

Table 4 results indicate that 3 cells (75.0%) have expected a count less than 5. The minimum expected count is .33. This means that the null hypothesis could not be rejected, hence the implication that abolition of corporal punishment did not have an influence on teacher authority and student achievement. 

6. Discussion

From the findings above it would seem that teacher authority and academic achievement is undermined by the abolition of corporal punishment in schools and schools are subject to poor discipline which can impact negatively on teacher attitude as well as academic performance of learners (Foncha, Ngoqo, Mafumo &Maruma, 2018) and teachers themselves have acknowledged that they have lost a great deal of authority. Thus, tensions between teachers and learners in recent times are evidence of the difficulties experienced by educators to be recognised as teachers in charge. (Gallego, Villalabos, Lopez & Girald, 2016). This is corroborated by a study conducted by McGarr, O’Grady and Guilifoyle (2016) which suggests that educators complain about poor behaviour of learners, that they lack respect, that they disobey them and even refuse to accept their requests. This is indicative of the fact that 79.9% of the respondents said that no discussions take place between teachers and students and 73.3% believed that teachers do not reprimand learners for non-submission of work as they have very little authority to do it and 61.3% respondents asserted that teachers have no power to be strict in respect of lazy learners. This is corroborated by (Nakpodia) 2014, as well as Case (2017) who maintain that teachers are being threatened by students and that these threats are so severe that teachers cannot carry out their normal duties which leads to an unstable learning environment. This is further supported by a study in Spain where 65% of teachers have difficulty attending class due to poor learner behaviour (Molina & Martin 2017). Teacher authority is often in question as they are frequently tested by learners, teachers become helpless and find it difficult to maintain discipline which in turn has a negative impact on learner achievement (Furedi, 2016, Semali &Vumilla, 2016). This is indicative of the fact that 92.4% of respondents acknowledged that teachers’ powers were not unlimited to give extra work and 71.8% believed that teacher authority is undermined as learners do not accept detention orders anymore, while 56.3% asserted that teachers no longer have authority to chase misbehaving students out of the class, this in turn affects discipline and learner progress. In order to maintain good classroom behaviour, many teachers are therefore of the opinion that the judicious use of corporal punishment is essential and teachers should take punishment seriously especially since they do not have sufficient alternative measures to deal effectively with student misconduct. Thus, it can be asserted that the abolition of physical punishment is a mistake since it leads to poor discipline which undermines teacher authority, teaching commitments and ultimately leads to poor learner progress (Goddard, 2017, Shaikhnag, Assan & Loate 2015). On the other hand, local as well as international studies have shown that the use of corporal punishment has led to aggressive and more disruptive behaviour in classrooms, vandalism, decrease in academic achievement, poor attention span, aversion for school, depression and antagonism towards educators (Chauke 2014, Poulsen 2015). 81.7% of respondents suggested that punching, pinching and clubbing on the heads will lead to greater undermining of teacher authority and 51.7% argued that reintroduction of corporal punishment will not improve discipline and learner attitude towards work. This is enhanced by international studies which have linked corporal punishment to increased ill-discipline, aggressive behaviour, vandalism, poor academic achievement and total disrespect for teacher authority (Gershoff & Gregan-Kaylor, 2016). However, this can be minimised by teachers applying appropriate behaviour as indicated by 61% of the respondents who indicated that teachers should not refuse to mark late submission of work and 71.6% who viewed sarcasm in a very negative way. This will certainly help learners to be self-reflective of their own conduct, hence good classroom management can minimise challenging behaviour, pupil negativity, bullying and aggression (Department of Education, 2019; Ellis & Tod, 2018).

The empirical data in the study reported here were cross tabulated, and no significant relationship was found between the abolition of corporal punishment in schools and the undermining of teacher authority. Whereas the theoretical analysis of this study seems to suggest that teacher authority was undermined, the chi-squared test applied to the findings suggests no significant relationship existed between the abolition of physical punishment and teacher authority. One reason for this contradiction could be the presence of a possible (and unforeseen) bias inherent in the sample. This bias may have been present despite all efforts to draw a fully representative sample.

7. Conclusion

The chi-squared test applied to the analysed data emphasise that no real connection existed between the abolition of corporal punishment, poor discipline, undermining of teacher authority and academic achievement. (Table 4). However, the theoretical aspects of the study clearly indicate that teachers were undermined by learners. Despite this, teachers and principals are not too keen on using corporal punishment as a means of restoring good behaviour. On the other hand, it must be noted that a school is an important social institution, where certain basic regulations governing, controlling and directing the conduct of learners is essential. Principals in the North West province of South Africa indicated that, bullying, assault and fighting among learners were the most common types of misconduct in schools. Good discipline therefore is the exercise of educational authority that allows learners and educators to work well and ultimately leads to better academic achievements.

8. Recommendations

In the light of the findings and empirical results, the researchers are of the opinion that teachers consider using both the alternate ways of disciplining learners as well as the traditional use of corporal punishment, albeit minimally. The use of alternative measures by teachers will contribute positively to the understanding of learners. Research has shown that alternative ways of dealing with poor discipline has brought about heartening results. On the other hand, some teachers are punitive, rigid and only believe in applying corporal punishment to discipline the child. The modern educationist is however not impressed by such rigidity where there is order, but very little constructive activity on the part of the student. In view of this, we suggest that educationally justifiable measures be put in place such as giving learners good advice and requesting parents to curtail their allowance. Promoting words instead of harsh punitive measures will certainly be useful in developing the mind-set of the learner.


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The practical implementation of a strategic plan to alleviate management stress levels in schools

Title: The practical implementation of a strategic plan to alleviate management stress levels in schools

First author: Professor Anna-Marie (A.M.F.) Pelser


Research Professor, North-West University, Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences- Entity Director – GIFT, Mafikeng Campus.

Corresponding author: Professor A.M.F. Pelser: HED (Home Economics, PU for CHE), B Com (UNISA), B Com Hons (PU for CHE), M Com (Industrial Psychology, NWU), PhD (Education Management, NWU)

e-mail: or

Co-author: Dr. A.S Pelser (Faan)


Senior lecturer, North-West University, Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences.

BCom (PU for CHE), BCom Hons (PU for CHE), MCom (University of Venda). PhD (Management, NWU)

Ensovoort, volume 41 (2020), number 10: 2


This article focuses on the implementation of a strategic plan to alleviate the stress levels of management in schools. Strategic planning is an organizational management activity that is used to set priorities, focus energy and resources, and strengthen operations. Such planning helps ensure that employees and other stakeholders work toward common goals, agree on intended outcomes and results, and assess and adjust the organization’s direction in response to a changing environment. No school can operate successfully without a proper strategic plan. An empirical study and interviews with seven employees from different ranks in the Department of Basic Education helped assess what the causes of stress in schools are and how such stress can be relieved. The researcher used purposive sampling to collect information about related concepts, including the nature and place of strategies in schools, and elements of strategies and imperatives for implementing a proper strategic plan in the management of schools. The researcher then drafted a basic strategic plan to assist with the management of schools. The end result of such a strategic plan should emphasise the vision, goals, and objectives and provide an action plan for maximising the effectiveness of management in schools. The fact that stress must be managed both proactively and reactively at school level by those in managerial positions such as school principals, is consistently emphasised. An action plan satisfies this need as it provides an effective and properly developed implementable strategic plan for school operations. The end result of this will help lower the stress levels of all teaching staff at schools.

Keywords: Strategy, Strategic planning, Action plan, Management strategy, Strategic thinking, Administrative Strategic Plan, Operational Strategic Plan

1. Introduction

A properly drafted and implemented strategic plan helps prevent stress. Such plans determine school system procedures. All activities will revolve around the strategic plan. Unfortunately, stress plays an integral role in the lives of many teachers. Although a certain amount of manageable stress may lead to better ways in dealing with problems at school, the opposite is also true and distress may lead to a lack of motivation of teachers as well as them exerting less effort. Some teachers even view this phenomenon as unavoidable and unmanageable (Naidoo, Botha, & Bisschoff, 2013). It is seen as being closely linked to environmental and psychological factors with a compelling effect on teacher happiness and health. Their performance is affected (Alexandrache, 2014). Further research has, however, indicated that stress can and must be managed (Van Wyk & Moeng, 2014). School principals and other managerial staff have a key role to play in this regard. They can organise, plan and implement new policies in such a way that teachers are not subjected to unnecessary stress (Van Wyk & Marumoloa, 2012). At the same time, managers must provide instructional guidance and communicate the school’s vision and aims clearly to all teachers. Enough time must be allowed for the implementing of new policies and new policies must also be extremely clear to avoid misunderstandings and ensure compliance. Teachers who participate in policy and procedure development are more likely to take ownership of their roles in implementing such policies and procedures.

An evaluative and integrative literature investigation was conducted to create a strategy for the implementation of stress management in schools. A theoretical framework was created to investigate the idea of strategy formulation in education and the main elements of strategies, including shared vision, strategic participation, staff motivation, capacity development, and shared values. Stress management is essential for a number of reasons, not least of which is the fact that it is related to different theoretical suppositions and work stressors. Stress management can be addressed by discussing interaction as an essential element of stress management and highlighting the integrated nature of stress management strategies. The strategic plan was developed with the aim to implement it practically.

An action plan should be determined and implemented as part of a school’s strategic plan. The strategic plan should include the vision, goals, and objectives of the school and emphasise an action plan for minimising the stress levels of the teaching staff.

2. Strategy formulation in education

The process of strategy formulation in education can be explained from different perspectives (Tseng, 2010; Dell, 1998; Davies, 2010). In the following explanation, an attempt is made to provide a comprehensive depiction based on the work of Nickols (2011). Sub and interdependent sections of strategic thinking are strategic management, strategy formulation, strategic planning and strategic deployment (action planning).

According to Bhalla, Lampel, Henderson and Watkins (2009), strategic management represents the realisation of strategic thinking in practice. It was originally viewed as a hybrid discipline influenced by both sociology and economics. A management strategy is normally formulated within the context of strategic management which takes place when there is strategic thinking (Obembe, 2010). The participation of the parent component in the form of the (SGB), the school management team (SMT), and the learner component (LRC) is a prerequisite for the development of a school’s strategic plan. The School Governing Body is responsible for the management of the school and takes ownership of the resources of the school. They produce the strategic plan to be implemented in the school.

Strategic management can be defined as the management of an organization’s resources to achieve its goals and objectives. Strategic management involves setting objectives, analysing the competitive environment, analysing the internal organization, evaluating strategies, and making sure that the strategies are rolled out across the organization (Anon, 2014). Tseng (2010) paraphrased strategic management as actions directed towards the overall organisation objectives, including multiple stakeholders in decision-making, requiring the incorporation of short and long term perspectives, and involving the recognition of trade-offs between effectiveness and efficiency. Based on this view, strategic management is therefore a broad concept that includes the critical aspects of strategic thinking and policy formulation, as well as strategy formulation and action plan design.

Eacott (2010) emphasised that a strategy is temporal and should always be seen as work in progress that is situated in a particular context. Originally a military concept, strategy is further linked with mechanistic structures of the strategic planning approach (Davies, 2010). It can thus be connected with the notion of conducting business in a planned, organised and systematic way and a problem-solving tool for managers (Eacott, 2010).

Strategic planning usually covers a period of three years (Van der Westhuizen et al., 2010). Strategic planning ordinarily involves long-term changes and affects schools significantly. The aim of strategic planning is to guide activities in a particular direction and create a new direction (Van Niekerk & Van Niekerk, 2006).

In an educational context, the function and uses of a strategy involve building and understanding the major strategic development framework in the school while at the same time creating structures and processes that engage individuals within the school in dialogues and conversations about that strategic direction. (Davies, 2010). Educationists often talk about managing strategically or managing in terms of a strategy.

In schools, a strategy is usually designed in an attempt to determine particular actions to be executed for the achievement of specific objectives. Strategy thus involves an action plan that spells out the behaviours (actions) of different role players in one or more areas of the school (Shapiro, 2010).

3. Elements of strategies

The identification of elements or characteristics of strategies is closely linked to aspects that were already discussed in the previous section on strategy formulation in education. For Van Niekerk and Van Niekerk (2006) the main elements of a strategy are envisioning, value management, communication, training and development, and empowerment. Van der Vyfer (2011) indicated the existence and involvement of aims, action steps, stakeholders and evaluation criteria as elements that should form part of a strategy. Davies (2010) discussed how different individuals in the school should engage with each other to enhance strategic capability. He said that this engagement could be seen to consist of three elements, namely strategic conversation, strategic participation, and strategic motivation (Davies, 2010).

Here we further outline he main elements of a strategy. These include the setting of a Mission and a Vision Statement, a Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) analysis, strategic participation, staff motivation, capacity development, and shared values.

Mission Statements help define an organization’s purpose and primary objectives. These statements explain why a business exists. Mission statements are short, clear, and powerful. The goal of the organisation is clarified by means of a winning idea. The wining idea forms the core goal of the business strategy (Anon, 2012).

After the mission statement has been determined, it is time to formulate the vision statement. The vision statement flows from the mission statement. The vision statement should be distilled into values. What are the core values of the school and how will the school give expression to these values?

For a vision to be shared, there must be a deliberate relationship between the parts and the whole of the entire organisation. A shared vision helps staff members be aware of the expectations of the school. Their individual roles are clearly defined (Wilkening, 2015). The vision of the school must be communicated clearly and frequently and must be put into practice daily.

SWOT Analysis

The SWOT analysis as a management tool that assists management to determine the core goal and the management thereof (Anon, 2012; Berry, 1996). A SWOT analysis is helpful in developing a strong business strategy because it considers all the strengths and weaknesses of the business. The opportunities and threats that the business faces in the marketplace are also considered. Strengths and weaknesses are internal to the company, while opportunities and threats are external.


The drawing up of a strategy starts with a SWOT analysis that assesses a changing environment and looks at ways to respond proactively. First of all, the strengths (S in SWOT analysis) must be determined. The questions asked to determine the strengths of the school include What does the school do well? In other words, in which aspects does the school excel, and what makes the school special? What internal resources are available? How readily are the resources available, and can they be used and reused? How long will these resources last? Does the school have certain advantages over other schools and which advantages does the school have? Which other positive aspects, internal to the school does the school have, that adds value or offers a competitive advantage?

Weaknesses (internal, negative factors)

This is the “W” of the SWOT analysis. Here one looks at the aspects that places a school at a competitive disadvantage. Which areas in the school system need improvement to accomplish the objectives set? In which area or areas are the school lacking? Here lacking refers to a lack of expertise and access to skills or technology. Are schools ready to adapt to the new changes brought about as part of the fourth industrial revolution? The school system and its resources are heavily affected. One negative factor can also be the limited resources of a school. Schools in rural areas suffer due to a lack of resources. The location in which the school is situated can pose a resource-related threat or advantage.


