Teachers have a key role to play in creating social cohesion in society. This was one of the key messages from a round table discussion at the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR) last month.
The discussion was co-hosted by the IJR as well as Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT).
“Social cohesion is the glue that holds society together. In the society that we find ourselves we see lots of violence, discrimination and uprising,” said IJR educator project leader, Lucretia Arendse.
She said one of the main ways of addressing these kinds of issues was through education. Teachers, she said, were in the ideal position to do this. “The challenge that we have is that teachers don’t even know what social cohesion is. To make them understand, how can I be an agent of peace, is about understanding the agency that they have. Social cohesion is necessary because there is a lack of it.”
Ms Arendse said racism and discrimination remained major issues in the country. “Because schools are microcosms of our communities, we find that whatever is happening in those communities will be happening in schools.”
The approach that the IJR brief took was teaching respect for all. She said that policy change happened very slowly so that’s why they were starting with educating teachers on social cohesion.
The IJR ran provincial workshops with teachers on the subject.
“It gives educators a platform to share with each other and educators value that. It is about changing perspectives, changing our world view and changing behaviour. Teachers need to model respect for others and teachers can be agents for change. Children don’t do what we say, they do what we do.”
She said the collaboration between the IJR and CPUT was an important one. “Any way that we can influence policy makers is important.” She said the involvement of parents in the teaching of the subject was also vital.
Dylan Wray, who works for Shikaya, an organisation which works to support teachers and school leaders “so that young people leave their schools more numerate and literate, thinking critically, and acting compassionately”, was one of the speakers at last week’s discussion.
“In the absence of everything else, a teacher still has kids they can impact. We know that the structural thing needs to happen. In an ideal world, the first place to start is with the people, then you get to the codes of conduct.”
Mr Wray made the comparison between integrating laptops and tablets into their teaching in different subjects similar to what could be done with social cohesion.
“You can take the same approach and say we want to make sure our kids are socially cohesive. That they have the ability to integrate and address the issues of poverty and inequality and injustice.”
He said it can come down to something as simple as the books that are chosen for a language teacher and the discussions that take place in the classroom.
He said there was a role for civic organisations as well as schools to create social cohesion.
David de Korte, principal of Camps Bay High School, who was among the principals who attended the discussion, said topics such as social cohesion were vital and he would be looking at implementing it into the school’s curriculum.
“I was delighted that we could be included in this discussion and it was an honour to be included in the research.
“It’s been fantastic. The take-home I’ve taken is that social cohesion has to be taught in the school and become part of how the school looks at itself. It’s given me a lot to think about and I’m definitely going to go back and workshop it with the school.
“As a school community we’ll definitely benefit from it. It has to be formalised some way into the curriculum. I think that this topic is central to our education of children in the country.”