The introduction of the National Policy on Religion and Education (NPRE) in 2003 signalled the intention by government to provide a framework within which educational institutions have to deal with religion issues. The policy was introduced “in recognition that there have been instances in which public education institutions have discriminated on the grounds of religious belief” (NPRE, 2003: 3). Therefore, the policy gives full expression to the invocation of religion in the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa and the principles governing religious freedom. It further prescribes, in Sections 58 to 65 (NPRE, DoE, 2003), how school governing bodies (SGBs) should conduct religious observances. The study pursued the answer to the question: “Is the implementation of the policy on religion and education in schools advancing the school community’s right to freedom of religion, belief and opinion as anticipated by the NPRE?”
The study examined how SGBS in two rural high schools of the North West Province engaged in the development and implementation of the policy on religion. The research used extensive interviews, questionnaires, document analysis and observations to elicit SGBs’ understanding, views and experiences of the issues of religious values and diversity through the implementation of the policy on religion and education in their schools. This interpretive case study traced the ability of the policy to enhance the school community’s right to freedom for religious belief and expression and freedom from religious coercion and discrimination.
The findings of the study reveal a gloomy picture about the extent to which the policy on religion in schools is able to achieve the goals and objectives as intended by the NPRE. Two major challenges emerged; one is the lack of knowledge on the part of parents and learners serving in the SGBs to understand and interpret policy. The second is the minimal involvement of stakeholders in decision-making processes on matters that affect their lives, such as religion. This situation ultimately allows educators and principals to manipulate the environment of policy development and implementation. The result thereof includes the situation where one religion is being given priority over others, adoption of a particular religious character because other stakeholders do not have the knowledge about their religious rights, and the direct and indirect coercion of learners and educators to attend an assembly turned into a mono-religious observance.