Cape Town - A number of videos featuring pupils attacking teachers have been circulating on social media over the last few months, raising questions about the integrity of the classroom environment.
One 12-second clip showed pupils jumping on the back of an elderly teacher, while he was held in an apparent chokehold.
At one point during the video, a number of pupils chuckled as the seemingly frightened teacher battled to maintain control of his class, while the learner leapt on on the teacher's back, preventing him from fleeing and sorting out the disruption in the classroom.
The Western Cape Education department said 33 major assaults on teaching personnel on school premises were reported in the last seven years. An educator who asked to remain anonymous, pointed to the aggressive behaviour as a frequent feature in the classroom.
“These videos that have been circulating really showcases the reality we have to face in the classroom. The integrity of the classroom is at stake and as much as we try our best, we have to deal with so much backlash from the pupils that we lose ourselves.
“My mental stability has completely deteriorated. Amid all the other frustrations and issues educators face, the pupil-on-teacher violence takes away the passion to teach, because now we have to worry about our safety inside and outside the school environment.
“In my own experience, I've encountered pupils threatening me and violently back-chatting or showing me gangster signs. I obviously reported these incidents, and it was dealt with, but safety remains a big concern because who knows if the pupils will go, regroup and attack us outside the school premises.
“Back in my day, this would have never been allowed, I would have gotten severely slapped or punished but the increasing freedom pupils have to be able to stand up to an adult, especially an educator, is increasingly concerning,” said the teacher.
Educational psychologist Megan Naude said that psycho-social and psycho-emotional well-being are not always prioritised as a crucial part of learning and development in schools.
“Children and adolescents are not always taught emotional skills of how to cope with adversity, stress and challenges. These are things which we mostly learn from our caregivers, families and communities.
“In our context, where many homes are child-headed and aren’t always well supported, children and adolescents often turn to violence or aggression as a means of coping. I think poverty (which has now been exacerbated by the Covid pandemic) further contributes towards this problem.
“Children and adolescents need to be equipped emotionally and socially to be able to cope and deal with the various stressors and adversity they face. Schools should be capacitated to offer programmes in which children are given opportunities to learn about their social-emotional well-being and how to cope with challenges they face in a healthy way.
“Especially after Covid-19, pupils often lack support from their families and communities at home and schools could act as a buffer for them in terms of support.
“Teachers also need to be supported in terms of their social-emotional well-being, through support programmes and security measures which ensure they feel safe and are able to confidently carry out their roles,” said Naude.
In a petition which is calling for corporal punishment to be brought back, stating that the discipline system that was been implemented is failing, National Professional Teachers' Organisation of South Africa (Naptosa) chief executive officer, David Millar opposed this.
He mentioned that Naptosa believed in a whole-of-society (Wosa) approach where all stakeholders become responsible for creating children who want to carve out a good future for themselves.
“Naptosa doesn’t support corporal punishment as it is another form of violence with no place in a civilised society.
“It is already projected that South Africa faces a teacher supply challenge in the coming decades. Also, how can teachers give their very best to their families at home when they carry emotional baggage with them from school?
“The influence of a community in addressing school violence can never be overstated. It is often said that it takes a village to raise a child. In this case, a Wosa approach is needed where parents, faith-based organisations, community organisations (NGOs), CPFs and schools, partner to address the scourge of school violence against teachers.
“Naptosa commends parents, and communities, who ensure that their children go to school knowing what is expected of them: to respect their teachers while they teach so that they can learn.
“Parents, educators and schools play a significant role in forming and educating our new generations of children, on which our future as South Africa depends. This is why violence against teachers should never be tolerated,” said Millar.
He also added that values-based education must become the norm.
“A holistic approach to education must become the norm. However, Naptosa will not accept anything less than strong-arm tactics against learners who perpetrate acts of violence against teachers.
“It is always sad when a learner gets expelled, or is imprisoned; however, there must be a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to violence against teachers,” said Millar.