Forest Hill High School in Turfontein where three learners were stabbed and one died on Monday. Picture: Simphiwe Mbokazi/African News Agency (ANA)
This past week society was again reminded that there are many reasons to fear our schools. If a child does not die in a pit latrine, she may fear scorn from bullies or teachers.

There is a good chance pupils may drop out when they see school work as insurmountable, or sometimes irrelevant. Potential workplaces are also beginning to ask what schools do as they receive what they deem as under-prepared youth.

Many parents maintain that teachers no longer instil morality as discipline continues to plummet. Teachers question the commitment of parents who send rowdy children to school.

Yet the indictment should be on us all - society is failing schools.

The cynic maintains that we have no future as children slay each other with pangas on school grounds. This has become so rampant that communities are beginning to get used to these killings. This is so sickening, so distasteful because it questions the core values of society.

The recent incident in Turfontein’s Forest Hill High School - when Daniel Bakwela, 16, was stabbed to death outside the school, allegedly by a fellow pupil - is the latest that should spur us to engage in debates as we contemplate the future and the role schools should play.

Generally, schools are fast becoming institutions that harbour fearful roleplayers. Teachers have been experiencing terror from children who dare them to fisticuffs.

Sadly, some teachers are considering leaving the profession because they fear their pupils.

Yet, there are also children who fear being ridiculed by teachers. But the latest tragedy in Forest Hill School appears to have been spurred by enmity between gangs. Unfortunately, gangsterism has transformed our schools into killing fields where pupils sharpen their anger and weapons instead of their intellect. Young gangsters promote crass materialism and warped role models in society.

As we push for education reforms, new challenges are surfacing. Among these is the violence which continues to take attention away from the introduction of real education reforms.

Noble efforts are being delayed by unfortunate incidents and new cultures. Schools have become sanguinary trenches as gangs rule. Just in the past year alone, we have seen how children have been maiming each other on school grounds.

In the middle of all of this are the teachers who frequently find themselves unable to fight the wave of violent incidents.

This week, on June 16, we will commemorate the 1976 riots. Many of our pupils may never remember Tsietsi Mashinini, Khotso Seatlholo or Lesley Hastings Ndlovu. They may never be able to appreciate the role of those who came before them in the liberation struggle. While society haggles over trivial goals, we need to think of how we can get our children to the future alive. 

Nationally, we need to think of solutions to curb the violence torrent that is sweeping the schools. Our schools need to think seriously about the idea of peer counsellors, where empowered pupils can support fellow pupils to find answers for troubling questions. The Department of Basic Education should also think of housing school psychologists in schools.

It is clear that we have troubled youth who need assistance as they face the challenges of life. What generation are we raising when a child is more concerned about safety after school than the mathematics homework or history project due the following week?

A new barbarism is creeping, silently destroying dreams and the country’s hopes. We will hardly build our future with cantankerous, belligerent pupils and an unresponsive society.

* Professor Vuyisile Msila works at Unisa’s Department of Leadership and Transformation. He writes in his personal capacity.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.