A Whopping 96% of 1779 learners aged 11 to 18 years from eight Johannesburg schools who participated in a survey study expressed feeling unsafe at school.
“Four percent of the responses indicated no concerns in the school environment,” said the study undertaken to inform the services and advocacy efforts of the Teddy Bear Foundation.
“Considering the multitude of concerns raised, one wonders what allowed these learners to feel that their needs for learning and safety were being adequately addressed.”
Published in the esteemed SA Journal of Education, the research study was produced by Tessa Hochfeld, Jeanette Schmid and Sheri Errington from the University of Johannesburg and Teddy Bear Foundation’s Shaheda Omar.
The four academics asked the learners responding to the survey to state their biggest worries at school. The learners, from predominantly black schools, were also asked what they believed could be done to solve the concerns.
Safety issues that the learners expressed worries about ranged from bullying to corporal punishment, racism, dirty toilets and inadequate security guards.
“A quarter of the respondents suggested that they had experienced or witnessed bullying by peers such as their peers being beaten/beating them, removing food, stealing stationery from and insulting other learners,” said the study.
“Learners were concerned about teachers being physically and emotionally abusive through corporal punishment, denigrating language and extorting money from the learners.
“Learners at a city school felt there were too few security guards protecting the school, highlighting their fears of neighbourhood violence spilling onto the school grounds.”
The study focused on capturing the learners’ voices, as the researchers believed that “learner input is often neglected in school safety research”.
In their own words, one learner said: “My biggest worry is that there are a lot of bullies who bully us. The bullies … beat up girls and hurt them.”
Said another: “I would like these boys to stop bullying me because I feel heartbroken,” while another added: “My worry is there is a boy who likes to beat me and takes my money or lunch box for break.”
Sexual harassment was an issue too. “I’m worried because of three (boys) who like to touch my bum, always, even … after school, they … attack me,” said one learner.
“Some girls are raped (and then) laughed at and they feel sad,” another learner stated.
Some learners pointed fingers at teachers for unsafe schools. “My problem is that teachers at school beat us with a pipe, and we get angry,” a pupil said.
“My biggest worry at school is when I hear teachers insult us and swear at us expecting us to be quiet and telling us about their kids,” another submitted.
Some learners also expressed worry about the conditions of toilets and inadequate security guards.
“My biggest worry at school is that some people get sick because of the dirty toilets,” replied a learner.
Said another: “We are not safe, we have only one security (guard).”
The study was presented to the Gauteng Department of Education, “which subsequently agreed to follow up specific concerns in certain schools”, the researchers revealed.