‘I’d like more dis­ci­pline in our schools’

Learn­ers are cor­rect in claim­ing their rights to the ben­e­fits of democ­racy, but the undis­ci­plined ones lack the self-pride, goal-set­ting and aca­demic drive that are key to fu­ture suc­cess, writes

CityPress - - Voices -

We need to keep stu­dents in class so that they can learn. Dis­ci­pline is crit­i­cal to boost­ing learner achieve­ment and im­prov­ing school out­comes. June shines as the month when the youth changed the course of South Africa’s his­tory dur­ing their fate­ful protest on June 16 1976 against apartheid ed­u­ca­tion 40 years ago.

While it is im­por­tant to us as govern­ment to en­sure that the youth reap the ben­e­fits of democ­racy and their con­sti­tu­tional rights as cit­i­zens, they must bear in mind that dis­ci­pline is the key to suc­cess. This holds true for all times and for peo­ple of all age groups – from be­fore 1976 to to­day, and be­yond.

Cur­rently, there are many temp­ta­tions that can lure a learner away from what mat­ters. That is why my heart and spirit sank last month, when learn­ers van­dalised the Or­lando High of­fice build­ing and li­brary, in protest at the sus­pen­sion of a teacher.

In all Gaut­eng schools – and in any com­mu­nity – pride can be de­rived from the dis­ci­pline ev­i­dent there. Un­for­tu­nately, this trait was lack­ing at Or­lando High.

Dis­ci­pline has two as­pects. The first re­flects a per­son show­ing re­straint, wis­dom and au­thor­ity when men­tor­ing some­one they are re­spon­si­ble for – such as a par­ent-child re­la­tion­ship.

The sec­ond in­volves the per­sonal dis­ci­pline that ide­ally comes as a re­sult of the first, and that helps lead to the pos­i­tive choices so im­por­tant for suc­cess in life. If every­one agrees that dis­ci­pline is key to safety in school, why do we still have a prob­lem? Dis­ci­pline in school is dif­fer­ent to­day from what it was in the past. But psy­chol­o­gists and cer­tain valid in­ves­ti­ga­tions have shown that learn­ers who act up ex­press var­i­ous rea­sons for do­ing so. Some think that teach­ers do not care about them. Oth­ers do not want to be in school and no longer con­sider goal-set­ting and aca­demic suc­cess im­por­tant. Some are un­aware that their be­hav­iour will re­sult in pun­ish­ment. Dis­ci­pline starts with self-dis­ci­pline, which en­com­passes more than willpower. It is the abil­ity to see be­yond dis­trac­tions, fo­cus on a goal and do what it takes to achieve it. It in­cludes fore­sight and the abil­ity to han­dle frus­tra­tion. It is the in­ter­nalised voice that guides a per­son’s choices. In my world, in schools that value dis­ci­pline, every­one is ex­pected to have a place for ev­ery­thing and to keep ev­ery­thing in place. Dis­ci­pline has to be in­ter­nalised. Un­less it comes from within, no mat­ter how strongly im­posed, dis­ci­pline would be so re­sented that it would be hon­oured more by its breach than its ob­ser­vance. Thus, in schools that try to live by an in­sti­tu­tional cul­ture, the spirit of dis­ci­pline is in­stilled by ex­ter­nally im­posed prac­tices and rules of con­duct. These may be im­posed from the top and en­forced with re­wards for con­for­mance and sanc­tions for nonob­ser­vance.

Dis­ci­pline starts at home. Par­ents ini­tially ex­plain things to tod­dlers, guid­ing them as they learn. When mis­takes are made, they pro­vide com­fort for a noble ef­fort and re­mind the child of the ben­e­fits de­rived in per­se­ver­ing de­spite chal­lenges.

With time, the voices of par­ents or teach­ers on which the chil­dren rely must be in­ter­nalised so that the school-age child can be­gin to rea­son and solve prob­lems in­de­pen­dently.

It is this spirit of in­ter­nalised dis­ci­pline that we now need to bring to our com­mu­ni­ties and na­tional so­ci­ety.

We have rules of con­duct for almost ev­ery­thing. In fact, we have many laws reg­u­lat­ing be­hav­iour in our pub­lic spa­ces. But we need ef­fec­tive ways of en­forc­ing them. As we do in our homes, of­fices, com­mu­ni­ties and schools, we should have ways to re­ward con­for­mance and pun­ish nonob­ser­vance.

Above all, we need to have a con­tin­u­ing pro­gramme of re­minders on ap­pro­pri­ate con­duct in schools so that, in time, learn­ers can make their own rules and in­ter­nalise the spirit be­hind them. It is when we see dis­ci­pline ob­served in our com­mu­nity and so­ci­ety that we give a con­crete face to the rule of law, which at last should be made to work for our com­mon ben­e­fit in­stead of be­ing abused for the pur­pose of op­pos­ing it.

To learn­ers, I say dis­ci­pline is the ul­ti­mate tool for per­sonal em­pow­er­ment. It means tak­ing con­trol of your inner self and get­ting your life in or­der. You need to com­mit to do­ing this and hon­our that com­mit­ment to your­self.

Le­sufi is Gaut­eng’s MEC for ed­u­ca­tion

Or­lando High learn­ers clean up af­ter their protest last month

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