On Wednesday a Grade 9 pupil survived being stabbed in the shoulder during a fight at KwaMakhutha High School. This was after the fatal stabbing on Monday of a 16-year-old Grade 10 pupil at Mvaba Secondary School in Inanda, allegedly by a 19-year-old Grade 11 pupil there.
Last Monday, Masakhaneni High School pupils Sihle Mngadi, 20, and Mangaliso Mbatha, 18, who were in Grades 11 and 10 respectively, were fatally stabbed at the school, allegedly by fellow pupils.
Concerned parents at Masakhaneni High School blamed the school for the deaths, as it had enrolled older pupils. The parents, who did not want to be named, said some pupils at the school were aged 20 and over, indicating that the institution had not considered the age restriction policy. They also claimed that most of the older pupils were part of a group that caused chaos and bullied younger pupils, including girls, and that the older boys perpetuated faction fights between pupils from KwaMakhutha and those from the nearby high school KwaMthiyane.
Another parent said the school had overlooked admission rules in the school policy by accepting school drop-outs: “For example, one of the victims was 20 years old and in Grade 11; that is not an appropriate age to be in Grade 11. The issue of age can have devastating consequences. It is unfortunate that this contributed to the loss of lives.”
Professor Labby Ramrathan, of the School of Education at the University of KZN, said incidents of bullying and ill-discipline may be much higher in schools with older pupils. They would have a problem engaging with teachers, have respect issues and difficulties integrating with curriculum demands and fellow pupils.
Education Department spokesperson Kwazi Mthethwa, however, denied that the issue of age contributed to ill-discipline, chaos and subsequent violence at schools: “Some were deprived of education in the past. We therefore cannot punish them because of their age. I doubt that the question of age is an issue. If a child is ill-disciplined, we cannot generalise and say it is because of the age issue. Ill-disciplined children should de dealt with. The department is dealing with such schools to restore discipline.”
In February, Education MEC Mthandeni Dlungwana suspended 17 teachers at KwaMakhutha High School on allegations that they had sold drugs to pupils. He had described the school as a “drug den” and commented on the level of ill-discipline among the pupils.
Allen Thompson, deputy president of the National Teachers’ Union, said the kind of behaviour displayed by the pupils at Masakhaneni was unfortunately a taste of what teachers had to endure on a daily basis - “being disrespected and bullied by pupils, some of whom are about their own age”.
He said there were Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges for older pupils: “The policy is clear ... that schools need to admit according to the appropriate age restriction, unless a parent has an extraordinary reason why the school should accept a pupil above the accepted age for the grade.”
Bheki Shandu, deputy general-secretary of the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union, encouraged principals of troubled schools to stick to the policy when admitting pupils, saying overlooking the age issue “could come back to bite them”.
He added: “In situations where younger pupils share a school or a classroom with much older pupils, there is bound to be chaos. Schools must abide by it.”
Matakanya Matakana, of the National Association of School Governing Bodies, said pupils should finish school aged between 17 and 18, but if this age was exceeded, psycho-social experts deployed by the department should assist the school in advising parents and pupils to take the TVET stream.
“It is actually not acceptable that a 20-year-old would still be in school. Parents may feel undermined, but it is the best advice a school can give,” Matakanya added.