n South African Journal of Higher Education - A deliberative democratic view of mentorship

Volume 22, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 1011-3487



The article critically reflects on the positive portrayal of mentorship as a professional development strategy for educators. We argue that the conceptualisation of classical mentorship has been informed mainly by functionalist thinking. We contend that the supposedly beneficial nature of the mentorship relationship has been given such prominence that the possibility of learning from two highly problematic assumptions occupying a central position within a functionalist conceptualisation of mentorship, that is, the conceptualisation of learning as a unidirectional transmission process and, secondly, the strong authoritarian tendency deriving from a highly hierarchal mentor-mentee relationship where an experienced older person is the mentor and an inexperienced, younger person the mentee, is largely negated.

Functionalist perspectives informed the highly authoritarian education system that was essential to maintain the oppressive political dispensation in South Africa. We argue therefore that, owing to the underlying assumption of an uncritical transmission of knowledge and management skills in a strong hierarchal relationship between mentor and mentee, mentorship conceptualised within the framework of functionalism isinherently conservative and poses a potential threat to the new education system in South Africa.
The conceptualisation of mentorship within a radical humanistic perspective is pursued,especially because social justice, the learner as critical co-learner, and the critical analysis of power relations occupy a central position within this perspective.

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