Dynamics at the frontier between the demands of democracy and sociocultural imperatives: Human rights and school discipline in secondary schools in Malawi
Human rights gained prominence in sub-Saharan Africa in the wave of democratisation following the collapse of communism. After decades of repressive systems of government, the fledgling democracies took several measures to safeguard democracy, one of which was the introduction of human rights education and education for democratic citizenship in their education systems. This paper reports on a study in Malawi where the advent of democracy led to the introduction of a discipline policy in secondary schools that appeared controversial because it took away teachers’ prerogative and unrestricted powers to discipline accused students. Since the policy came as a directive, without proper consultation of stakeholders, it caused an uproar on the secondary education andscape. The aim of this study was to explore and compare dynamics and forms of resistance that were found in two schools following their implementation of he discipline policy. Using the qualitative design and the comparative case study approach, the study generated data from two purposively sampled secondary chools of different types. The findings of the study showed that although the schools apparently followed the guidelines of the policy, the handling of cases was highly contextual, allowing each school to evade the elements of the policy that appeared controversial. The findings bring to the fore covert and subtle forms of resistance to policy implementation through the dynamics involved in the procedures for handling disciplinary cases. The article argues for a negotiated approach when there is a clash between sociocultural beliefs and policy changes dictated by ‘universal’ demands, otherwise policy implementation will be fraught with internal political undercurrents.