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Violent behaviour at our schools is out of control and the solution poses a major headache for the country, writes Ntando Makhubu.
Pretoria - Violence has taken over and characterised the school day across the country, and spread fear in both educators and teachers alike, as weapons, drugs, fighting and bullying reign supreme.
Sexual harassment and intimidation have become commonplace in schools, leading to bunking, failing and drop-outs. Rampant acts of violence have also been blamed for the breaking of furniture and vandalising of school property, a University of South Africa (Unisa) report says.
The report, from a study into the Dynamics of School Violence conducted by Unisa’s College of Education, outlines responses from learners, educators, members of School Governing Bodies (SGB) and other community members, who opened up about the horror stories from the classroom and school premises.
Details of emotional, physical and psychological abuse in both public and private facilities, affecting everyone in the school emerged.
Educators said they often feared pupils with violent behaviour, one in KwaZulu Natal saying: “The boys go out during break time and have this drug, Whoonga.”
They came back arrogant and not willing to listen to teachers. The teachers said that when they tried to calm them down they became more aggressive: “You end up not knowing how to control them….they can hit you, because they sometimes carry knives and other weapons in their bags.”
Some pupils admitted to taking drugs, a problem the report attributed to the failure by schools to establish and provide security, confidence and a sense of personal worth and wellbeing.
“It helps me to get the guts to do things I couldn’t do before. It makes me stronger and much more confident to ill treat people and tell them that what they do to me isn’t right,” a pupil from the North West Province said.
A teacher said “space muffins” were brought in, to get students high and hooked, and a school principal added that the local community was to blame: “….just across the road about 15 to 20 metres from the school is a bottle store and most of the people who sell drugs, are there.”
Another educator said the drug problem was so severe that students in the Western Cape were often arrested for committing drug related crimes.
“We have learners who abuse their grandmothers so much that they seek protection orders against them, and the assaults are mainly because the children want money for the substances they abuse.”
Emotional abuse was also rampant, with pupils across the country accusing their teachers of belittling them and making them feel useless.
“Some teachers are rude, they don’t talk to you nicely, they swear, they talk vulgar about your parents,” a pupil said, adding that the teachers used “big words” and swore, called them names and shouted at them.
“There are some teachers who call us these nasty words, like (bitch) because of our short skirts, they use strong language about our bodies…”
They opted to bunk, and then they failed, because.. “they are the adults yet they act like small children.”
One Gauteng pupil said: “There shouldn’t be violence because we are not being encouraged to be ourselves, we turn to smoking dagga, vandalising the school to express ourselves.
“I’m not trying to shift the blame but if as I said we are encouraged to be ourselves maybe there wouldn’t be such violence.”
The survey identified fighting as one of the most common forms of violence in schools. It involved both boys and girls, and they fought in front of teachers and anywhere on the school grounds when the urge to fight overcame them.
Learners said they fought to settle gambling debts and personal scores, they stabbed each other and had fist fights, broke chairs and tables over each other when they could. Some reported guns being pulled, one pupil saying: “I’m not blaming the people who come with weapons to school. Some people are short tempered like me but the only thing that I dislike about myself is that before I gave my gun away I used to come with it to school.”
A Mpumalanga SGB member recalled a vicious fight between two girls just outside the school gates, which the school had no jurisdiction over.
“They fought over allegations of having children and committing abortions. It was horrible, but it was a private affair.”
Some fights were over school resources, which were in short supply at some schools.
“Yes, I was fighting with another and we were fighting over a chair…there was a shortage of chairs…” a Limpopo pupil said.
The violence in schools has received condemnation and raised the concern of many across the country.
The emergence of stories, and sometimes video footage, of assaults on both teachers and students, has sent ripples across the country.
Stakeholders, parents and ordinary members of society have called for extreme measures to be taken to curb it.
In response to the reports this week, of a 14 year-old boy who hit his teacher with a fist in the face, the South African Teachers Union (SAOU) said learner-to-teacher aggression required immediate attention.
“The latest incident is symptomatic of the growing violence against women and children that appears to be getting steadily worse in our South African society,” SAOU chairman Carel Cronje said.
Gauteng Student Council’s Lulamile Mogapi said teachers often brought their problems into class and took them out on students. “There needs to be professional intervention to prevent this.”
Pretoria Social Worker Emma du Preez said the problem was societal more than anything: “There needs to be an overhaul of society as we know it if the problem is to stop.”
The education system, parents, community leaders and traditional structures had to join hands and work on the problem, she said.
Recommendations made by Unisa’s College of Education:
1. Improvement of basic levels of good management, school effectiveness and teacher professionalism in South African schools
2. A well-ordered school is also a less violent school, efforts must also increasingly be made to realise this within the post-apartheid educational framework of education for democracy and peaceful conflict resolution
3. An effective school must also be a more democratic school; good management is more democratic management and a professional teacher operates in a more democratic manner. The more pupils, parents and staff are involved in school policy and decision making, the more there is a genuine community, the more the school can resist violence.
4. Initial teacher education needs to be more rigorous in producing professional teachers.
5. Schools that experience problems of violence need an active safety and security committee that monitors violence; recommends violence prevention measures; and oversees its implementation.
6. Many teachers still need training on why corporal punishment is ineffective educationally and has negative consequences, as well as what are constructive alternatives to corporal punishment.
7. Bullying must be recognised as a problem and acted upon in schools by staff. Each school should have clear anti-bullying policy.
8. The nature and causes of violence in society and in schools need to be examined and discussed in schools and teacher education.
9. The nature and causes of violence in society and in schools need to be examined and discussed in schools and teacher education.
10. The social nature of masculinity, and alternatives to aggressive and violent masculinity, needs to be examined and discussed in schools and in teacher education.
11. Race and racism also need to be examined and discussed in schools and teacher education.
12. In light of 7–9 above, there is a need to reconsider the place, nature, and content of teaching about society in South African schools. Does guidance and counselling provide a suitable vehicle? Is a new approach required? Are teachers equipped to teach controversial issues in the classroom?