The factors under this heading make for an advantage to a school. Opportunities form the “O” in SWOT analysis. Which attractive factors are present in a school that make the school prosper? What does the school have to offer that puts the school on the map? Are there any opportunities in the market or the environment that the school can benefit from? Does the community view the school in a positive or negative light? An investigation must be done to determine if there was recent labour market growth or other changes in the market that would help create an opportunity.


The factors in this section cause difficulty for the school. These are external factors beyond the control of the school that place the school at risk. Who are the school’s existing or potential competitors? What factors beyond its control could place the school at risk? These factors must be mentioned and the percentage of risk must be assessed. An unfavourable trend or development may lead to deteriorating student numbers. What can be done to combat an unfavourable trend or development? Conditions that threaten marketing efforts must be investigated to determine the influence that such conditions may have an marketing efforts.

Strategic participation relates to the identification of long-term or overall aims and interests and the means of achieving them (Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, 2012). Strategic participation indicates joint consultation with all the stakeholders in decision-making, goal setting, and commitment to collective objectives (Chance, 2010). Strategic participation can also be used to enhance decisions and establish a clear idea of where participants want an organisation to go. It can also help promote commitment to participate and cooperate in team activities (Rowley, Lujan & Dolence, 1997).

Staff Motivation can be paraphrased as an encouragement, energy or an inspiration that drives an individual or staff member to respond or act. It is also viewed as the psychological feature that arouses an organism to action; as well as the reason for the action. Therefore, motivation has a bearing on the psychological processes that persuade, urge, convince, or stimulate individuals to act the way they do (Anon., 2015). According to Schunk, Pintrich and Meece (2014), motivation causes goal-directed activity to result in improved performance.

Capacity development is the process by which individuals, organisations and societies obtain, strengthen and maintain the capabilities to set and achieve development objectives. Capacity development can be viewed from three perspectives (Schuller 2015). Firstly, it can be viewed from an individual perspective, which assumes that skills and knowledge is vested in individuals. Secondly, capacity development can be viewed from an organisational perspective. Internal policies, systems and strategies enable an organisation to operate and achieve its goals. Thirdly and lastly, it can be seen as an enabling environment, which considers the wider society within which individuals and organisations function (Schuller 2015).

4. Imperatives of stress management in education

Relatedness with work stressors

Some teachers suffer from physical and mental health conditions that affect their capacity to perform their daily tasks optimally (Lussier, 2008). The term stress management is thus sometimes used in relation to the ways in which individual teachers are supposed to cope or handle these personal stressors. This article, however, emphasises work-related stressors or so-called organisational stressors as imperatives or key elements of the phenomenon of stress management.

Stress management is mainly seen as a way of assisting teachers who experience change at work that often involves the introduction of new teaching or assessment methods (Kreitner & Kinicki, 2007). Ngidi and Sibaya (2002:27) also identified a range of issues faced by South African teachers on a daily basis, including time pressures, poor working conditions, educational changes, administrative problems, and pupil misbehaviour.

Interaction as essential element

The management of stress in schools is based on the notion that body and mind interact with stressful stimuli in the environment and that there are consequences to such interactions (Martin, Cheung, Knowles, Kyrios, Littlefield, Overmier & Prieto, 2011). A stressed teacher should enter into a negotiated relationship with someone like a principal, who can help reframe his or her perception of the stressful situation. By communicating and clarifying the nature of stressors in this way, a teacher who suffers from stress and a school principal can investigate the significance of possible remedies for stressors. Good communication between teachers and their superiors may therefore be an important element in the stress management process.

Integrated nature

Stress management interventions can be loose-standing activities or be integrated into a training course or programme on motivation, communication, time management, conflict resolution, and shared decision-making (Steyn & Van Niekerk, 2012). The integrated nature of stress management is also evident from the fact that it manifests as both proactive and reactive. Specific proactive steps can be taken by introducing programmes aimed at stress prevention. Such programmes may include team teaching, regular feedback, workload division, and just being aware of stress indicators such as teacher absenteeism, missed deadlines, and careless mistakes (Naidoo, 2012). Reactive stress involves corrective measures or the application of traditional management actions, such as good leadership in places or situations where stress levels are very high.


Research approach

This study utilised a qualitative research method to collect data from participants that were involved or should have been involved in the strategic plan or planning of the school. Structured in-depth interviews schedules were utilised.


Seven participants were purposively selected from the Department of Basic Education. Some of these participants were still employed at schools, while some where employed at the district office. Some of them had already retired due to stress. A total of 26 schools from the Mahikeng area were visited and quantitative data were successfully collected from 354 participants. From these quantitative data, a total of seven participants were purposively selected. All these participants had experience of the operational methods used in schools. All the participants also dealt with stress in their own way and could contribute to an action plan for managing stress in schools. These participants were aware of burning issues that required attention to be able to draft a successful strategic plan for a school.

Ethical considerations

All ethical considerations from the North West University and the Department of Basic Education were adhered to. Participation was voluntary and informed consent was given prior to each interview. Participants also signed a consent form and anonymity and confidentiality were upheld. Participants were informed that they could withdraw at any point without any consequences. Participation was voluntary. Information was kept confidential and saved in coded files.

Data collection

Data were collected by means of an unstructured interview schedule. Each individual interview schedule consisted of eight open-ended questions and each interview took approximately three quarters of an hour. Further in-depth questions were asked if necessary. The interview continued until the researcher felt that there were enough data and the researcher was satisfied that the necessary answers were given. The interviews were audio-recorded using a digital recorder, and coded and stored for later use.

Data analysis

Saved data was transcribed verbatim by the interviewer. A basic coding frame was set up by the researcher and data were analysed according to the coding frame. Common descriptive themes were identified. Data were analysed using thematic analysis. Coding was done and themes were created. These themes were used as the basis for the subsequent analysis. The themes were categorised. Care was taken not to generalise results. The participants’ body language during the interview was also considered.

5. Findings

Action plan for the implementation of stress management strategies in schools

An action plan consists of a number of stages or activities that must be performed well for a strategy to thrive. The three major elements of such a plan are specific tasks — what will be done and by whom, time horizon — when will it be done, and resource allocation — what specific funds are available for specific activities. (Anon., 2015). Cummings (2014) discussed an action plan as a tool to create an effective school and among other things, mentioned aspects such as high expectations for staff and learners, a safe and orderly climate, frequent assessments, parental involvement, focused sustained professional development, and the embracing of excellence.

According to Sage (2015:2), strategic objectives is one of the fundamental building blocks of a strategic plan. These should be long-term and aligned with the organisation’s mission and vision. An organisation prioritises objectives through a thorough analysis of work-related practices such as a SWOT analysis.

The researcher proposes an action plan based on the research which is discussed below. As mentioned in the introduction of this article, the strategic planning of the school should always include an action plan that will help minimise the stress levels of the teachers. This should be done at the end of every year, for a three-year period starting the following year.

Figure 2: A proposed strategic or action plan

As the diagram above shows, the researcher proposed that the strategic plan should be sub-divided into an operational strategic plan and an administrative strategic plan.

  • Operational strategic plan

The operational plan consists of a needs assessment for operating efficiently and effectively helping teachers alleviate their stress levels.

  • Administrative strategic plan

This is a supportive function to the operational strategic plan and therefore the link between the administrative and operational functions. The operational strategic plan cannot be efficient without a proper functional administrative strategic plan. The principal is the accounting officer responsible for the implementation of the administrative strategic plans.

Operational strategic plan
  • Vision of operational plan

The main vision of an operational plan is to deliver quality education.

  • Mission of operational plan

The mission of an operational plan is to develop a well-operated school with structures in place, such as a strategic plan where every role player knows what is expected of them. Trained teachers are to deliver quality teaching and learning. Learners must be prepared well for tertiary education and equipped for the labour market. The stress of teaching staff must be alleviated. Teachers with lower stress levels tend to be more at ease in adapting to changes.

Operational strategic plan — SWOT analysis
  • Strengths

The feedback received from respondents during THE interviews revealed the following strengths: Respondent A noted: “Some principals show good leadership and try to manage problems at school. These principals are open and allow teachers to discuss their problems with principals. This makes teachers feel that they are not alone in this situation and that the principal is not just a manager, but a good leader that assists his teachers. Some principals follow an open-door policy which makes them more approachable”. This correlates with Van Niekerk and Van Niekerk (2006) who stated that the key elements of a plan are visioning, value management, communication, training and growth, and empowerment. Teachers want to be empowered, and they want to be included in decision-making. They want their voice to be heard.

Regular communication also helps meet this need of teachers. Respondent E replied: “Teachers make use of the existence of a buddy system whereby teachers assist one another with problems, as this alleviates the burden of stress on teachers. Teachers share ideas in alleviating one another’s stress and speak out on existing problems and how every person handles his or her stress problems. Kreitner and Kinicki (2007) mention that stress management is seen primarily as a way of helping teachers who encounter change at work by incorporating new methods of teaching or evaluation. Some of the teachers alleviate stress by getting involved in exercises, while others write problems down in a book and address these situations one by one. Respondent A mentioned that she has started smoking, and feels that doing so will help alleviate her stress. Respondent B mentioned that some Departmental Heads are very efficient and effective. They render exceptional support to their teachers and call regular meetings to get solutions to problems. They also brainstorm to solve problems. Naidoo (2012) emphasised that re-active stress relates to corrective steps or the execution of conventional management activities such as offering effective leadership when stress rates are very high. Naidoo said that management actions can help alleviate teacher stress.

  • Weaknesses

The feedback received from respondents during interviews revealed the following weaknesses. Respondent C said that “overcrowded classrooms inhibit a teacher’s movements as there is no space for the teacher to move and reach learners at the back of the classroom”. This respondent further states that “by not being able to go to the learners at the back of the class the teacher does not know if learners are busy with the work presented in class or another teacher’s homework, copying of another’s work takes place and learners are engaged with other work than the work presented. The teacher also does not know which learner is a slow learner as the teacher cannot see everybody’s progress in class”. Van Wyk (2008:143) also believes that overcrowded classrooms are a contributing factor to poor learning conditions due to the lack of space, fresh air and high levels of noise, all of which may lead to a lack of attention and even stress among learners.

Respondent B mentioned that teachers render good inputs but receive no outputs from learners and this causes stress for teachers. This respondent was also worried about too many young teachers in the system. These teachers are not willing to learn something or follow the example of the more knowledgeable teachers in the system. The many vacant posts at the school and the time it takes to fill a position increases teacher workload. Taylor (2020) states that the South African education system is significantly underperforming given the money invested in education. Different forms of accountability within the school system may help to raise learning rates and narrow the enormous learning gap between middle-class children and poor families. For Respondent G the most stressing matter was the weak leadership of the principal and school management team.

Respondent B said the following: “Bullying principals and school management team members make it difficult to work in such a school environment. Teachers should empower themselves, and become knowledgeable on subject information as teachers are not teaching subjects which they majored in”. Respondent G states: “of all absentees, the principals are of the most staff members absent, and they have ample time to be involved with their own business”. Masuko (2018) mentioned that the South African Union of Educators (EUSA) were overwhelmed by allegations against “abusive” school administrators, and that they were investigating cases of teachers who had resigned from their jobs due to bullying or were suspended for minor offenses or were considering leaving the profession. Masuko (2018) further mentioned that such bullying was a cause of stress for educators.

Respondent F states the following: “In general teachers are lazy, they can’t set exam papers and have no work ethics”. She also mentioned the fact that there is no induction programme and said that there is huge corruption with the selling of positions. She feels that teachers are not well trained, and that education colleges should be brought back. There is also no acknowledgement of teacher achievements and the learner-discipline problems are just escalating. In her view no special provision was made in mathematics for learners taking technical subjects and there is a lack of support from the Department of Education and the School Governing Body. Mazambane (2015) concurs with respondent F and says that teachers are too lazy to do extra work. They want to take the easy way out. They refuse to go the extra mile. He gave the example of a decision being taken by government that Mandarin must be offered and then the teachers refused to be trained. They considered it too much work and extra work.

Corruption surrounding textbooks and excessive administration paperwork caused stress for both teachers as well as departmental heads. Nepotism where only friends and family were appointed in important managerial positions caused stress. Respondent D further mentioned that you cannot run a school without a proper strategic plan in place. African News Agency (ANA) (2016) reported that in 2015 the Corruption Watch site had ample reports on corruption in schools. According to ANA (2016), “The bulk of these reports finger principals as the main culprits involved in corruption activities. This is a consistent trend across all schools, including Section 20 and private schools, with the majority of reports emanating from Section 21 schools.” ANA (2016) further stated that “At least 259 of the cases implicated principals in financial mismanagement, 152 in theft of school funds, 78 in tender corruption, 36 in employment corruption and 19 cases for theft of goods, including theft of food provided as part of the government feeding schemes”. It is difficult for schools to survive when principals are involved in corruption.

  • Opportunities

The respondents did not mention any opportunities in the interviews. They were all extremely stressed and felt that they are at a dead end. They did not feel like anything could be done to change the system.

  • Threats

The respondents mentioned a number of threats. The respondents all reflected on the excessive number of teachers that resigned. They felt that the Department of Basic Education should look into this problem and find out why teachers resign.

Administrative strategic plan
  • Vision of administrative strategic plan

Enough resources available to support the operational plan.

  • Mission of administrative strategic plan

To determine the necessary resources to support the operational plan, ensure proper budgeting and appropriate management of the budget, including ensuring sufficient venues, teaching aids, well-trained support staff, accountancy programs, and equipment.

Administrative strategic plan — SWOT analysis
  • Strengths

The respondents mentioned strengths. Only 12% of the schools had efficient budgeting control.

  • Weaknesses

Respondents felt that administration staff are not well-trained to perform accountancy duties and some of the administration staff do not have a job description. They also never received any training. Most of the schools do not have enough support staff. Several schools have no accounting system and the few that do have one, have one that is inefficient. There is little or no control over income and expenditure.

Other weaknesses mentioned included corruption, not enough and very unhygienic bathrooms, the absence of a recreation or staff room, and insufficient sport facilities. A a lack of furniture, equipment for teaching and learning, and textbooks were also mentioned, as were wrong textbooks bought.

Most of the respondents complained about a lack of work ethics among support staff and no leadership over support staff.

  • Opportunities

The respondents did not mention any opportunities in the interviews.

  • Threats

The respondents mentioned the threat of no administrative function support system and a failing operational strategic plan.

Action plan by the researcher

The researcher is using the information acquired from the participants to draft a basic action and strategic plan for the operation of a school.

  • Action plan or operational strategic plan for the effective operation of a school

All the role players in a school should be involved in setting a strategic plan that determines the vision and mission.

