SA Journal of Education, Vol 39, No 4 (2019)

Well-being for whom? Unpacking the teacher well-being discourse of the South African Department of Basic Education

Erika Kruger


Neoliberalism has adjusted society’s role allocations related to who is responsible for looking after the welfare of whom. Based on the assumption of advancing human well-being, the neoliberal narrative renders the individual free, autonomous, and self-sufficient, but also with the obligation to assume responsibility for their own welfare. This duty is also shared with non-state agents such as employers. This article analyses the well-being discourse evident in two reports of the South African Department of Basic Education (DBE) to establish how the department as employer and as public service department understands its role in taking care of the well-being of teachers. The analysis indicates that the texts portray a relationship of care and a desire to create a well-resourced and safe learning organisation in which teachers can be inspired to grow professionally and personally. However, this is a transactional relationship, and in return for investing in teacher well-being, the employer expects commitment to the aims and objectives of the state. The neoliberal rationality necessitates balancing the well-being of teachers as autonomous persons with teachers as economic-rational actors transforming well-being into self-care, which is defined and controlled by the employer.

ORCiD iD of author:
Erika Kruger -

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