A. Cetin, J. Perumal

University of Johannesburg (SOUTH AFRICA)
The aim of this study is to explore opportunities and challenges facing Hizmet School principals in South Africa. The importance of teaching, learning and promoting tolerance as a value in South African schools, play a significant role in the post-apartheid education system, with the aim of delivering a more effective citizenry, contributing positively to social cohesion.

School’s established by the Hizmet Movement (Hizmet means “Service in Turkish), inspired by the teachings of Fethullah Gülen – a Turkish Islamic scholar and educational activist – are internationally acclaimed for its propagation of tolerance, peace, dialogue and social cohesion. These schools are renowned as the bastions of promoting tolerance in many parts of the world; South Africa included.

School leadership has a direct impact on tolerance education; by providing the necessary vision, leading by example and through active participation. The leadership role of Hizmet School principal is no different. It would be worth examining the opportunities and challenges, which are encountered by these principal, during the promotion of tolerance. The findings could guide school leaders who want to establish a tolerant schooling environment and broader community.

For the purpose of this study, a qualitative research method was employed at a number of Hizmet Movement affiliated schools in South Africa, known as Star Colleges, located in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. During this qualitative inquiry, focused group interviews and in-depth individual interviews are used as the primary generator of data. Three identified groups of stakeholders - principals, teachers and graduates – were involved during the interviews to elicit their experiences and observations about the opportunities and challenges facing principals in promoting tolerance. The data obtained in the research is analysed under certain codes and themes through content analyses.

The findings indicates that the most significant opportunity for principals to promote tolerance, lies in the diversity of students. Some of the participants noted that diversity is a big challenge, but majority are accepting that it is a very healthy environment to promote and practice tolerance. Principals were viewed as tolerant individuals and it was observed by participants that they try their best to practice tolerance. This automatically motivates other stakeholders, especially teachers, to do the same.

The biggest challenge experienced by the participants was the frequent changing of principals. It takes time for principals to understand the culture of a school, and to develop a strategy for promoting tolerance in way that can be accepted and implemented by teachers and students.

School principals have a crucial role in this process, and have to take advantages of opportunities and tackle the challenges in promoting tolerance. Ultimately, it should be a shared responsibility of all stakeholders to contribute meaningfully towards.