  • Strengths

All the weaknesses mentioned at schools should be converted to strengthening activities in the strategic plan. They should be addressed for a well-functioning school to alleviate the stress levels of teachers. To fulfil this mission, special attention should be placed on certain aspects of the strategic plan and the execution thereof. This function is delegated to the accounting officer. The following aspects in the action plan need to be addressed to ensure quality teaching and the alleviation of teacher stress levels:

    • Management of overcrowded classrooms.
    • Addressing vacant posts.
    • Capacity building should help develop effective and efficient leadership of the principal and the school management team.
    •  Motivation models for teachers to do further studies and empower themselves.     Teachers can re-enroll at university.
    • Capacity building for teachers to become more knowledgeable on subjects. Attending extra courses.
    • Ensuring that teachers are teaching subjects that they majored in.    
    • Assisting departmental heads at the schools to assist teachers in producing good quality exam papers.
    • Proper induction program for new teachers to the school.
    • Work ethics always be intact and implemented.
    • Programmes to acknowledge teacher achievements.
    • Addressing learner-discipline problems in schools.
    • The principal appointing one responsible person to liaise with the Department of Education and vice versa.
    • Strong relationship with local community and the School Governing Body.
    • An approved strategic plan in place before the commencement of the new year.
    • New methodologies, training educators and helping them discover innovative strategies for improving the educational process.
    • Awakening curiosity and new discoveries and stimulating new experiences through digital culture, building new skills and contributing to the development of children and adolescents.
  •  Weaknesses

It is important for the principal of the school (accounting officer) to recognise the weaknesses that are still found in the school and accordingly manage the weaknesses pro-actively, as well as to alleviate teacher stress. Weaknesses should be mentioned in the strategic plan.

  • Opportunities
    • Assistance from SGB to manage school effectively and efficiently and support the school principal accounting officer.
    • Allowing the school to request sponsorships and donations from external         organisations, for the supplementation of resources for high quality teaching and learning.
    • Allowing for training of management.
    • e-Learning tools that facilitate opportunities for remote, self-paced learning.
  • Threats
    • Being aware of the potential competitors.

Action plan or strategic plan for the administration of a school

All the role players in a school should be involved in setting a strategic plan for determining the vision and mission.

  • Strengths

To fulfil this mission, special attention is placed on certain aspects in the strategic plan and the execution thereof, and this function is delegated to the accounting officer. The following aspects in the action plan need to be addressed to ensure the delivery of quality teaching and alleviate the stress teachers:

    • Accounting system in place to manage the budget and creation of financial statements.
    • Proper cash management.
    • External audits at the end of every year.
    • A policy for the recovery of outstanding school fees.
    • Catering for the employment of support staff.
    • Policies for learner and staff-transport facilities.
    • A policy for technological advancement.
    • All teaching and learning equipment provided.
    • A policy for culture, academic and sport requirements.
  • Weaknesses
    • It is important for the accounting officer to recognise the weaknesses that are still present in the school and be able to manage them accordingly to alleviate the stress of teachers. Weaknesses are mentioned in the strategic plan.
  • Opportunities
    • Assistance from the SGB to manage the school effectively and efficiently and support the accounting officer.
    •  A policy for training and capacity building of administrative support staff through external organisations.
    • Allowing the school to request sponsorships and donations from external     organisations, for the supplementation of resources for high-quality teaching and learning.
  • Threats
    • Knowing the potential competitors.

6. Closing remarks

The action plan should be managed, and threats should be investigated and managed as well as mentioned in the strategic plan.

The researcher hopes that the action plan proposed above will assist the accounting officer in managing the schools effectively and minimising the stress levels of teachers. Each role player will know what is expected of them, and this will lead to effective management and accomplishing the vision and mission of a school.

Plans can help make the school successful, but the most important aspect of all in this whole programme is ethics. Good ethics in the schools and teachers can set the school on a trajectory to become a successful educational institution.


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From Covid-19 to 4IR: Exploring the influence of Emotional and Cultural intelligence on modern organisational structures and leadership  

Title: From Covid-19 to 4IR: Exploring the influence of Emotional and Cultural intelligence on modern organisational structures and leadership

Author: Dr Eben Haeser Swanepoel

Orcid Id: 0000-0003-3205-5244

Postdoctoral Researcher, North-West University, Economic and Management Sciences, GIFT.

PhD: Psychology of Education (UFS), M.Ed Psychology of Education (UFS), Hons Psychology (UNISA), B.Ed FET (UFS)

Ensovoort, volume 41 (2020), number 10: 1


Covid-19 has redefined the traditional workplace, unifying the place and space aspects of workforce systems as working from home becomes central to sustain industry and service delivery. With rapid digitization, social, physical, and digital realms are becoming increasingly obscured. Management needs exceptional emotional and cultural intelligence skills to align practices and sustain workspace well-being and employee motivation. But how has Covid-19 set in motion the need to adjust to new ways of collaborative practice and employee motivation within times of uncertainty, especially as this opportunity serves as a platform to articulate leadership strategies aligned with the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This article forms a desktop review which conceptualises the need for modern management practices to employ Emotional and Cultural intelligence strategies as a basis for preparing for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. It is furthermore recommended that leader-employer emotional and cultural skillsets be improved to enhance individual and group autonomy during disruptive periods that necessitate change.

Keywords: Emotional Intelligence, Cultural Intelligence, Management, Covid-19, Fourth Industrial Revolution

1. Introduction

The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) has situated South Africa’s world of work within a changing workplace environment characterised by disrupting technological advances such as robotics, Artificial Intelligence, and the Internet of Things (Butler-Adam, 2018; Kayembe & Nel, 2019). The Fourth Industrial Revolution is data and information-centric, and while the Third Industrial Revolution brought on the rapid digitization of content and increased connectivity, 4IR places global information and connected data systems at the centre of effective governance and production (Philbeck & Davis, 2018). Organisational success is no longer solely dependent on knowledge which is unyielding to change, but instead depends on dynamic skills that are necessary for adapting to, and prepare for, jobs which do not yet exist (Butler-Adam, 2018; Hattingh, 2018). Leaders are faced with the challenge of transforming organisations to align with external, global connectedness and competitiveness trends. They also need to guide employees through the uncertain world of reskilling, adjusting and adapting within their specific profiles so that they can remain relevant in future human-machine oriented workspaces (Oosthuizen & Mayer, 2019).

Covid-19 has resulted in major disruptions, calling for the restructuring of many organisations. Human-machine collaboration and the uses of AI for steering organisational integrity (Hillister, 2020) is also becoming increasingly important. The Fourth Industrial Revolution and a collective evolution of democracy 2.0 is critically dependent on principles of cooperation and collaboration. The new paradigm involves an outright rejection of traditional administrative notions of control held through top-down approaches (Tsekeris, 2019). Modern AI and digital technologies promote potentially rigid managerial control and technological systems which survey employee movement and interactions within the workplace (Mehta, 2018). Mpofu and Nicolaides (2019) reflect on the pressures on modes of governance facing the Fourth Industrial Revolution. They call on managers to reflect on employee relations and social justice as a cornerstone of realigning organisational culture with international trends. Personal values are central to how technology and systems are approached and implemented (Schwab & Davis, 2018). Modern leaders need to be conscious of how their personal values influence the process of implementing systems and technology within organisations as well as how they influence the overall morale and harmony within the broader organisational structure. Systems and information-sharing are symbiotic with human governance which are not value-neutral (Philbeck & Davis, 2018). Managers need to continuously reflect on their own potentially biased perspectives and values, which can deter organisational harmony when not approached with a mindful reflection of the broader employee system underlying the organisational structure. As such, the importance of role distinction and employee-employer relations should be carefully examined during times of rapid organisational change and globalisation. An ethical transitioning toward the shared vision of all stakeholders depends on it (Mpofu & Nicolaides, 2019).

South African systems are increasingly being pressured to adapt to globalised ideals while simultaneously adhering to national restrictions and equity boundaries (Oosthuizen & Mayer, 2019). With the prospect of many occupational profiles disappearing due to automation, and the uncertainty associated with many occupations becoming irrelevant (Eberhart et al, 2017), human resources and managers need a heightened awareness of employee-uncertainty to steer organisations successfully through disruptive changes. Furthermore, due to ongoing disruptions and organisational adaption through digital transformation, the role of management to steer both self- and employee motivation is becoming a cornerstone for attaining organisational vision and equilibrium (Govender, 2019). In 2020, the spread of Covid-19 saw a major disruption in workplaces, necessitating digitization and new systems for continued production and service delivery. It also highlighted the growing popularity of human-machine collaboration for curbing the spread of the virus. It shows the importance of human input during the creative use of digital systems and information sharing (Hollister, 2020). Covid-19 has forced South African organisations to not only adapt to systems, but also evaluate and reflect on the values that underlie leadership practices for the future world of work. As such, leaders need to show a heightened knowledge and sensitivity to the management of abrupt systemic changes for feedback and helping to maintain employee morale and motivation.

AI and smart systems can help curb the spread of Covid-19 and increase business output (Madzoe, 2020). But how the implementation of machine-systems influence human ethics and the social-justice aspect of harmonising human-machine collaboration at all levels of organisational structure, is not that clear. These disruptions require strong human-centric values and skillsets for human resources. Smart systems require leadership and employee well-being and resilience to help maintain the systemic integrity of the business throughout adapting periods. This paper explores emotional and cultural intelligence as critical skillsets for enabling organisations to adapt to rapid transformational periods whilst retaining systemic integrity and overall organisational harmony. This discussion is further informed by the role of ethics within organisational culture as a strong mediator of success and retaining systemic integrity during times of external pressure. The desktop review culminates in a model depicting how behaviour during rapid change on the part of both leaders and employees should be informed through skillsets associated with emotional and cultural intelligence to enhance overall organisational resilience and collective autonomy. 

2. Cybernetics: Steering sustainable governance during rapid change

The term ‘Kybernetes’ derives from the Greek word ‘steersman’ (Heylighen & Joslyn, 2001). This theory underlies the investigation of autonomous systems which proves valuable in this report for investigating how systems are constructed through the patterns and rules which underlie systemic boundaries (Becvar & Becvar, 2012). While Cybernetics found primary application through robotic and smart systems, wider use thereof has been documented as useful for exploring systemic social systems structures (Becvar & Becvar, 2012; Umpleby, Medvedeva, Lepskiy, 2019).

Banathy and Jenlink (2003) refer to the self-regulatory properties of systems through cybernetic theory and how stagnation or adaption of systems are influenced by the need to attain an ideal state of homeostasis and order at a structural level. First Order Cybernetic theory is concerned with the what counterpart and construct of the system (Becvar & Becvar, 2012). Steering research concerned with the rules and patterns of interaction between components of a system which inform the overall system’s structure (Swanepoel & Beyers, 2019), cybernetics provides a glimpse of the inner gears of a system which sustains the overall functionality thereof and differentiates it from other systems. Cybernetic theory refers to feedback (Becvar & Becvar, 2012) noise which is continuously at play and can necessitate structural change. Leaders who accommodate too much or too little feedback into, or from, the system, may be ineffective in adapting organisational structure to accommodate external feedback processes. However, the overall organisational structure and boundary encompasses the collective workforce culture and input, which situates cybernetics as a valuable theoretical foundation for exploring the structural composition of modern organisations and their differentiating factors compared to other similar systems.

Exploring boundaries and patterns of interaction within organisational systems becomes key to understanding how external pressures influence systemic integrity. Technological advancement and workforce automation are seeing new patterns emerge that define organisational systems. With changes brought on in the physical, social, and digital realms, organisations are continuously challenged to adapt to changing customer needs and trends (Bolton et al, 2018). With the physical realm obscured by the digital realm, especially during times when remote working is necessary, it becomes increasingly important to explore the social realm as a key contributor for mediating between the boundaries. There is continuous pressure on organisational systems to retain their structure or adapt. How organisational boundaries are constructed at various levels of automation and interaction is becoming an increasingly important topic to explore. The inner autonomy of organisational systems manifests in the digital or physical realm that connects with the public and other autonomous systems.

3. Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence as a construct is conceptualised in literature as a personality- or ability-based trait or competency, but up to the present still lacks a unified definition (Carmeli, 2003). A widely acceptable definition therefore is found through the work of Goleman (1995: 318), who defined emotional intelligence as “self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills.” Drawing on Salovey and Mayer (1990), emotional intelligence can be viewed as a set of cognitive abilities associated with effectively identifying, reasoning with, and subsequently acting upon, different emotions. Literature, in turn, shows that emotional intelligence is a critical and foundational aspect of modern leadership theory, and employee well-being and motivation. Literature further points to leadership and motivation as an activator for heightened emotional intelligence among employees, emphasising the reciprocal relationship among the two constructs (Swanepoel & Jonck, 2015).

Emotional intelligence informs skillsets associated with, and necessary for, leaders to assess and promote the relevant skill and knowledge development of employees towards the collective benefits associated with future organisational success (Calabrese, Hess & Bacigalupo, 2010). Effective leaders have the ability to perceive, comprehend and manage the emotions of others. Leaders who exhibit high EI proactively steer information and behaviour which enhances social relations and goal-directed behaviour among employees (Oosthuizen, 2016). Emotional intelligence, in turn, acts as a personal resource for employees which positively influences work engagement and coping abilities during high job demands and periods of increased systemic pressure and feedback processes necessitating change (Barreiro and Treglown, 2020; Shaik et al., 2020). Overall teamwork processes are enhanced through effective leadership, as  they promote alignment with complex goals as well as an overall improvement in decision-making and problem-solving (Clarke, 2009). Thus, while emotional intelligence holds significant individual value for employee morale and motivation, its effect on the motivation of team members is a synergetic process promoting overall group performance and output for the good of the collective goal (Boyatzis, Koman & Wolff, 2008; Guhman, 2011).

High emotional-intelligence competencies improve employee morale and the ability to adapt to, and accept, organisational change (Aslam, Muqadas, Imran, Saboor, 2018). Furthermore, employee engagement refers to the ability of employees to regulate the self and behaviour to promote organisational outcomes. Literature points to leadership activity as central to employee engagement and motivation to act autonomously. These behaviours are activated through leadership behaviour, with inspirational forward-thinking leadership shown to strengthen agency among employees to act with heightened resilience (Govender, 2019). Furthermore, high emotional intelligence shows a positive association with trust and integrity, which nurtures behavioural patterns and promotes the overall system’s ethical behavioural output (Fu, 2013).

As employee self-motivation to engage and act autonomously within the organisation structure is influenced through trust relationships both among peers and leaders (Human & Naudé, 2010), the use of smart systems and AI in workspaces necessitates collective input to sustain overall employee morale and workplace well-being. Leaders are continuously challenged to exhibit skillsets that involve mindfully sharing information to inspire employees, while also being challenged to re-evaluate the self and self-knowledge to successfully steer the organisation through the effects of internal and external sources of disruption. Given the many fears surrounding the use of AI in monitoring employees and the associated intrusions into information privacy, organisational leaders can use the Covid-19 situation as a way to get positive feedback about current systems and ethics in preparation for future pressures and maintaining employee motivation and morale in uncertain times.

