Since 1994 South Africa has been known as a free and democratic country. This inquiry explores the perceptions and understandings of Grade 3 learners of social justice and the way in which social justice could be implemented in a democratic South Africa. The way in which the learners expressed themselves informed me about how they understand the political situation in South Africa and how they would change the situation to make South Africa a better place. The 1996 South African Constitution encourages equality and social justice through upholding the rights of the citizens. The interpretations of the learners informed me as to how equality may be achieved and also on ways in which to implement social justice in the curriculum. This study was informed by an interpretivist paradigm and guided by a conceptual and theoretical framework.
The existing literature on social justice and the implementation of social justice in a democratic South Africa has been guided by relevant concepts and theories. I used certain theories of Dewey to bring theory and practice together. Dewey proposed several theories to be implemented in society. His theories were based on democracy in education and he worked with teachers to encourage learners to think for themselves and, in this way, to create their own identities. I identified certain principles in the literature review that young learners would need to adhere to in order to evolve into active young citizens in a democracy. These principles include knowledge, skills and values. Social justice is one of the core principles of the National Curriculum Statement. The Department of Basic Education aims to merge principles of teaching and practice through the curriculum in order to help young learners to accept each other as citizens of South Africa while remaining sensitive to issues of diversity among the learners. The data collection methods and data collection instruments used in the study were designed to ascertain the opinions of the learners. In other words, the collection of the data was child-centred to enable the learners to express their own opinions. The paradigmatic considerations of the study is also explained by introducing them within the interpretive paradigm and confirming that this study was a case study. The Grade 3 learners who participated in the study expressed their knowledge about social justice in terms of the fairness and unfairness which they perceive in South Africa. They also indicated how they would create an ideal strategy for nation-building and social cohesion. The learners expressed little about the current political activities in the country but, instead, concentrated on the concerns about human safety, care for the environment and fairness in the communities in which they live. The young learners clearly wanted change in South Africa in order to transform the country into a united nation in which everybody is treated equally.
The key findings of the study confirmed that young learners want to make a difference in any way they are able, they want to participate in political processes and they want their voices to be heard rather than be mere observers. Social justice is a phenomenon that is natural for young learners as they accept each other as they are. They expressed their desire for social cohesion in South Africa.