Gauteng Education Department on a mission to tackle high rate of learner suicides and violence in schools

As the number of learner suicides increases in Gauteng, the provincial Department of Education has announced its action plan to address learner suicides and safeguard learner wellbeing in Gauteng. File Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

As the number of learner suicides increases in Gauteng, the provincial Department of Education has announced its action plan to address learner suicides and safeguard learner wellbeing in Gauteng. File Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Sep 11, 2023


The Gauteng Department of Education (DOE) will soon deploy counsellors and social workers to about 1,200 schools as part of its initiative to address the high rate of learner suicide in the province.

There have been about 40 recorded suicides among school children and staff members this year, with the most recent incident taking place last Friday.

According to the Gauteng Education Department, an 11-year-old Grade 5 girl from Anzac Primary School in Brakpan tragically took her own life after her parents reportedly reprimanded her over an alleged theft of R300.

“This deeply distressing event serves as a stark reminder of the importance of addressing sensitive issues with children and providing them with the necessary support and guidance during difficult times,” the department said.

There have been no less than 300 cases of learner deaths reported to Gauteng Department of Education, including the 40 recorded as alleged suicides, since the start of the year.

The DOE said it reached out to the Gauteng Department of Health to undertake a mortality analysis on cases of suicide with the aim of understanding the causes and drivers of these incidents, which was important to understand the root causes of these suicides. The Health Department has accepted the task and is currently conducting the assessments.

The DOE will also deploy 500 Learner Support Agents (LSAs) to provide them with an early warning mechanisms and give peer counselling to support 1,200 schools.

One hundred and twenty social workers will also be deployed to assist with risk assessment of learners, while 500 Ke Moja coaches will be sent to assist with substance abuse awareness.

The DOE said it would also popularise the Childline toll-free number (116) to provide counselling services free of charge for learners and educators.

The department further announced its partnership with the Matthew Goniwe School of Leadership and Governance (MGSLG), the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG); Childline, the Teddy Bear Foundation and the National Association of Child and Youth Care Workers, to help learners and educators deal with the psychological challenges which may lead to suicide or suicidal thoughts.

SADAG will also visit Musi Comprehensive in Pimville, Buhlebuzile Secondary in Thokoza and Mpontsheng Secondary in Katlehong this week, with plans for the group to also visit several schools in Eldorado Park, as well as Reiger Park.

Concerned about the incidents of violence in and around schools, driven by gangsterism in some areas, the department said substance abuse by learners, as well as bullying continue to be a matter of concern.

The DOE outlined its “Action Plan for School Safety and Learner Wellbeing”.

It has also adopted a campaign dubbed Operation Kgutla Molao – Restore Order – to improve and sharpen existing strategies and urgently tackle safety concerns in schools that have been affected by violence and crime.

The plan has three elements which include improve safety features in schools; stakeholder mobilisation; and training and capacity-building.

Security guards will be deployed to 75 schools across Gauteng until March next year. These schools are located in areas with high crime incidents and have also experienced some form of violence or burglaries. The guards would join patrollers to safeguard the schools’ personnel, property and infrastructure. They will also search for weapons and illegal substances to prevent such from entering the school premises.

Hand-held detectors to help with screening for weapons has been delivered to 245 schools across Gauteng.

E-panic buttons will also be distributed to more than 3,000 staff in the 245 schools. This forms part of the elevated priorities announced by Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi during his 2023 State of the Province Address.

Regular patrols by police and safety wardens will be implemented in these schools. In this regard the Adopt-a-Cop programme will be reinforced to be more effective at crime prevention and detection, as well as awareness. This will be implemented in conjunction with Department of Community Safety and E-Gov.

CCTV cameras will also be installed in 90 schools across the province.

Multi-stakeholder School Safety Committees, under the banner of the School Governing Bodies (SGBs), will be resuscitated or re-established in all schools with priority given to the 245 schools. Some of the tasks of the committees include conducting a risk assessments and developing a School Safety Action Plan and emergency plans for disaster management. The committees will receive appropriate training to empower them to fulfil these duties, the department said.

Comment boxes have already been deployed to schools to enable anonymous reporting of bullying and harassment. Social workers will be responsible for analysing and responding to these reports.

A Quality Learning and Teaching Campaign School Safety Summit is planned for October to bring together experts, principals, educators, learners, parents, government officials, police and SGB associations to find solutions and co-operate on resolving violence and crime in school. These will be followed by regional summits to take forward actions agreed upon at the provincial summit, the department added.

*Any learner or person feeling sad, overwhelmed and needs support, can call 116. This Childline number is managed by trained social workers and psychologists.

*To ensure the safety at our schools, members of the community are urged to call the GDE Call Centre 080 000 0789 to report any suspected acts of burglary, arson, violence, learner truancy or any safety-related incidents.

*Alternately, send a WhatsApp message on 060 891 0361 or use the Department’s social media accounts on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.