4. Cultural Intelligence

Heightened cultural knowledge and sensitive judgment skillsets are required for leaders to steer organisational success during times of adaption. According to Thomas (2006) cultural intelligence is constructed through knowledge, mindfulness and behaviour, which promote effective behaviour when communicating across cultural fissures. Extending on the work of Thomas et al. (2008) Alon, Boulanger, Meyers and Taras (2015: 79) further state it is “a system of interacting knowledge and skills, linked by cultural meta-cognition, which allows people to adapt to, select, and shape the cultural aspects of their environment”. Cultural intelligence is the ability to optimise interaction within ambiguous and culturally diverse environments through drawing on social and cognitive resources to promote successful behaviour (Alon et al., 2016). In turn, this necessitates strong cultural knowledge and mindfulness on the part of leaders so that they can optimally navigate modern organisations. Cultural awareness and effective group-based knowledge subsume modern leadership theory and is key to adapting to challenges arising from impediments due to cultural diversity at both an inter- and intra-organisational level. An important component of cultural intelligence, judgment suspension, relies on leaders carefully evaluating incoming feedback, only acting once enough information is available (Triandis, 2006). Cultural intelligence acts as a buffer during times of uncertainty which requires a level of tolerance when it comes to confusion and skillsets for maintaining human-centric behaviour (Brislin, Worthley, & MacNab, 2006; Swanepoel & Jonck, 2015).

Fundamental to effective leadership is the process of instilling social influence. Employees are motivated to act with more positive emotions underlying behavioural input-output (Govender, 2019; Liu & Lui, 2013). Drawing on cultural intelligence, knowledge precedes mindfully disseminating information and collective-oriented behaviour. Modern successful leadership involves skillsets that promote employee motivation when it comes to acting with stronger levels of morality, self-agency, and motivation (Lam & O’Higgins, 2012). This requires human-centric knowledge and values which underly mindfully evaluating how the self and emotions are influencing, and are perceived by, employees during behavioural output.

Growing literature surrounding the importance of cultural knowledge and emotional skillsets points to the success of modern leadership and its being positively associated with employee motivation, overall group performance and followership behaviour (Boyatzis, Koman & Wolff, 2008; Jordan & Troth, 2011). Harnessing cross-cultural competencies becomes key to adapting to technological advances and changes brought on by new systems regulating communication through globalization (Alon et al., 2016). With an inherent cultural plurality being characteristic of modern organisational structures, systems of workplaces are often also geographically widely distributed across space and place, encompassing a highly multicultural and often multinational structure (Shaik, Makhecha and Gouda, 2020). Cultural intelligence shows a strong association with successful leadership during the rapid organisational change, due to globalization and connectedness through the Internet of Things. Leaders are challenged to establish sustainable intra-organisational harmony whilst simultaneously navigating inter-organisational relations. The responsibility to steer traditional employee mindsets to realign with changing organisational culture rests on leadership behaviour (Kunaka, 2019), reflecting the fundamental link of the leader at an internal and external level for retaining systemic negentropy (the ideal harmonic state of the overall system) during both internal and external feedback that may challenge systemic integrity. 

5. The role of Ethics during systemic adaption

A strong reference to the culture of ethics underlies leadership theory and its role in steering organisational sustainability during changes brought on by globalization and the Fourth industrial Revolution. Leaders motivate employees both in terms of morale as well as adaption and agency (Lam & O’Higgins, 2012). Successfully regulating emotions modelling delayed gratification and self-control have been shown to foster trust amongst employees. Trust, in turn, promotes stronger long-term relationship building and engagement among staff (Human & Naudé, 2010). Trust of the leader reflects the reciprocal feedback process of trust itself as a pattern throughout the organisational system. Leaders trust employees to act autonomously according to the envisioned value blueprint and organisational vision, while employees trust in the leader’s best judgment and practise. The collective motivation toward ethical behaviour represents an organisational boundary which differentiates organisations, especially on a digital platform, and acts as initial filter for incoming information and the elicited behaviour, enhancing organisational resilience.

The knowledge component of cultural intelligence encompasses knowledge associated with group ethics, norms, and economic and social group structures (Sharma & Singh, 2017). Through mindful reflection of the aforementioned, leaders motivate behaviour through output, which automates and inspires employees to behave accordingly. The collective organisational culture of ethics, mediated through high EI and CQ patterns, establishes organisational boundaries of autonomous systems. With the increasing digitization of organisational structures, the social component, both internally and externally, represent how organisations will be differentiated digitally, especially given the wealth of competing online platforms that emerge during globalization.

AI itself and smart systems bring about various new discussions on trust and organisational ethics. Covid-19 has seen the deployment of AI systems to survey virus spread and future trajectories (Greenman, 2020). However, there is a culture of public distrust of smart systems which need to be considered when systems are adopted. Successfully adapting to changes in organisational boundaries is dependent on employee motivation and skillsets, as well perceptions about such change. The need to transition fairly and sensitively becomes a challenge for many organisations, especially as AI is still undergoing rigorous testing and research for full scale sustainability (Madzu, 2020). The principles of fairness and trust within the organisational culture will drive the values and inherent ethics of the overall system. Leaders need to exhibit heightened technological knowledge and cultural knowledge which mediates behaviour toward the good of the collective. The second dimension of leadership involves forward thinking and vision and steers knowledge to enter the system which promotes employee knowledge and continuous autonomy.

6. Retaining systemic integrity and subsystems autonomy during disruptions and change

Technological advancement and automation have resulted in the advent of robotics and smart systems which radically transform organisation-customer relations. Today, in order to successfully adapt to ongoing disruptions, organisational management must offer a tailor-made customer experience that encompasses the digital, physical, and social realms (Bolton et al., 2016). Sufficient knowledge and skillsets in the social realm mediate challenges that arise in the physical and digital realm, and act as a key differentiator for enhancing customer relations. Organisational culture emphasising skillsets associated with emotional and cultural intelligence promote the human-centric nature of human-machine collaboration. Accordingly, leaders who promote employees’ personal wellbeing reflect values that nurture human interaction as central to customer satisfaction, as distinct from purely digital systems which are automated or based on Artificial Intelligence based customer service.

Globalisation calls for new managers that are strong in strong cultural diversity skillsets subsuming a keen awareness of the complexity that culture plays in sustaining systemic harmony (Jyoti & Kour, 2013). Further external system pressure challenges leaders to adapt to the dynamic and evolving nature of technological advancement in ways that call for heightened self-awareness, openness, resilience, and collaboration (Roux and Härtel, 2018). Digital teams are transforming modern practise in many organisations, and requiring leaders to re-negotiate how the social component of workplace well-being is sustained during times when face-to-face communication becomes challenging (Mysirlaki and Paraskeva, 2012). Leaders that adapt to digital innovations and advances show transformative vision and forward reflection. Such leaders model adaptive behaviour during the process of digitization and organisational change (Kunaka, 2019). The adaptability of leaders during organisational change largely subsumes how employees are influenced and motivated. Literature shows the importance of inspiring and exhibiting behaviour that reflects organisational vision as important qualities for modern leaders to possess (Govender, 2019).

How successfully leadership navigates disruptions in the physical and digital space is strongly mediated through the social realm and the maintenance of synergetic relations among stakeholders. The emotional and cultural harmony of an organisation not only helps the organisational system distinguish itself from other systems but also helps it align better and reach organisational goals as a collective during disruptions and change. Specifically, the shared domain of motivation is shown to be a core theoretical link which indicates leadership motivation and positively influences employee self-agency and self-motivated behaviour (Govender, 2019; Lam & O’Higgins, 2012). A group culture is formed through effective input-output patterns of communication informed by knowledge and values of group norms, values, and knowledge. A synergetic flow is stimulated within the organisational structure which becomes an organisational norm that guides collective behaviour (Ghuman, 2011).

Figure 1: Systemic depiction of an autonomous organisational culture with the Fourth Industrial Revolution

The above figure depicts the autonomous system and subsystems comprised of organisational structure and culture through C (Cultural intelligence) and E (Emotional intelligence). The overall system moves and is mirrored through the internal sub-system dynamics. Leaders primarily reflect organisational culture, and steer employees through input that, in turn, promotes self-motivation to exhibit appropriate behavioural output. As such, employees need to be motivated to act according to their respective sub-systemic boundaries of knowledge and resources of available skillsets. Leaders are the primary input for employees to be equipped with both skillsets and knowledge for adapting to future disruptions.

Short-term disruptions are managed by internal employee and group communication systems (for example when an employee becomes ill, or an interim manager is appointed). This process subsumes high emotional intelligence skillsets which demarcates autonomy within the boundaries of the overall organisational goals, values, and ethics. Certain pressures, however, necessitate long-term change which requires the whole organisational boundary to adapt, in turn rippling through to individual and group subsystems. In turn, should organisations choose not to act on incoming feedback to change, a strong boundary of sustainable goals, values and ethics will be needed to steer organisations through periods of change. This is found, for example, through employees globally being obligated to work from home during the Covid-19 crisis. Implementing digital systems as integrated organisational culture requires skilful navigation on the part of leaders which is informed through heightened employee skillset knowledge. Exhibiting heightened cultural intelligence, the leader becomes the primary buffer for effectively steering information through the system.

Cultural intelligence informs the closed boundaries of the system through reflecting both leader and employee behaviour, ethics, and norms. Specifically, rules are set forth through ethics and various regulations that stipulate norms for group and individual behaviour. The closed outer boundary is reflected and reciprocal with internal organisational culture among subsystems (and, as discussed, geared through emotionally intelligent employees). Enough positive feedback to the system, such as input that necessitates adaption, can be managed through steering systems behaviour among systems internally, or by changing the whole system boundary, necessitating internal subsystems to adapt thereto. Ideally, employees will be enabled to act by drawing on sufficient knowledge to align their behaviour with the organisational boundary of values, ethics, and norms. With or without the required knowledge or skillsets during disruptions, the emotional intelligence of employees will steer behaviour, which will help an autonomous system continue to function should employees be motivated to act according to the collective organisational culture.

Accordingly, indicative of recursion, the autonomy of internal subsystems at the smallest level contributes to overall system structure as much as the overall structures form a boundary to subsystem behaviour. The system’s continued functioning is as dependent on the person as the person is for it to remain functioning.

Systems encapsulating strong emotional and cultural intelligence are better equipped to sustain autonomy or to adjust to external or internal feedback. Leadership, embodying cultural knowledge of self, employees, and the organisation, informs the reciprocal relationship between EI and CQ of employees through mindfully opening and closing boundaries to promote knowledge and behaviour which is present-oriented and sustainable in forward reflection. As previously discussed, the knowledge and skillsets of employees need to be enhanced to remain sustainable in the long-term within the organisational structure, while the amount and speed of information requires mindfulness on the part of leaders to ethically and sensitively mediate through how boundaries are opened and closed. This, in turn, is informed by the employees’ readiness to adapt to incoming information, which is indicative of their own boundaries set through knowledge and values. Group culture and motivation is thus leader-employee interdependent, and emphasises the cornerstone role of the social realm in systemically adapting through individual autonomy.

Group culture and autonomy are implicated within disruptions in the physical (Bolton, 2018). This shifts the primary system of communication to the digital mode, requiring high-order knowledge reasoning and communication skillsets among subsystems. Rapidly implementing systems, or re-arranging systems, without knowledge of, or concerns for, data privacy, individual needs, and ethics, can cause leaders to undermine employee motivation and morale or deter goal-oriented behaviour. The social realm bridges digital and physical boundaries and as shown within this article, require emotional and cultural knowledge and skillsets among leaders and employees to enhance communication within the digital realm. Employees are required to exhibit heightened motivation to act according to the benefit of the organisational culture and system, and in turn establish these norms and values in the digital realm for the sustainability of the overall boundary to retain integrity within the digital space. Individual self-autonomy becomes key to systemic integrity (Becvar and Becvar, 2012), and where the physical realm extends space between the workforce, the overall system boundary should remain structured through internal behaviour. Leadership, in turn, adopts information into the system through mindful knowledge of the collective needs. It sees organisational culture as being composite of employee subsystems and their interconnected and reciprocal roles in achieving the overall systemic boundary.

7. Implications for practice and concluding remarks

The disruptions brought on by Covid-19, as well as those pending through the Fourth Industrial Revolution, make it incumbent upon leaders to reflect on values and knowledge of systems, both digital and social, as a means to adapt organisational structure and continue to function. Such disruptive changes, often at a pace exceeding sufficient knowledge resources, require heightened autonomy, communications skillsets, and motivation within a sustainable organisational culture, to retain integrity. This article points to emotional and cultural-intelligence skillsets as pivotal constructs associated with effectively navigating human-centred systems through disruptive changes, which maintains overall systemic boundaries at an organisational level. Human resources are challenged to develop skillsets associated with CQ and EI against the backdrop of organisational norms and values that promote systemic integrity across physical, social and digital realms brought on by challenges and external disruptions.

In conclusion, leaders are continuously faced with the need to innovate according to external pressures and digitization. Employees and leaders should accordingly be developed to respond with autonomous, ethical and goal-directed behaviour. These abilities underly the concepts of CQ and EI which become valuable to tailoring training to include new skillsets and knowledge (through cultural intelligence enhancement) as a means to influence systemic adaption and harmony within all employee subsystems (patterns established through emotional intelligence). CQ and EQ measurements are of use in both assessing domains for skillset enhancement, but also to gain a collective description of the input-output dynamics of organisational systems. This knowledge will become key in establishing systems and knowledge for human-resource management that is aligned with Fourth Industrial Revolution trends. Disruptions in the physical continuously amount to organisations going digital and call for systems to be self-differentiating and autonomous. A heightened focus on emotional and cultural skillsets during training will enhance relations in the social realm, establishing autonomous sub-systemic behaviour during disruptive changes that are characteristic of the overall organisational system’s patterns as a collective.

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Exploring managerial challenges in managing secondary schoolteachers’ stress: A qualitative analysis

Title: Exploring managerial challenges in managing secondary schoolteachers’ stress: A qualitative analysis

First author: Professor Anna-Marie (A.M.F.) Pelser
Research Professor, North-West University, Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences- Entity Director – GIFT, Mafikeng Campus.

