Pretoria - Schools across the country are in the grip of violence and an acute lack of discipline - committed by only 5 percent of pupils - which threatens to tip society and the education system out of control.
The problem was a double-edged one and affected pupils and teachers, a symposium of stakeholders declared on Saturday.
Teacher unions, teachers, school governing bodies and Education Department officials agreed that the scourge knew no boundaries, hitting the most affluent schools and those in poor communities equally hard.
It also posed the danger of creating a society of violent people who knew no discipline.
The experts said it was time to claim schools back from the 5 percent of unruly pupils on behalf of the silent majority.
This should be done in a partnership which required the participation of parents and the community if it was to succeed.
At a symposium on discipline and violence in schools, hosted by teacher union SA Onderwyserunie, (SAOU), participants included Basic Education Department officials, the National Professional Teachers Organisation (Naptosa) and SA Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu).
The Federation of Governing Bodies of SA Schools (Fedsas), the Governing Body Foundation, the National Association of School Governing Bodies (NASGB) and other stakeholders also attended.
“We need to get back to delivering speedily,” SAOU chief executive Chris Klopper said. The major problem as identified by teacher unions was the lack of support from the department, he said.
The department was quick to rush in, investigate and charge when staff appeared to be in the wrong, but failed to act when pupils assaulted teachers, he added.
“We want to join hands with parents and tell the department that we want our schools back on behalf of the silent majority. We want to bring discipline back,” he said.
Pupils were not fools and knew it was better to be out of trouble than in, said Tim Gordon of the Governing Body Foundation.
“If they know what you want, 95 percent will give it to you when you want it, but you always remain with the 5 percent problem.”
That 5 percent was what needed to be tackled, he said.
One solution would be to combine rules and tools to effect authority relevant for use in today’s world, Gordon said.
As society was undergoing change, there existed a child from two worlds. One was guilty of the misdemeanor of challenging authority, was cheeky and talked back, he said.
The other’s misdemeanor was bringing weapons to school, fighting with his peers and inviting gangs on to school premises.
“This problem is being serviced by one system, yet it cannot be dealt with equally.”
Naptosa head Basil Manuel said failure to instil discipline in the minority holding education society at ransom posed the danger of a lawless society.
“The number of violent learners is frightening, and it’s worse being that it was not age specific and cut across primary and high schools,” he said.
The involvement of parents and the community was important to sustain lessons taught at school, Manuel said.
The National Association of School Governing Bodies’ Matakanye Matakanye stressed that communication to parents and community structures had to be structured so they understood the message. “They need to know exactly what is being said.”
He also suggested that discipline be made part of the curriculum to be a subject pupils learnt and infused into their minds.
Poverty was another contributing factor, he said, a sentiment echoed by New Life Community Project’s Gerrie Smit, who said violence was sometimes the outcome of deep underlying stress.
The phenomenon was found on both sides of the economic barrier, he said. “For some kids it is part of their survival dynamics, frozen anger so the classroom is in a therapeutic context where they can act it out.”
School was also an economic venue for some, who sold drugs for survival. “We shouldn’t waste time on crisis management. We need to, and can, take back the environment by using the right strategy in dealing with each individual scenario,” Smit said.
Other strategies for solving the violence and discipline problems involved making classes smaller; balancing the methods of dealing with perpetrators and victims; dealing with minor and major crimes; making activists out of teachers; and embracing new realities of modern day pupils.
The results of the symposium would be presented to the department, which would be encouraged to step up and assist those schools which required help, and allow those schools with solutions to use their authority and knowledge.