Durban - It is not a teacher's sole responsibility to teach pupils discipline. It should start in the home and the sooner the better, experts have cautioned.
The lack of discipline among pupils in South African schools is becoming more prevalent and violent, judging by videos captured inside and outside classrooms that have gone viral on social media.
Some may say the common law principle of in loco parentis entitles teachers, as the guardians in the school environment, to discipline pupils.
However, research suggests it is unclear as to what extent teachers can or do enact the loco parentis role.
Researchers Letlhoyo Segalo and Awelani Melvin Rambuda, in “South African public schoolteachers’ views on the right to discipline pupils”, found that teachers had complained about the “total lack of respect” from pupils, with one saying children were “not prepared to take any orders”.
Among their recommendations, they suggested teachers review and refresh their understanding of how discipline could be enforced. They should also work on finding new ways of effectively minimising incidents of misbehaviour.
The general secretary of the National Association of School Governing Bodies, Matakanye Matakanye, said that to become a teacher, you had to go through the process of learning child psychology, so the teacher should know how to deal with instances in the classroom.
“Discipline, however, starts from home and it is up to the parent to determine the ethics that the child has,” said Matakanye.
He advised school governing bodies to formulate progressive policies and implement conducive learning environments where learning could take place smoothly.
The chairperson of the Parents’ Association KwaZulu-Natal, Vee Gani, agreed.
He said teachers were expected to deal with situations they were not trained for.
“For example, how do you tell a teacher to deal with a stabbing incident which is a criminal act?”
Retired principals believe the reintroduction of guidance counselling could help teach pupils the tools to manage conflict.
“Principals and teachers tiptoe around disruptive pupils because there are so many rules that govern them,” said Rajen Singh, 59. He served at Tongaat Secondary for 19 years, as teacher and principal, and took early retirement last month.
“Apart from drugs, one of the other challenges is cellphones and the distraction of social media. We have caught children watching pornography during class and at break time. Also, when fights break out, children pull out their phones to record it instead of alerting teachers. This has become a trend.”
During his tenure, he said some pupils arrived at school drunk and had hurled vulgarities at teachers.
“Teachers have it tough. They are banned from using corporal punishment and pupils take full advantage of that. The lack of respect and morals is evident. These characteristics should be taught in the home.”
He said the Department of Basic Education needed to take a tougher stance and have the offenders expelled.
Singh added that guidance counselling, which ceased to exist as a subject in the late 1990s, should be reintroduced in the classroom.
The former principal of Castlehill Primary School, Ronnie Moodley, said: “Not all children have the ability to excel in academics and when questioned by teachers in front of their peers in class, they feel embarrassed and lash out. Guidance counselling will teach them to deal with anger.”
He said that in his earlier teaching days, discipline in schools was not an issue.
“Pupils had respect for their elders. Parents must stop making their children the victims. They must also remember that the responsibility of teaching discipline does not lie with the teachers.”
The former principal of Hopeville Primary in Phoenix, Benny Maistry, added: “The abolition of corporal punishment, and the lack of alternatives in dealing with bad behaviour have left teachers in a dilemma.”
Maistry, who retired last month, said there were a number of young parents who lacked parenting skills.
“When the problem comes to school, the parents are in denial.”
Spokesperson for the Department of Education in KZN Kwazi Mthethwa said violence and the lack of discipline in schools were prevalent.
“This is a societal issue and we do offer pupils guidance through our life-orientation classes. But there is so much we can do.
“Ultimately, the onus is on parents. Respect and discipline start at home.”