Corresponding author: Professor A.M.F. Pelser: HED (Home Economics, PU for CHE), B Com (UNISA), B Com Hons (PU for CHE), M Com (Industrial Psychology, NWU), PhD (Education Management, NWU)
e-mail: or

Co-author: Dr Eben Haeser Swanepoel
Orcid Id: 0000-0003-3205-5244
Postdoctoral Researcher, North-West University, Economic and Management Sciences, GIFT.
PhD: Psychology of Education (UFS), M.Ed Psychology of Education (UFS), Hons Psychology (UNISA), B.Ed FET (UFS)

Ensovoort, volume 41 (2020), number 7: 3


Teacher burnout is a challenge faced globally, impeding optimal teaching-learning from taking place. In this article, teachers’ stress was viewed in terms of its relationship with workplace stressors and through the lenses of organisational and individual management theories, as well as managerial and distributed leadership. Data were collected by means of in-depth semi-structured interviews with managers and teachers; these were audio taped, transcribed and data analysed by coding. Stress was omnipresent in the educational settings and manifested itself as a multi-dimensional phenomenon explained in terms of various leadership theories. Managerial leadership was a problem, where leaders or principals are seen as being commanding, controlling and authoritarian whilst showing an unwillingness to share power. It is evident from this study that teachers don’t take charge of their own stress but depart from this responsibility by keenly empowering the management team to manage their own and the teachers’ stress in both a preventative and corrective manner. Teachers prefer not to be involved with various organisational undertakings due to the presence of unwieldly hindrances in the guise of stressors which inextricably forms part of their professional working life. Distributed leadership is a multifaceted concept of leadership where the principal views it as his obligation to developing leadership aptitude by empowering others to manage their own stress successfully. Results indicated that in building a strong organisational climate, collaboration between employees will be key, shared goals achieved and leadership devolved enabling employees to become one another’s keeper, to foster participation in decision-making. A strong correlation exists between the two leadership theories and the practice of stress management in schools.


teacher stress, stress management; workplace stress; managerial leadership; distributed leadership


The issue of workplace stress has gained prominence in South Africa in the educational sector in recent years (Mapfumo, Chitsiko & Chireshe, 2012). Partially, the rate of stress experiences has been driven by the high rate of systemic changes, job security, performance appraisal and career expectations (Naidoo, et al., 2013; Mushoriwa & Dlamini, 2015). Although school-related stressors should be handled by school staff with managerial responsibilities, teachers themselves should also be involved in the management of their own stress. Coordinated management measures have the potential to minimise stress levels considerably at school level (Robbins et al., 2013). Different leadership theories can be employed to gain insight into the phenomenon of teachers’ stress management.

Problem statement

Even though stress is a universal phenomenon, Werner (2011) accentuated that most stress is experienced in work situations. Demands on educators and schools increase, which in turn leads to the prevalence of stress in the teaching profession. A certain level of stress is necessary for teachers to render an effective and professional service. Counter to this, excessive stress levels may lead to distress, poor teaching, poor decision-making, lowered self-esteem, low job satisfaction and a lack of commitment in terms of remaining in the profession (Grobler, Wärnich, Carrell, Elbert & Hatfield, 2002; Schroeder, Akotia & Apekey, 2001).

Research on stressors globally took place and a number of stressors were found. Bytyqi, Reshani, and Hasani (2010) conducted a general workplace survey in public organizations in Kosovo which examined employees’ levels of work stress, job satisfaction and organizational commitment, and the impact these factors had on each other. However, the findings indicate that a satisfied and committed workforce is not a guarantee for having low levels of work stress and vice versa. Examples of stressors include the lack of opportunities for career progress, lack of status or respect at work, work overload, instability, and lack of discipline among students in Macedonia and Turkey (Akhlaq, Amjad, & Mehmood, 2010). In another study, Van Dick and Wagner (2001) tested the theoretical model of teacher stress on a large sample of 356 German teachers using complex structural equation modelling. The results of the study revealed that workload led to stress reactions from the teachers, whereas principal support, beliefs of self-efficacy among participants, and use of appropriate coping strategies reduced their experiences of work-related stress. Other studies have reported stressors such as time constrains (Kyriacou, 1987), poor quality of relationships with colleagues (Troman, 2000), and large numbers of students (Nagel & Brown, 2003). In terms of stressor rankings, student behaviour is reported as the most stressful factor followed by staff support, relationship with parents, personal and professional competences (Paulse, 2005).

In South Africa, several studies have been done and it is evident from all that stress is an obstacle that causes teachers not to perform as effectively as needed (Van Wyk & Pelser, 2016; Jackson & Rothmann, 2006). Venter (2003) performed a study in George and found that low salaries are an indicator of teacher stress. Stressors which surfaced during studies have attributed educator stress to a lack of discipline, unmotivated learners, redeployment and retrenchment of educators, large learner-educator ratios and new curriculum approaches (Saptoe, 2000). Motseke (1998), in the Free State, conducted an investigation of stress among educators in township secondary schools to identify organisational, personal, interpersonal, and environmental stressors; other examples of stressors include role conflict, role ambiguity, discipline problems, time pressure, bad working conditions, self-respect, inadequate support from friends, family and colleagues, and low student motivation. Although much research has been done on stress in South Africa and even in the North West Province, scant research on stress has been done in schools / among teachers in the Mahikeng Area. Research done in the North West Province was done via quantitative research methods, and didn’t give teachers the opportunity to voice the actual stress they are experiencing and the solution to manage the stress they are experiencing.

In view of this conclusion, the question under investigation for this study was: How do teachers in the Mahikeng Area manage stress in their workplace?

In the forthcoming section the theoretical and conceptual framework will be dealt with and the various stress concepts be thoroughly elaborated on. The objectives will be stated and the research design, sampling, data generation and data analysis will be expounded. Trustworthiness and ethical considerations will be addressed. The findings and discussion thereof will be the evidence of rigorous research done on the ailment of stress. Recommendations will be proposed to remedy the current complacent riposte to the immense effect of educator stress.

The conceptual framework aims to define stress, identify various stressors, elaborate on research done on stress by various researchers in several countries and finally address the different perspectives on individual and organisational approaches to stress management.

Conceptualising stress and background context

Stress defined

Stress can be viewed from different angles. It can be a dynamic and complex process that forms part of the interaction between individuals and the activities in their lives (Phindela, Mothibedi & Smith, 2008). Werner (2011), in turn, views it as “the body’s response to anxieties and deviations that require it (the body) to adapt physically, intellectually and expressively”. Stress is prompted when a situation is seen as either a challenge or a risk. Although stress is a universal phenomenon, Werner (2011) emphasises that most stress is experienced in work situations.

Factors initiating stress

Often, stress within teaching is connected with organizational factors related to the way teachers are expected to work. A plethora of organizational factors contribute to stress among teachers: unreasonably set time frames, excessive bureaucracy, unrealistic deadlines and frightening inspection regimes (Montgomery & Rupp, 2005). One may also distinguish between stressors of an educator’s living and working environment, and individual stressors. The working environment entails the most stressors, amongst which are unfavourable working conditions, excessive workloads, organizational problems, and insufficient resources, lack of support and/or autonomy, and decision making. The working environment may also include physical stressors such as high frequency noise associated with teaching assignments, congested classrooms, classroom or school size, erupting violence among learners as well as administrative pressures such as lack of support from managers and the ambiguity of the teaching role. Individual characteristics include the unique traits of teachers such as personality, gender, age, demographics, ability to establish and maintain supportive networks, cognitive evaluation of stressors, coping ability, type of teaching position and work dissatisfaction (Hastings & Bham, 2003; Guglielmi, & Tatrow, 1998). Individual stress can also be linked to the compatibility between personal and educational values, ambition to succeed, the threshold of sensitivity, competitiveness, multiple roles for women teachers (parent, caretaker, housewife and teacher), and perfection (Bachkirova, 2005). One of the few analyses in the field of work-related stress in Macedonia is the comparative study of Eres and Atanasovska that explores the levels of stress among teachers in Turkey and their colleagues in Macedonia. Their findings suggest that working conditions as well as personal and social characteristics have an effect on teacher stress (Eres & Atanasovska, 2011).

Individual and organisational approaches to stress management

The phenomenon of stress is not only visible when viewed in terms of its causes and consequences, but also about the way in which it is managed (Ngidi & Sibaya 2002). Stress compels individuals and organisations to avoid or manage tension in organisations. This should be done by ensuring that organising, planning and decision-making are conducted in such a way that teachers are not subjected to unnecessary stress (Van Wyk & Pelser, 2016). According to Van Deventer and Kruger (2008) the management of stress is an important factor contributing to positive changes at behavioural, psychological, and physiological levels for educators. Bennett (1997) noted that stress is an everyday phenomenon. Nevertheless, certain measures can be taken by organisations to minimise the degrees of stress experienced by their employees. Stress management has both an individual and organisational character and is particularly discernible at school level in the working relations between different stakeholders such as teachers and learners, teachers and management staff, parents and teachers, as well as between departmental officials and school staff. The distinction made by Steyn and Van Niekerk (2012) of two stress management approaches, namely individual stress management and organisational stress management, is followed in this study.

Occupational stress is concerned with the individual and environmental pressures that workers experience with regard to their day-to-day activities in their workplaces (Werner, 2011). Individuals and organisations are compelled to take action, to avoid and to manage these pressures or stressors (Nahavandi, et al., 2015). In a school it is key that a teacher who experiences stress should enter into a relationship with someone like a principal who can assist in confronting his or her perception of the stressful situation.

Individual stress management

Steyn and Van Niekerk (2012) are of the view that stressor elimination in a work environment is in the first place the responsibility of the individuals themselves. Nahavandi (2015) contend that individual approaches to stress management serve to eliminate and/or modify stressors in the environment by changing perceptions about stressors, time management and planning, aspects of lifestyle and regular practice of relaxation techniques. According to Werner (2011) individual stress management has to do with the fact that we can adapt our perception to certain situations. Through cognitive restructuring, people can prevent irrational and negative thoughts and substitute them with a more positive and a healthy mental approach. This implies that teachers experience stressful situations in different ways and will always attempt to find mechanisms to cope in a stressful situation.

Lifestyle design forms an integral part of individual stress management (Steyn & Van Niekerk, 2012). Teachers have to examine their own lifestyles and be vigilant that their own behaviour and actions do not constitute stress. Aquinas (2009) says contends that time management is critical to subsuming successful stress management techniques. According to Robbins and Judge (2013) teachers should manage their stress levels actively by practising relaxation techniques and doing physical exercises on a regular basis There should always be a balance between work and non-work activities so that employees have either minimal-stress or stress-free lifestyles.

Stress management is also important for individuals because own concerns can be shared in a supportive environment. Steyn and Van Niekerk (2017) note that, “turning to others for support and assistance is one of the critical human responses to stress management”. Robbins and Judge (2013) support the latter view and note that “friends, family or work colleagues can provide an outlet when stress levels become excessive. Expanding your social support network provides someone to hear your problems and offer a more objective perspective on a stressful situation than your own”.

Organisational approaches to stress management

In organisational approaches to stress management emphasis is placed on the fact that stress can and should be managed in institutions by people in the system with managerial responsibilities (Bennett, 1997). Although individuals have to accept responsibility for managing their own stress certain measures should be taken in organisations to minimise the stress experienced by their employees (Robbins et. al., 2013). From an organisational point of view recognising and evaluating how stress is influencing the performance of teachers, is the first step in managing stress (Botha, 2013). Closely linked to recognising and evaluating the influence of stress is the clarification of roles and goal setting (Werner, 2011). Role clarification and goal setting are important in the sense that employees usually have an understanding of what is expected from them; knowing the expectations enables them to commit to the goals as well as to minimize their stress. Robbins and Judge (2013) suggest that organisational communication, redesigning jobs, sabbaticals, organisational culture, goal setting and employee wellness programmes can all be seen as forms of organisational stress management. Robbins and Judge (2013) mention in this regard that individual teachers perform better when they have specific and challenging goals and receive feedback on their progress towards these goals. Role clarification is also important in the sense that it promotes teachers’ understanding of what is expected from them and what management’s expectations are (Aquinas, 2009).

In addition to structural and systemic changes, organisational stress management also deals with the availability of training programmes that can assist employees to cope with “stress by emphasising the importance of happiness and a positive outlook” (Nahavandi et. al., 2015). Robbins and Judge (2013) suggest that stress-reducing or wellness programmes should be offered on a continuous basis to improve teachers’ physical and mental health. Training can also be extended to the whole staff so that they are able to deal with stress positively (Botha, 2013; Steyn & van Niekerk, 2013).

Educational Management and Leadership differentiated

Many researchers in the field of Educational Management and Leadership stress the importance of distinguishing between the concepts of management and leadership (Naidu, et al., 2011; Bush, 2007; Christie, 2010). In this paper the two concepts are however seen in an integrative way and used interchangeably. This is in line with Bush (2007) who observes that the concepts of management and leadership overlap each other and with Fink (2011) who reckons that the term management was given a linguistic makeover and became leadership. We thus applied these terms in a synonymous way, recognising that although the investigation falls in the study field of Educational Management and Leadership the term stress management is generally used in the literature and not stress leadership (Schulze & Steyn, 2007).

Considerable theorising has been conducted in the field of educational leadership in the last decade (Bush, 2007; Crawford, 2012; Christie, 2010; Leithwood & Sun, 2012). Authors seem to embrace diverse views and continually adapt their understanding of how to investigate and explain leadership behaviour in educational institutions (Pelser & Van Wyk, 2015). Leithwood and Sun (2012) say that there has been a change from traditional theories of leadership and management to those that are transformational in nature. Hartley (2010) sees this change as a major paradigm shift from the traditional view of leadership as centred on the role of individual leaders to alternative theories which place the focus on multiple participants.

Leadership theories

We examined the potential of a number of theories as basis for interpreting the empirical findings of this study and decided that managerial leadership and distributed leadership are the best-suited theories to deal with stress management in schools.

Managerial leadership

Managerial leadership is associated with a situation where leaders are seen as being commanding, controlling and authoritarian whilst showing an unwillingness to share power (Dambe & Moorad, 2008). When the above-mentioned aspects are applied to a school, a closed communication system results with a rigid leadership style where the lines of authority from principal to deputy head and then to heads of department are clearly defined with the principal being regarded as occupying the most central position in the school (Naidu, et al., 2011). “Authority and influence are allocated to formal positions, in proportion to the status of those positions in the organisational hierarchy” (Leithwood & Sun, 2012). When this theoretical point of view is applied to the management of stress in schools, prominence is given to the responsibility of the principal and the education department as being responsible for the management of stress. These stakeholders must decide how and by whom stress issues in schools will be handled. In most instances teacher stress would be managed according to existing protocol whereas the social and human relations aspects of stress management are neglected. Naidoo (2011) remarked in this regard that “South Africa’s underperforming schools require a greater emphasis on basic management that involves ensuring regular and timely attendance by learners and educators, maintaining order and discipline in classrooms, and providing adequate resources to enable learning to take place”. Botha (2013) reckons that “even in a decentralised school system principals are required to play strong leadership roles as it prioritises efficient and effective smooth running of schools”.

In terms of the managerial-leadership theory leaders like principals have the main responsibility to manage conflict and tension. Staff such as Departmental heads clearly are responsible for stress that emanates from their particular responsibilities. As middle-managers they also have to manage the consequences of stress that stems from personal relationships. These HoDs are also tasked to apply a whole range of stress-management techniques in schools.

