Original Research

The critical role of relationship in education

Francois Wessels
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 71, No 3 | a2702 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v71i3.2702 | © 2015 Francois Wessels | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 25 April 2014 | Published: 28 September 2015

About the author(s)

Francois Wessels, Life Coach and Narrative Practitioner, Coaches and mentors of South Africa (COMENSA), South Africa; Department of Practical Theology, Faculty of Theology, University of Pretoria, South Africa


A TED talk by Susan Savage-Rumbaugh entitled ‘The gentle genius of the bonobos’ tells the story of the learning ability of these gentle primates. Although these animals were never deliberately taught any skills – cognitive, linguistic or technical – they managed to learn a vast amount from the scientists in the program by just observing, experimenting and imitating them. And the key to this learning process was the significance these humans had in the lives of the bonobos. The relationship between the scientists and the bonobos was therefore key to the learning experience and the learning process. This reminded me of the success stories I have witnessed within our therapist training program at the counselling centre where I have been lecturing. We used to train pastoral therapists within the narrative paradigm. Within this paradigm, reality is considered to be socially constructed, thus emphasising the relational nature of identity, agency and knowledge. Aligning the ‘teaching methodology’ with this epistemology invariably requires a participatory approach to training, which in our context led to the adoption of seminars rather than lectures, and a conversational style of learning (with the lecturer – or more aptly, the facilitator – becoming a co-learner!). This article will now explore what the effect of relationship building as a deliberate prerequisite for learning might be on learner agency.


relationship; education; training; narrative; social constructionist


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doi: 10.1080/10649867.2020.1719685