File photo: African News Agency (ANA)
Boksburg - Many teachers lack the “soft skills” to respond to the socio-economic problems that left pupils traumatised and led to violence and aggression in many of South Africa’s schools.

Marken Pitzer, the head of Nigel Primary School, on the East Rand, believes that most teachers do not know how to manage pupils from broken homes, characterised by absent parenting and poor social conditions.

Too often, the methods used by schools to deal with violence are not effective.

“A reaction of anger is a consequence of something bigger. We only act when it is time to call the police when a pupil misbehaves while we have been ignoring signs.

"That is the wrong solution. It contributes nothing to changing the school environment and changing the child.”

Pitzer was speaking to the Saturday Star on the sidelines of the School Safety Summit held in Boksburg this week.

Experts in the education sector gathered to discuss solutions to combat violence in schools.

“As teachers, we forget about the socio-economic state of many children and devastating home conditions.

"We are supposed to parent at schools as well.”

Pitzer added that some parents worked far from home and rarely had an opportunity to spend time with their children.

“We need to be alive to those realities as teachers. We don’t live in a perfect world. We need to be nation builders, rather than be at war with our children,” he said.

“If you have teachers who are forever absent or late, surely such a type of environment will only encourage chaos. Children get into fights and bullying when there is no person looking after them.”

Schools should be places of safety. “The current socialisation of schools does not respond to the needs of all children. Our children are crying for help and no one is responding. I’m happy that we are starting to talk.”

Professor Vusi Mncube, the deputy dean of research in education at the University of Fort Hare, agreed.

“Schools do not have clear non-violent and non-conflict resolution policies and active conflict resolution committees.”

Apathy on the part of teachers also contributed to violence, he believed. “Do teachers consider reasons why students would want to use violence? The answer for me is no. This is violence by omission. There is an attitude that says: 'Well parents should have taught their children how to behave'.”

A lot of violence happened when teachers were not in class. “When students are left unattended, violence and bullying take place.”

The school environment reproduced a model of masculinity that had “proximity" to violence. “Some male teachers are often involved in cases of sexual harassment. Male pupils then copy them. They think harassing women is a definition of being a male. They then rape female students.”

Mncube argued that schools should be agents of change instead of conforming to an existing status quo in society.

“We always say a school is a microcosm of a society that it serves, which means that whatever happens in the school environment, happens in the community. It is a worrying factor. Because we are a violent society, schools should therefore be violent? This should not be true.”

Local schools were still largely autocratic and did not espouse democratic principles.

“Already, children think the school environment is one characterised by fear and some dread being at school.”

Saturday Star