Distributed leadership

The central premise of distributed leadership is that all management activities and processes are spread throughout the organisation. According to Williams (2011) distributed leadership implies that there has been a movement away from an over-reliance on the leader’s influence, to determining relevant variants of leader influence, to arguing for distributive leadership. Building on the ideas of distributed cognition, distributed leadership describes the ways that leadership activities are stretched across different people and positions within organisations and where the result is greater than the sum of the parts. Harris (2004:15) is of the view that the main advantage of this way of doing is that expertise is engaged “wherever it exists within the organisation rather than seeking this only through the formal role”.

The significance of distributed leadership for teachers’ stress is that teachers themselves are involved in the managing thereof (Botha, 2006). This means that the main advantage of distributed leadership in schools is the direct involvement of teachers, and not just their representation, in school matters. Teachers are thus not just there to provide advice but they have the right to make or heavily influence decisions (Somech, 2010). As Wadasengo (2011) explains, teachers are the direct custodians of the curriculum implementation process and that is therefore the correct place where their expertise can be applied. Teachers understand instruction-related issues and work processes better than management staff and their participation ensures that decisions for improved students’ learning will be made (Van Wyk & Pelser, 2015). Potential stressors that are related to teaching such as learner discipline, work allocation and working conditions and curriculum matter will be addressed in a satisfactory way.

Empirical research

Objectives of the study

In view of the above exposition the purpose of the study is to understand how teachers’ stress is managed in the Mahikeng area of the North-West Province. More specifically, the objectives were,

(a) to understand the phenomenon of teachers’ stress through a management lens, (b) to explore the value of different leadership theories for teachers’ stress management, and (c) to examine the manifestation of teachers’ stress in their professional working environment.

Research Design

A case study design was used for exploring and understanding qualitatively and interpretively (against the backdrop of a theoretical exposition on stress management in education and an application of the principles of two leadership theories to stress management) the perceptions of managers and staff about ways to ensure the improvement of teachers’ stress management in the Mafikeng area of the North-West Province in South Africa


The study was conducted in the Mafikeng area of the North-West Province of South Africa. This area is unique in many ways. In the previous political dispensation it formed part of the Bophuthatswana homeland. During that time a strong infrastructure for government was established in the towns consisting of Mafikeng and Mmabatho. After 1994, Mafikeng was entrenched as the capital city of the North-West province including a wide range of geographical areas from adjacent regions. The city itself is unique in the sense that apart from government, a large number of related industries and businesses were established, mainly by entrepreneurs who reside in Mafikeng.

The schools in and around Mafikeng that are the object of this investigation represent a variety that ranges from primary to secondary schools and from schools with a strong rural background to typical urban schools. The schools can currently be seen as serving a well-established and growing middle and upper class of mainly black people. This investigation deals with teachers who are working or have been employed in secondary schools in the area which constitutes a unique environment with its own sets of demands and challenges. A total of 955 educators are employed in the area. A snowballing sampling was used to select only educators that shared the information that they encounter high levels of stress. Educators were selected to represent all role players in education.

In purposeful sampling, researchers intentionally select individuals and sites to learn or understand the central phenomenon”. Purposeful sampling thus means that participants are selected because of some defining characteristics that make the holders of the data needed for the study. Six participants were accordingly purposively sampled to act as participants in this study. In this study the participants are referred to as managers and teachers. The three who are referred to as managers occupy or were employed as a Departmental Education Specialist, a Principal and a Departmental Head (HoD). Of the three teachers, two are still employed and the third one resigned in 2016. The three managers are anonymously identified as participants A, B and C and the teachers D, E and F.

Data Generation

Six individual teachers took part in semi-structured interviews. The interview schedules for both the managers and staff members consisted of the following five questions which were based on the individual participants’ involvement with stress management;

  1. Which organisational/administrative arrangements and procedures make a school a stressful workplace?
  2. Has the school got a responsibility to assist in managing teachers’ personal stress?
  3. How can stress management in the school, or the lack of it, affect teachers’ stress?
  4. What kind of leadership style is suitable for the management of teachers’ stress?
  5. To what degree is teachers’ stress officially identified and handled as such by management staff?

Data Analysis

The following six data analysis procedures as described by Creswell (2012) were applied. Firstly the data were read, followed by coding and the searching for themes, reviewing of themes, defining and naming of themes and creating of categories and then the final phase which involves the joining of an analytic narrative and data excerpts, in addition to the contextualisation of the analysis in correlation with existing literature.


To ensure the trustworthiness of the study thorough preparation was done beforehand on the different processes of data collection, analysis and resulting reporting to obtain the suitable, most valid and significant data for the study. During the data collection and analysis stage all participants were probed with the same questions on their involvement with stress management in ‘their’ schools. The data were recorded and transcripts of each interview were done in typed format. Both authors coded certain sections of the data independently and developed categories from the text which were then compared.

Since all the participants were either involved in sensitive negotiations with the Education Department or felt that they could be seriously disadvantaged if their names were attached to the findings, they were assured of their anonymity and each one was given an opportunity to read his/her completed transcript submitted to verify whether the information shared with the researcher was correctly reported. The researcher also took all necessary steps to treat all the information received from the participants confidentially and ensured that it was safely stored.

Ethical Considerations

Permission to perform this study was granted to the researcher from the Central District of the Department of Basic Education in Mafikeng. The study was also ethically cleared by the university under whose auspices it was done.

All ethical considerations such as permission to perform interviews, briefing of respondents regarding the purpose of the interview and the study and assurance that their inputs would remain confidential, were adhered to.


The following findings are based on the interview questions that were asked during the interviews.

Which organisational/administrative arrangements and procedures make a school a stressful workplace?

All participants indicated that they understood that there were certain systemic or organisational arrangements, policies and procedures present in all schools that caused stress. They realised that a professional organisation had to be governed by policies as well as rules and regulations and that the Department of Basic Education and the North West Provincial Education Department had an important role to play in this regard. Inconsistency in application was however pinpointed as the main reason why teachers experienced stress about these official procedures. Participant A mentioned that the Department did not act in terms of the so-called Post Provisioning Model (PPM). This lead to overcrowded classrooms, unfair job distribution and sluggishness of the Department (HR) to fill vacant positions. In addition it was stated that learners were promoted without deserving it; harassment of teachers by the Department of Basic Education; muddled communication from the Department’s side; inferior salaries; teachers pulled in all directions by role players in education; subject advisors not knowledgeable due to nepotism; corruption with textbooks and material; frequent change of assessment weighting; beginner teachers not willing to be taught anything and no housing allowance (Participant B). B also referred to the block-creeping phenomenon where beginner teachers’ salaries were the same as those of life-long teachers in education and the small difference between posts.

Generally, the responses showed that teachers appreciated the fact that the education profession had a comprehensive organisational structure. In so far as this study is concerned, their concerns had to do with the degree to which the implementation of a wide range of policies might increase the stress levels of teachers.

Has the school got a responsibility to assist in managing teachers’ personal stress?

The responses to this question indicate that teachers thought that it was not correct to make a strict distinction between “personal stress” and “school stresses”. Teachers believe that they suffer from “work stress” which includes aspects of personal stress and the stress that are the result of school challenges. Participant C even said they were all suffering from a number of symptoms and effects of stress. Teachers feel that like most other people they are affected by stress in their personal lives. In their case however their personal stress increases in their school lives. In the strict sense of the word the school should thus accept responsibility for managing all teachers’ stress. According to participant F this position makes sense since the school would otherwise have irritable teachers who can’t cope with stress, become irritable, assault learners, do not teach, become negligent, use anti-depressants, do not submit marks, are absent on a regular basis and sometimes even resign.

An interesting remark made by Participant C about accepting responsibility for stress management in a school is that everybody experienced stress and charity began at home. There is strength in unity and teachers act like they are another’s keepers. Another participant referred in this regard to a support system according to which teachers’ use of a “Buddy System” through which support groups assist each another, especially newly appointed teachers (Respondent B). Respondent D also commented that stress was handled in groups and that teachers did Pilates exercises together and then went for tea to a nearby coffee shop.

Generally, the responses showed that teachers’ stress should be seen and dealt with in the educational sector as one concept and must not be divided into personal stress and work stress. Schools, the department and management staff are therefore accordingly responsible to deal with all the stress that teachers experience.

How can stress management in the school, or the lack of it, affect teachers’ stress?

The responses revealed that all participants felt that an important part of teachers’ stress was caused by the actions or inactions of management staff. It was indicated that these staff members were in a position to control stressors that emanated from factors such as the introduction of new teaching and assessment methods, financial mismanagement, poor working conditions and pupil misbehaviour. Two participants added that there were also a number of day-to-day managerial issues that were created through inefficient management. Participant F and D mentioned the following, time-wasters, including holding and attending poorly managed meetings, allowing interruptions, not planning properly, not communicating effectively, and allowing paperwork to pile up so that time was wasted by looking for important documents.

The participants further agreed that those in managerial positions were partially to blame for teachers’ stress. Participant C was in fact very severe in her criticism of principals by remarking that some principals were ignorant people with manhandling attitudes and escalating and cascading corruption and paltry salaries. Participant F was more specific in criticising principals personally for teachers’ stress, explaining that some principals were absent, bullying and corrupt leaders who had no vision and were involved in uneven distribution of duties, unnecessary paperwork as well as in unfair promotions of learners.

It is clear that there was a strong view amongst participants that the role that principals played in stress management was at best minimal because they had not been trained to perform it and that some principals did not seem to be interested in applying themselves to perform this function.

What kind of leadership style is suitable for the management of teachers’ stress?

In analysing the responses it became clear that the participants saw stress management from different angles. The views of teachers and managers differed noticeably regarding a suitable leadership style for teachers’ stress management. Teachers emphasised the importance of the direct involvement of those in leadership positions by indicating that their first port of call when their stress problems started, was the principal. It seems as if they depended heavily on those in managerial positions to solve their anxieties. Participant F reported however stress concerns were referred to the HOD, the Deputy Principal and the Principal to resolve, but they could not assist. Participant F mentioned that her health was suffering due to the stress she had undergone and not a single member of the School Management Team (SMT) could be of any help. It thus seemed that they felt principals should be efficient leaders whereas the ones that they knew could be described as “weak leaders” (Participant C).

The participants who had experience of senior management responsibilities understood that managerial staff were directly responsible for a whole array of leadership and management tasks. They thought that the leadership style of principals was directly influenced by factors that could in broad terms be described as “departmental-inefficiencies”. If this view point is related to the management of teachers’ stress, attention should be paid to the words of Participant C who saw principals as bossy principals who adhered to the public or to the political rulers and were responsible for stress by introducing incompatible policies and using unfair practical measures.

All participants further agreed that teachers should not be seen as keen and willing to participate in a wide variety of school-wide management activities since there were already a whole range of stressors that influenced their professional working life and that they would therefore not like to be involved in too many additional managerial activities (Participant D). Learners’ behaviour and attitude, coupled with teaching, were seen as a big responsibility. An exception to this rule was teachers’ involvement in managerial activities that were linked to the instructional programmes. As direct custodians of the curriculum process teachers saw themselves as more knowledgeable than management staff on instructional matters.

In general terms, it seems as if the participants thought that a kind of combined leadership style was the most suitable for managing teachers’ stress. This style entails that principals should on the one hand be “father-like” figures who can address their stress issues in a top-down and very effective fashion. On the other hand they also expect principals to allow them to have the main say in curricular and teaching matters because they are “more knowledgeable than management staff on instructional matters”.

To what degree is teachers’ stress officially identified and handled as such by management staff?

The responses of the two groups varied slightly on this question. As described in the previous category the teachers felt that there was very little evidence of any effort from principals to manage stress in schools. Participant E mentioned in a somewhat conciliatory fashion that the principal was kindly disposed towards the staff, but there did not appear to be any internal “support” mechanisms to help her manage stress problems.

The managers accepted that there were no official stress management programmes in schools mainly because no training on how to handle stress related issues was available. They however felt that some effort was made in schools to manage teachers’ stress. One of the managers said that even though stress was not officially recognised as a situation or condition that had to be managed in a school, they had worked out their own methods or routines to cope with stressful situations (Participant B). Respondent A also said that she had never received any training in the management of stress but was overly sensitive to recognising stress symptoms and supported colleagues purely for common humanity reasons. Participant B added that teachers did not just approach you and told you they had stress. It was important for a senior manager to recognise stress symptoms in a school.

It thus seems that even though there are no official programmes available for stress management in schools, an effort is made to support teachers in a way that their stress levels can be reduced.

Concluding remarks

In broad terms the results of this study indicated an awareness amongst all participants that stress was present in their day-to-day operation in school and that it should be handled or managed, although it was not viewed as a life-threatening quiescent condition that necessitated urgent intervention. It seemed as if the effects of stress were underestimated and negated. From the responses it was clear that not only principals, but the whole School Management Team (SMT), were in some way or another involved with the managing of stress and tried their utmost to manage factors causing stress (Bennett, 1997). Being in a senior position necessitates that one has to notice the mien of stress, but it often went by unseen and was managed by all involved in their own manner. Due to the severity of unattended stress, a teacher eventually resigns or collapses as teachers frequently don’t reveal their stress condition (Motshekga, 2013). Some managers handle stress management on a laity level, and none of the participants were ever trained in this regard. To have had Psychology as a subject whilst being trained to become a teacher might be useful in the management of stress.

The results further indicate the danger of reducing the stress management simplistically to specific interventions that must be undertaken under certain circumstances to prevent or correct undesired results. Stress management is not measurable as a single factor and does not exist in a single definable situation. Instead, it should be viewed because of a transaction between an individual and peers or superiors (Van Wyk & Pelser, 2016). It is therefore not possible to do a situational or needs analysis with the idea to establish identifiable shortcomings for which specific stress-management remedies can be applied. The reality of stress management in educational institutions displays itself as a multi-dimensional phenomenon that cannot be practised in a piecemeal way by linking specific issues such as conflict and the presence of bureaucratic school structures with stress-management actions. These and other issues should rather be seen as part of a whole range of interwoven stressors that form part of a complex work environment that necessitates a combination of different stress-management techniques and approaches that should be applied in an integrative manner. The integrated nature of stress management is also evident from the fact that it manifests itself as being both pro-active and re-active. Pro-active stress management in a school is conducted with the idea to “increase the level of awareness of the negative consequences of stress and help educators to identify the symptoms of stress” (Steyn and van Niekerk, 2012: 224). Re-active stress has to do with corrective measures or the application of traditional management actions such as the provision of good leadership where the existence of stress levels is very high. Re-active stress management deals with the application of sound organisational and managerial principles in stressful relationships between teachers-and-teachers and between teachers-and-managers.

