File picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency (ANA)
File picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency (ANA)

Aggression creeping into our schools

By Opinion Time of article published Sep 6, 2021

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OPINION: The daily incidents of violence at schools undermine the constitutional rights of children to access basic education in an environment that is free from all forms of violence, writes Bonginkosi Dhlamini.

School violence. This phrase usually comes up whenever incidents of learner-to-learner, teacher-to-learner harassment, including physical and non-physical abuse; make the headlines.

The recent murder of Qayiye Mgaye, a 15-year-old Grade 8 learner, who was stabbed by a fellow pupil, at Pholosho Secondary school in Alexandra, Gauteng, has brought the topic back to our attention.

The tragic death of this young person comes as a prompt reminder that the evils of aggression and violence in our society can also replicate themselves within our schools.

This is disheartening, to say the least, especially given the fact that the future of our country and its economy depends so much on the education of our young people.

Under normal circumstances, schools ought to be centres of educating impressionable minds about ideas of effective communication, self-discipline, solving problems and effectively developing skills for the future. On the contrary, what we are witnessing in our province is that some schools are offering a rude awakening to the reality of our violent society.

In 2012, the Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention conducted a nationally representative research survey, the national school violence study, which found that about 22% of school learners had suffered some form of violence in their school environment.

Although there are no recent similar studies on violence rates in our country’s schools, one can conclude, based on recent cases of violent contact crimes committed in schools, that all is not well when it comes to safety within our schools.

Many children are likely to experience violence at some stage of their schooling career because we live in a country where crime and exposure to violence are abnormally high and hence too common.

To make matters worse, the problem of gangsterism and associated violence in communities is also spreading into township schools across Gauteng.

As a result of these factors, more learners are likely to become perpetrators and indeed victims of violent crimes in schools. In recent months, we saw the threat of fatal violence in schools becoming a common phenomenon and this is evidenced by similar patterns in other parts of the country.

For instance, Evans Mduduzi Mkhwanazi a 17-year-old Grade 10 pupil, who attended Entokozweni Secondary School in Kwaggafontein-C in Mpumalanga died from injuries he sustained from a fight with another pupil in August this year.

In the Western Cape, another student was stabbed to death at Eesterivier School last year.

Similarly, in KwaZulu Natal, Hershall Fynn, a Grade 11 pupil was stabbed to death in a fight outside Eastwood Secondary School in Pietermaritzburg in 2019. These are just a few cases that received media attention.

The more sobering reality is that many other similar instances that go unreported.

The daily incidents of violence at schools undermine the constitutional rights of children to access basic education in an environment that is free from all forms of violence.

This poses a real obstacle to learning and teaching. In this regard, the IFP believes that we must strive to bring back the declining culture of learning and respect for authority in schools. This includes changing the negative attitudes against teachers taking on a loco parentis role in the classroom and consider the inclusion of ethical studies into our schools’ curriculum to reinforce accountability among learners.

It should concern all of us that the impact of violent crimes in society is now manifesting at schools.

The inability of our law enforcement to keep crime and levels of violence under control is ruinous and costly for society, the state and economy, and its future. Furthermore, the deterioration of safety measures has the potential to increase the already high number of learners who are prematurely dropping out of the schooling system.

Those learners are doomed to join the large pool of unemployed and poor youth.

To curb the cycle of violence and poverty, parents and community leaders must begin to assume the responsibility of modelling and imparting decent moral values and humanity in the treatment of others to our children.

We must work together with schools to ensure that the learning environment for learners is safe and conducive for them to realise their full potential. As a society, we have a vested interest in keeping our schools and children safe because there are the custodians of the future.

A popular proverb reminds us that: it takes a village to raise a child.

Likewise, the safety of learners within our schools is not a responsibility that should only fall on teachers and the department of basic education. But a collective responsibility.

*Dhlamini is a member of the Gauteng provincial legislature and chairperson of the IFP Gauteng.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.

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