Results further show that there is a strong correlation between the tenets of the two leadership theories and the practice of stress management in schools. The way in which teachers expect their stress to be handled shows parallels with the authority allocated to principals in managerial leadership in terms of their official positions in the hierarchical organisation structure (Leithwood & Sun, 2012). Teachers not only accept that principals are responsible for all day-to-day managerial issues, which include the handling of stress, but expect them to manage their stress in both a preventative and corrective manner. Distributed leadership on the other hand fosters participation in decision-making (Bush 2007). Teachers themselves should be involved in taking decisions about their own stress (Botha, 2006). In the study there is however little evidence of teachers being willing to be involved in the management of their own stress. All participants agree that teachers should not be seen as keen and willing to participate in a wide variety of school-wide management activities since they feel that there are already a whole range of stressors that influenced their professional working life and that they would therefore not like to be involved in any additional stressful managerial activities. Although managers pointed out that there were a number of stress-reducing mechanisms available in schools and at the offices of the Education Department, teachers are hesitant to accept these opportunities, but prefer to be involved in informal stress management with other teachers. Another angle showed that teachers had an attraction for a particular aspect of distributed leadership. They see themselves as the direct custodians of the curriculum=implementation process. This view is clearly based on their perceived expertise in teaching and learning matters. Teachers should be regarded as specialists in the field of teaching and in managing and organising their classrooms (Wadesango, 2011). They even regard themselves as “more knowledgeable than management staff on instructional matters”. Ironically the teaching-learning situation is inherently the bearer of most teachers’ stress. The classroom is the engine room of school stressors such as disciplinary problems, assessment methods and pupil misbehaviour.


In view of the above the following suggestions are made:

Specific proactive steps can be taken by introducing programmes that are aimed at stress prevention.

  • Holistic stress relief is a program followed to reduce and alleviate chronic and acute stress at the physical, mental or spiritual levels. Easing in one area, impacts positively on another level. This approach impacts your mind, body and spirit in a powerful way and will lead to a continuum of health and illness as it increases your self-awareness and gives you a way in which you can develop inner peace and better physical health. Of the essence here is your mental, physical and emotional habits which either enhances or negates your health and moves you along the continuum. Once you are aware of the real problems causing physical and mental distress, the natural stress relievers that will help you will become obvious.
  • Mindfulness means the building of self-awareness and frustration tolerance in stressful conditions. Exercises on how to stay calm in a daring classroom situation, noticing, accepting and letting go of negative thoughts. Practise breathing and self-awareness techniques in the classroom, relaxing the tensions by implementing relaxation techniques in class. Use mindful walking, drawing and listening.
  • Cognisance of the role of thoughts, feelings, body and behaviour in stress response, the exploring of the internal world in stressful conditions — understanding “self-developed individual patterns” — the role of thoughts, feelings, body and behaviour in stress response, team teaching, regular feedback and workload division and by just being aware of stress indicators such as teacher absenteeism, missing deadlines and making careless mistakes.
  • The viewing of stress from the learners angle — building sustainable stress management capabilities for students in the classroom (helping to gain insights into “the teacher’s self-developed individual patterns”, calming the body, clearing the mind, maintaining emotional balance, building and nurturing kind connections). Supporting students when dealing with stressful (exams, public speaking) and traumatic experience (accidents, losses, violence). Self-reflection as a protective factor of self-care.
  • Maintaining newly-learned skills in stress management, review key learning points, personal action plan, action plan for classroom, feedback to the trainer using creativity technique. Celebrate teachers at regular meetings to create a win-win feeling in the school; regular staff meetings should be held to give teachers an opportunity to air their views; management to have an open-door policy for discussions with individual staff members; utilizing of social media such as WhatsApp and Facebook should be available for communication between teachers and management; provision should be made for teachers to get involved in informal stress-reducing methods such as exercises and clubs; teachers are free to enrol as individuals in the official departmental stress-support programmes.


The information acquired indicates that management of stress is of significance to prevent it from escalating and forcing teachers out of the system. There is an urgent need to support managers and individual teachers with stress-management skills. The Provincial Department of Education and School Management Teams have to be made aware of the role it should play in managing teachers’ stress.

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Exploring circular systems-based education in South Africa: A collaborative approach to digital learning

Author: Dr Eben Haeser Swanepoel
Orcid Id: 0000-0003-3205-5244
Postdoctoral Researcher, North-West University, Economic and Management Sciences, GIFT.
PhD: Psychology of Education (UFS), M.Ed Psychology of Education (UFS), Hons Psychology (UNISA), B.Ed FET (UFS)

Ensovoort, volume 41 (2020), number 6: 1


South African education systems are at an exciting juncture. They are shaping the way into the Fourth Industrial Revolution and globalized access to learning. Online learning has gained traction internationally and been shown to be effective in curbing overcrowded classrooms at both schools and institutions of higher learning. Online solutions promote open-access learning at cost-effective rates also. South Africa is hindered, however, through unequal access to resources and inequality when it comes to the implementation of online learning as a uniform platform across locations. This article explores a circular model of sensitizing educators, by means of teacher induction, to the use of digital content through collaborative practice, whilst building a systemic autonomous platform of content which is contextual, reliable, and formally assessed before it is used in classrooms. Drawing on cybernetic theory, the article is framed by how systems open and close boundaries to information and how systemic structure is either maintained or lost during the process of adapting to incoming feedback from other systems. With the pressure to adapt to international ideals and globalization, it becomes increasingly important to explore how South African education systems steer information from teacher induction to the ultimate application at grassroots classroom level. Digitized learning, as proposed through this article, holds value when incorporated through collaborative practice where information boundaries from external systems are opened and closed for the purpose of maintaining the ideals of internationally bench-marked knowledge, while at the same time upholding a unified democratic front to the South African context.

Keywords: Cybernetics; Technology Education; Educational Systems; Teacher Induction; Circularity

1. Introduction   

The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) has brought on disruptive technological advances which can potentially replace outdated and traditional ways of doing. Artificial Intelligence, Robotics and the Internet of Things (IoT), all characteristic of the Fourth Industrial Revolution’s innovations for transformative practice, introduce technological innovation which can potentially change the way we teach and prepare learners and students for the world of work (Xing & Marwala, 2017; Kayembe & Nel, 2019). The rapid trajectory of the Fourth Industrial Revolution’s globalization movement compels us to reflect on existing ways of doing and align the South African education system with international benchmarks and global trajectories in the area of vocational access. At the same time, there is a growing need to explore how, within the globalization movement, the South African educational system can retain a democratically unified system whilst simultaneously accounting for cultural diversity and the unequal access to information systems at sub-systemic levels due to past inequalities that hinder access and resource distribution (Meier & Hartell, 2009).

The relevance of 4IR to South Africa, as a Sub-Saharan country, has however been scrutinized. The country’s infrastructure deficits and unequal skill distribution are key challenges to aligning skillsets with the benchmarks of advanced economies (Ayentimi & Burgess, 2019), and public discourse centres on the need for better access and globally bench-marked educational reform. Historically, the Fees Must Fall movement is an example of societal feedback highlighting the dialogue of high-quality access to higher education platforms at lower costs (Pillay & Swanepoel, 2018). More recently, the global Covid-19 pandemic and the national lock-down have highlighted the importance of continuous instruction across all education platforms. Digitized learning platforms have become a go-to for instruction (Odendaal, 2020).

Especially post-apartheid, educational reform in South Africa has seen a paradigmatic emphasis on ways of doing, focussing especially on policy and curriculum reform to align with systemic injustices caused by past unequal access to education and resource distribution (Gumede & Biyase, 2016; Subreenduth, 2009). Social segregation and class privilege, however, still pose challenges when it comes to equal access to quality education. The desired change for socially just education reform has been slow to manifest at a practical level. An inter-generational cycle of unequal privilege and poverty now sees learners from sociohistorically hindered schools unable to accumulate the skills, especially in mathematics, to assimilate functional alignment with high-quality education access and lifelong learning opportunities (Spaull, 2015). There has been stringent progress in technologically enhanced learning methods in South African schools, and teacher training programs now need to be examined as a key component in aligning South Africa with the global trends that form part of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (Padayachee, 2017). Older teachers often evade technological disruption in the classroom, while younger teachers show greater confidence in the use of modern digitized learning methods (Msila, 2015). This reflects segregated learning experiences across spaces and places of learning, and articulates the cycle of unequal learning that permeates traditional classroom practices. It can be argued that how a learner in a specific school will be taught is then left to the luck of the draw and would depend on the particular level of classroom autonomy they are subjected to for a given learning experience.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is characterised by innovative interdisciplinary teaching methods, with many South African teachers feeling uncomfortable teaching outside of their own discipline-knowledge systems. They may be slow when it comes to adopting enhanced methodological approaches towards cross-disciplinary collaboration (Chaka, 2019). It becomes increasingly difficult for teachers to use information in a funnelled manner, especially with the rapid digitization of information at a global scale and the need to facilitate both the subject knowledge as well as the technological skill-sets associated with finding and evaluating information in the classroom (Kultawanicha, Koraneekija & Na-Songkhlaa, 2015). The dissemination of information becomes an increasingly important skill-set. The wealth of information during the digitized age calls for greater scrutiny not only in terms of relevance, but also the applicability thereof, outside the classroom and within learners’ communities. A quality educational system should therefore be founded on skilled educators who implement and drive technological systems to optimize learning (Moodley, 2019) within relevant and applicable boundaries, for the purpose of mediating knowledge and information during the learning experience in a meaningful and contextual way.

Online learning, the Internet of Things, and the use of Artificial Intelligence for personalised learning are redefining the role of educational systems (Ally, 2019; Picciano, 2019; Pillay, Maharaj & van Eeden, 2018). Given how the use of smartphones, tablets and computers are becoming increasingly common among learners and students and the manner in which these technologies disrupt traditional pedagogical methods in classrooms on an ongoing basis (Laurillard & Kennedy, 2017; Zhamanov & Sakhiyeva, 2015), exploring a system of incorporating technology in a meaningful and collaborative way during classroom practice becomes increasingly viable. The shift towards digitized learning environments, in particular, but also the Fourth Industrial Revolution’s globalization trajectory would necessitate such an investigation. The systemic integrity of South African education, the inclusive nature of which extends across the space and place of all communities and stakeholders (be it national or international) should at the same time be retained. While there are a growing number of virtual and blended schools globally, further research is needed to determine the long-term viability thereof in terms of successful student retention and performance (Miron, Shank & Davidson, 2018). A lack of infrastructure, the skill-sets of teachers and overall expertise in optimally utilizing technology in the teaching-learning environment pose further limitations to modernizing digitized classroom practices in South Africa (Jantjies & Joy, 2016).

Specifically grounded on collaborative practice among various stakeholders toward global vocational access and quality education, this article aims to explore a circular model of teaching-learning which can potentially mediate geographical and spatial limitations to learning and sustain a continued and reliable method of delivery which brings transparent, reliable and valid information to learners and students. The circular method of delivery furthermore addresses the need to uphold a unified international standard of knowledge and information for the digitized age, while simultaneously retaining South African benchmarks and ideals as a means to retain systemic structure within the global front of information sharing and innovation as we move toward the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

2. First-order cybernetics: A systemic approach to information and education

Cybernetics derives from the Greek Kybernetes, which also translates to steersman (Heylighen & Joslyn, 2001). Aimed at investigating similarities amongst autonomous systems, cybernetics provides a lens for exploring how systems are structured and steered (at first-order level), and why they behave as they do (through a Second Order perspective). While the term cybernetics is often associated with the functioning of machine systems and robotics, it can also be used to observe and explore social systems and discourse (Umpleby, Medvedeva, Lepskiy, 2019). The theoretical lens through which this article is articulated is based on first-order cybernetics. Aligned with systems theories, cybernetics allows for the investigation and exploration of how systems are governed and maintained through patterns and rules that form boundaries to information. Especially useful in framing goal-related functioning of systems, the use of first-order cybernetics allows the researcher to investigate how a system functions through investigating the feedback processes of information which are allowed or rejected at specific intervals within the system to either initiate change or retain structure (Becvar & Becvar, 2012). As systems are governed by rules and patterns which form boundaries for attaining systemic structure, opening boundaries to allow information in, or in turn closing boundaries to reject information, helps provide a better understanding of how systems function in achieving a desired state or goal.

Accordingly, the use of first-order cybernetics provides a valuable framework for investigating the implementation of e-learning in classrooms across educational platforms. Simultaneously, it becomes possible to investigate how different systems within the wider South African system are shaped or restricted through open and closed boundaries, while at the same time investigating a model that allows for cohesive information flow to enter the South African system and school subsystems as self-sustaining entities without losing overall systemic integrity and entering a state of dysfunction (entropy).

3. Unifying the space and place of learning

The innovative use of digital learning aligns with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal 4 and aims toward a 21st century paradigm of Education for All. This will deem the use of digitized learning as central to infrastructure limitations and extending learning to learners who reside in remote areas (Ally, 2019). Accordingly, the World Economic Forum’s Internet for All initiative looks at the deployment of training aimed at bridging the online access gap. South Africa is one of the countries that is aligned with the global Fourth Industrial Revolution initiative. By identifying challenging spaces of connectivity, especially in rural areas, the initiative is centred on “extending ICT infrastructure to underserved areas, lowering the costs of being online and cheaper gadgets, digitising local content and providing ICT and digital skills” (Matshediso, 2017). The unification of place and space, specifically to optimize learning, is twofold and encompasses the physical dimension as well as the unseen dimension (time and context). Encountering boundaries to learning in traditional classroom practice is commonplace, and online learning systems provide the opportunity to connect to other systems of learning and draw from external knowledge bases. Chilton (2019) expresses the value of connecting to prerecorded case study material or learners who are not able to access the main place of learning.

While the before-mentioned holds potential for bringing connectivity to areas otherwise hindered from achieving optimal access to online resources, there is a need to look at available tools for bridging the divide and achieving successful implementation. Jantjies and Joy (2016) draw on the lack of access to proper resources such as computers in schools, while maintaining that mobile phones have been effective in enhancing learning and teaching globally, especially in developing countries. The researchers go on to point out that multiple languages hinder the implementation of technological methods for blended learning in South Africa. While Western discourse is seen as a colonising tool deflecting from African knowledge systems (Pillay & Swanepoel, 2018), it becomes increasingly important to steer South African education in innovative ways and incorporating global innovations in a meaningful way whilst retaining the systemic integrity of the South African education system as whole. While also accounting for the resource constraints that underlie many spaces of learning, the multilingual citizenship characteristic of the South African context can, instead of closing the door to global adaption, become a strong motivator for conceptualizing an indigenously relevant system.

4. Establishing boundaries to open information: Toward ethical patterns of learning

The growing nature of the digitized learning and online access platforms for information is transcending closed boundaries to learning, and the digitized age is seeing a rapid increase in information availability (Ally, 2019). Gous (2019) postulates that the aim of education is to teach knowledge and information that is on par with the latest developments. Gous (2019) evaluates the applicability of information and knowledge through contextualized teaching. What is relevant and current will depend on the needs of the people that the information is intended to serve. Lambert and Gong (2010) emphasise that knowledge is power. Should information systems not be effectively employed, we risk a further divide and marginalization which would perpetuate past cycles. One example of this would be how literacy education has, through past policy and practice, enhanced white supremacy. Education did this through information control amongst groups which caused inequality in participation and vocational access, as well as further education and training (Reygan & Steyn, 2017).

South African education is based on rules and patterns of constitutional ideals enshrined in the South African Constitution (1996) that translate into idealized practice through the Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statements (Department of Basic Education, 2011). These rules encapsulate the boundaries of equitable information and provide for restorative action concerning historic inequalities, the promotion of messages and knowledge based on inclusivity, and further promoting transformation towards the overall system of South African citizenship. Closed micro exploration has, however, revealed that closed system instruction has retained dysfunction and teachings have not been aligned with the overall systemic boundaries of social justice and equal participation (Davids, 2104; Rooth, 2005). While closed systemic loops have widened the gap between theoretic ideals and practice, opening educational boundaries to information can potentially lead to entropy.

Platonova and Gous (2019) draw on open education as a meaningful tool for producing free-thinking and multiculturally articulate learners. However, the researchers refer to open systems such as online education as a tool for perpetuating ideology and advance knowledge and information which is construed by power. Drawing on Gee (2011), the researchers feel that learning is central to changing patterns of behaviour and the creation of socially situated identities. Through symbolic discourse and cultural control, uncritical mass learning can decontextualize learning and skew it to the ideas and values of systems which are not relevant or on par with the learner’s specific context, which is where behaviour manifests. This is especially important to note when it comes to the creation of democratically accessible information systems during the digitized age where boundaries to information have been opened to global citizenship. Anefuku (2017) notes that opening boundaries to information for globalized knowledge is futile without critically examining the systems which underlie the knowledge base itself.

South African education systems are perpetually criticized for being dysfunctional at the practical level of conveying core curriculum content. Educators lack subject knowledge and in some cases teach subjects that fall out of their scope of training (Moloi, 2019). According to Lee and Brett (2015), a firm understanding of subject knowledge and comprehension of aligned pedagogies is fundamental to successfully utilizing technology during classroom instruction. A deficit in subject expertise is in turn a closed boundary for adapting to modern digitized learning methods which is relevant and contextual to learner needs. Research has also revealed closed boundaries of information sharing during sensitive topics, especially topics that are related to Social-Justice education. During certain classroom teachings, teachers perpetuate incongruent messages to learners, or leave out core content completely due to personal beliefs (Reygan & Francis, 2015). In such instances, opening boundaries to digital material holds value, and the teacher’s role as facilitator then becomes key in facilitating activities amongst learners. The use of technology for such learning experiences is however closely monitored and cannot be implemented on a large scale (such as via MOOC) due to the cultural plurality of learners needing to be understood within boundaries that are specific to the South African context. The uncritical use of material in digital format on the part of the teacher can either sustain the lesson within closed boundaries of digital use or lead to further entropy when employed without careful consideration.

Clarà and Barberà (2013) warn against the problematic pedagogies which underlie many forms of MOOCs, deriving from behaviouristic foundations to learning that situate knowledge as observable and objectively attainable. Further uncritical pedagogies can potentially lead learning toward representations of the object of learning, which obscures knowledge not as constructed patterns through various perspectives, but a thing that is not dynamic and adaptable. The use of MOOCs, without critically reflecting on which knowledge boundaries are opened, leads to further entropy within the learning process. Wise, Cui, Jin and Vytasek (2017) comment on interactional patterns during online discussions used in digital learning communities. With the wide array of participants engaging in the online discussion, it becomes difficult and chaotic to successfully disseminate relevant information that is aligned with the purpose of the learning activity. Porter et al (2016) further draw on harassment and bullying as cornerstone malpractices that hinder the adoption of online learning platforms. The further spread and “trolling” of pornographic material is also prevalent on online platforms. Online learning, in turn, needs to be aligned with instructors who comprehend not only the context of their digital platforms and users, but also grasp ethical boundaries in creating a functional system that is shielded from learning hindrances through the use of intervention, guidance and active participation.

 5. Traditional hierarchical versus modern digitized educational instruction

Traditional education systems are characterized by pedagogies that emphasise knowledge as external, thus situating the role of a teacher as the knower who leads learners to a set reality of “knowing”. Subsequent paradigm shifts have seen the role of the teacher change to that of a facilitator whose primary role is to create a learning environment in which learners co-construct knowledge. Recently, the shift toward modern digitized pedagogies is seen through the implementation of web 2.0 and the technological move toward learning platforms where learners connect to online instructors and potentially a wide array of knowledge sources (Clarà and Barberà, 2013). It has been noted that while the uncritical pedagogical approaches utilized through MOOCs can lean toward traditional behaviourist methods of instruction, the potential opportunities created for collaborative modern pedagogies is of value when used within a multi-perspective and collaborative environment. Fourth Industrial Revolution learning environments are conducive to collaborative learning. The teacher brings innovative technological methods to the classroom to facilitate collaboration, innovation, and creativity (Adefila & Pillay, 2019; Maksimović & Dimić, 2016). The modern role of the educator is subsequently multi-dimensional and transcends subject knowledge, redefining the educator as a change agent skilfully navigating social tenancies. The role is characterised by reflective practise and ongoing learning and research to maintain relevance in the face of societal changes in dynamic and innovative ways (Maksimović & Dimić, 2016).

Online education in various forms, including asynchronous and synchronous learning methods, have become popular platforms for instruction delivery, with designed lessons incorporating blended learning methods and artificial intelligence software for delivering personalized learning experiences (Ally, 2019; Picciano, 2019). Ally (2019) and Damoensa (2003) refer to the importance of teaching for the future, and align the modern role of the educator with the need to dynamically prepare learners for vocational access to jobs that are not yet in existence. The need for face-to-face learning as traditional learning methods have been re-aligned with virtual teachings where learners take control of their own learning experiences and select learning content (Akpan, Etim & Ogechi, 2016). Flipped classrooms have also broken away from traditional linear models of instruction, leading the learner to actively co-construct knowledge (Hwang, Lai & Wang, 2015). Gross, Pietri, Anderson, Moyano-Camihort and Graham (2015) draw on blended learning as it is beneficial for pre-class preparation and providing more opportunities for in-class activities as well as active learning experiences. Specifically grounded through research based on STEM education (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), the researchers point to beneficial outcomes when learning is balanced between on-line and in-class contact-based activities. Flipped and virtual classrooms have shown proven value through the recording of classes and lectures for later use. The proven effectiveness of this method has led to classes being pre-recorded to instil basic knowledge before formal instruction, which in turn has led to more time for in-class discussion and contextualization (Hwang, Lai & Wang, 2015).

The ‘leading’ of learners and students is important, as the flipped classroom can revert to autonomous systems of control should boundaries to learning be too rigid and narrow. Further entropy is also possible should boundaries be too open and allow for too much learner autonomy. The teacher is at the core of successful technological integration in the classroom. Successful integration of constructivist learning and the use of technology is driven by the beliefs of the educator who ultimately enters the classroom (Chen, 2008), and accordingly teacher induction and developmental programs should focus not only on skillset improvement, but also teachers’ beliefs about digital learning. Damoense (2003) noted that online learning enhances collaborative engagement. Traditional teacher instruction gives way to facilitating meaningful engagement with online activities. The wealth of online activities and resources make the act of leading learners and teacher beliefs cornerstone in ensuring that meaningful boundaries to information are opened. To attain systemic integrity within modern 21st century teaching-learning spaces, the use of e-learning, flipped and virtual classrooms need to be used effectively in the context within which learners reside (both at a micro and macro level). This is especially important in relation to the amount of learning that will stem from online methods and which learning will flow from face-to-face modes of delivery. As such, the awareness of systemic boundaries becomes a cornerstone during online pedagogies. Educators will need to open and close boundaries to online instruction in a manner that enhances the overall flow of the teaching-learning process.

 6. A circular approach to collaborative practice

An effective method of opening boundaries to enhance teacher adaptability toward digitized learning is found in the form of Communities of Practice (CoP). CoPs allow for collaborative practice, and when grounded through trusted patterns of interaction, enhance cross-platform learning that is stimulated through various stakeholders (Lee & Brett, 2015). According to Lee and Brett (2015), the use of online-learning design allows for teachers to cross-collaborate within a CoP, which enhances peer-teacher communication, stimulates self-reflection, and allows for stronger implementation of material within classroom practice. Lambert and Gong (2010) advocate for the use of technological systems during pre-service teacher instruction. They see it as vital for translating skill-sets during teaching when educators enter classroom practice. However, while many universities and institutions of learning provide computers for use during training, programs often miss the opportunities to effectively integrate digital systems in meaningful ways that advance post-training incorporation and use.

The remainder of the discussion will focus on a circular model of open-closed boundaries to digital content which emphasises collaborative practice and contextual awareness stemming from initial teacher induction towards the grassroots classroom use of media and material. Specifically grounded on a process of circularity pertaining to the knowledge-systems teachers draw on, the proposed model further envisages a South African knowledge base and context in a manner where information is mediated and steered toward the ideals of the South African system and unified and constructed through a wide array of perspectives, languages and contextual backgrounds. Intrinsic to the model is that the product of the information retains core knowledge integrity and is evaluated and steered through didactic approaches during teacher induction, as part of the process, instead of it being a process to engage with only once teachers actually start to teach. Skill-sets can, accordingly, be translated toward post-induction employment where teachers construct subsystems of evaluated and monitored content, thereby ensuring a uniform content base as teachers become comfortable with the use of digitizing learning and peer-support towards the goal of reliable and equitable information sharing.

Figure 1: Cyclical model of initiating cross-platform collaboration toward e-learning in South Africa (Author, 2020)

Figure 1 illustrates a circular approach to introducing a reliable and valid flow of e-learning content into classrooms while providing relief for teacher input during certain stages or cycles of curriculum coverage. The risk of an open system to online learning content has been discussed, as content drawn on from international sources or external open boundaries does not guarantee that contextual or relevant information is conveyed to learners. The aim is further to emphasise that digitized content should not dominate lessons but be used effectively and innovatively to enhance the learning that occurs during formal teaching hours. A circular method of introduction to core content, in collaboration with higher education instructors, and emanating through the teacher induction process, holds value both for ensuring valid and reliable use of digital content, as well as for allowing sub-system classroom level autonomy during the facilitation and contextualisation of information.

A process of circularity allows information to flow through the system in a controlled and goal-oriented manner, while providing for a basis of stored content which is accumulated and available to teachers post-induction for use and knowledge refinement. It is noteworthy that this article specifically draws on a model where information is continuously updatable. Opening too many boundaries to online learning is detrimental and will lead to entropy and systemic dysfunction. Thus, the proposed model is founded on shaping an autonomous community of content which is evaluated and on par with current trends in education, and stored in offline format for post-induction use. The material is shaped around core content. Through the process of teacher induction, it can utilize various forms of online instruction and assessment methods, which can be translated to the needs of the classroom system. With a wide array of material available across various subject didactics, it also leads to fewer challenges when looking to find content that is of value across different contexts of space and place.

Teachers entering their own space and place of teaching post-induction have an array of material and curriculum coverage available to them right at the onset. They can integrate the resources available during induction in a controlled environment alongside various stakeholders and peers from a plurality of backgrounds and skill-sets. The process stimulates access to resources and material which is contextually relevant and adaptable to a specific context. Boundaries to the material are opened and closed to learners either offline or online, and the overall integrity of the system’s use is adjusted to contextual constraints and resources, as material can be provided through various offline means. Importantly, a circular system, as proposed, provides teachers with opportunities to shape positive values and collaborative values about using technologically-based learning in classrooms without opening e-learning boundaries in a manner that is disadvantageous to other systems of learning situated in other contexts. Boundaries are therefore systematically removed in a way that does not cause a larger divide between schools systems and teachers who cannot employ sophisticated digital material in the classrooms.

A sensitization process is thus articulated where, through opening and closing systemic boundaries to material, the teacher can better navigate their own subject knowledge and continuous learning, while allowing for a stronger unified method of conveying base knowledge and giving way to the contextual application of skill-sets in the classroom. While there are various sources available for teachers to draw on content already, these sources are often expensive and not created with larger populations or context in mind. They are also not always reliable in terms of the encapsulated core ideals of national and international benchmarks. Ideally, to maintain systemic integrity, the overall aims of a model for implementing digital learning in classrooms should enhance teacher practice to align with reliability, and up-to-date ethical information. Ultimately, constructing a circular approach for reliable information and content sharing holds value for periods of instruction disruption while also allowing for teachers to shape values and autonomy to draw strategically on local and international content for enhancing practice, bypassing emotional bias during certain lessons, or reshaping and refining knowledge that is not on par to, or unaligned with, current trends and benchmarks.

7. Recommendations and research

There are various challenges to the implementation of a circular model for digitizing content for a unified information base. Firstly, cloud space is expensive, and the management of the proposed system can be costly and time-consuming. While the proposed system is autonomous and updates as teacher-induction takes place, further research is required to explore smaller data management systems that are both cost effective and reliable, especially in spaces where schools already employ online learning in effective and creative ways. Artificial intelligence and autonomous systems are feared as potentially replacing teachers. However, with careful consideration and implementation, the uses thereof can reduce administrative times and reduce the likelihood and severity of teacher burnout. The use thereof for system management and information sharing in strengthening classroom practice will be useful for stimulating public debate around the digitized paradigm shift in South Africa towards the ideals of globalization and technological advancement that characterise the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

8. Conclusion

The unequal distribution of resources and the post-apartheid ripples that hinder many schools’ systems from benefiting from real-time synchronous instruction that is relevant to the South African context, are impeding the adoption of technology in South African classrooms. While international systems have deep knowledge and information sharing pools to draw from, the boundaries of relevance and context are primary challenges in shaping a sustainable base from a South African perspective. This article subsequently explored a possible method of sensitizing teachers to online learning through a collaborative model based on circularity. The proposed model reflects the advantage of continuous content, which involves opening a system to allow for new content to flow in a directed manner, while closing boundaries to content that is not on par or reliably assessed before being widely used. The proposed model allows teachers to access an array of voices and methods pertaining to a specific lesson, so that they can reliably convey core content in a more effective and controlled manner. By providing more time for the teacher to facilitate context and application in the classroom, the value of a circular model lies therein that it further stimulates ongoing access to new methods and content coverage for self-reflection and peer engagement.

Limitations of resources and time constraints are curbed due to the initial construction of a community platform during induction. South Africa has the exciting opportunity to shape the adoption of digital learning in a manner that emphasises the active role of the teacher as both facilitator and lifelong learner, while also bridging contextual boundaries in new and innovative ways that promote the sustainability of the South African systemic context. At the forefront of the digitization process is the call for further research into refining an autonomous system which would reduce colonial powers’ monopoly on information and further investigating closed boundaries to unreliable material and content to the detriment of the learner and their subsequent context in terms of place and space. The move toward digitized learning can strengthen teacher practice and enhance collaboration. If not properly initiated and implemented, however, we may create a further divide amongst systems of learning, and not just among subsystems in South Africa. The overall integrity of the South African context of learning may be compromised, when compared with international benchmarks.

9. References

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