Restor­ing dis­ci­pline in our schools

Min­is­ter urges al­ter­na­tive ways to re­viled cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment

Pretoria News Weekend - - NEWS - LE­BO­GANG SEALE

AROUND this time last year, a Learn­ers’ Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Coun­cil leader at Badirile High School in Khut­song near Car­letonville on the West Rand called for the rein­tro­duc­tion of cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment at schools.

His call, alarm­ing as it was, went largely un­no­ticed, prob­a­bly be­cause it was drowned out by what seemed an in­ex­orable scourge of cor­rup­tion and crim­i­nal­ity that per­vades our coun­try.

Com­ment­ing on the gang­ster­ism that was af­fect­ing learn­ing and teach­ing in the town­ship, Daniel Mamela said: “I hon­estly blame the gov­ern­ment for tak­ing away cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment be­cause since the gov­ern­ment took it away, there has been a lack of dis­ci­pline. Learn­ers now know they can do what­ever they want be­cause no teacher has a right to dare touch them.”

On Tues­day – just over a year later – King Good­will Zwelithini made the same call when he be­moaned the ban­ning of cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment at schools. He called for its re­in­state­ment, say­ing the rod would “make learn­ers per­form well”. “Not dis­ci­plin­ing our chil­dren is let­ting us down,” said Zwelithini, speak­ing at a meet­ing in KwaZulu-Na­tal.

Or­di­nar­ily, in an era where cases of teach­ers met­ing out cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment to school­child­ren, of­ten with the worst bru­tal­ity imag­in­able, Zwelithini’s ut­ter­ances would have sparked wide out­rage and con­dem­na­tion. But they seemed to pass with a whim­per. No protes­ta­tion, no dis­sent, no out­cry, what­so­ever – even from gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials who flanked Zwelithini as he roared.

Notably, KwaZulu-Na­tal Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion deputy direc­tor-gen­eral for cur­ricu­lum devel­op­ment, Dr Bar­ney Mthembu, in his de­ter­mi­na­tion to feign ig­no­rance, opted for a dif­fer­ent topic, im­plor­ing prin­ci­pals to en­sure there was no re­peat of the group copy­ing scan­dal which rocked the Class of 2014.

Apart from scant ar­ti­cles in a few pub­li­ca­tions, there wasn’t much sound and fury about Zwelithini’s re­marks. While he may come across as in­sen­si­tive to the phys­i­cal and emo­tional pain in­flicted on chil­dren by teach­ers who see cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment as the only de­ter­rence for way­ward be­hav­iour, Zwelithini should not be dis­missed as an overzeal­ous and self-right­eous monarch whose state­ments sig­nify noth­ing.

His views un­der­score what many be­lieve: that er­rant chil­dren must be spanked. As the say­ing goes, spare the rod and spoil the child, many might say.

The un­palat­able truth is that 20 years since cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment was abol­ished in South African schools, many teach­ers con­tinue to dish it out, of­ten for the most mun­dane of of­fences. Many chil­dren have been maimed, some have been killed and oth­ers carry phys­i­cal and emo­tional scars.

Ac­cord­ing to the SA Coun­cil of Ed­u­ca­tors, the lat­est sta­tis­tics in­di­cate that cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment topped the list of 593 com­plaints na­tion­ally, with at least 265 cases. The Western Cape led the pack with 286 of the over­all com­plaints, fol- lowed by KwaZulu-Na­tal with 89, Gaut­eng 70, Mpumalanga 48, the East­ern Cape 29, the Free State 27, and North West and Lim­popo 25.

But the gov­ern­ment, and ed­u­ca­tion au­thor­i­ties in par­tic­u­lar, would never have imag­ined that it would be so com­mon­place to­day when they out­lawed it in 1997. So why is this the case? On the face of it, it is be­cause teach­ers are still grap­pling with al­ter­na­tive ways to chas­tise er­rant chil­dren. But there are far deeper prob­lems that lead teach­ers, just like par­ents, to spank their chil­dren.

Ba­sic Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Angie Mot­shekga be­lieves this is be­cause teach­ers, just like pupils, suf­fer from emo­tional pres­sure em­a­nat­ing from the vi­o­lence in com­mu­ni­ties.

“Schools are just a small rep­re­sen­ta­tion of com­mu­ni­ties, and where there’s high lev­els of vi­o­lence in com­mu­ni­ties, it trans­lates into the schools.

“So you find that teach­ers find it dif­fi­cult to man­age kids who are so­cialised through vi­o­lence and are not able to take in­struc­tions which are peace­ful,” she says.

“Where there’s a high level of vi­o­lence (in com­mu­ni­ties), teach­ers them­selves, as mem­bers of the com­mu­nity, know that if they have to dis­ci­pline chil­dren, what they know best is vi­o­lence.”

But while Dr Shahida Omar, the direc­tor of clin­i­cal ser­vices at Teddy Bear Clinic, agrees with Mot­shekga, she be­lieves that teach­ers, just like par­ents, would do bet­ter, in the face of in­dis­ci­pline, fail­ure to per­form tasks and even un­ruly be­hav­iour by chil­dren, to re­strain them­selves.

“Work­ing with adults and par­ents, they say they don’t know how to man­age with chil­dren, and when they lose their tem­per (and ad­min­is­ter cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment). It is about their anger, their feel­ings, and not about cor­rect­ing the child’s be­hav­iour. It is about their (par­ents’) in­abil­ity to re­strain their im­pulse, the in­abil­ity to sit back and think. So one needs to look at rea­son­able forms of chas­tise­ment,” says Omar.

She be­lieves that vi­o­lence against chil­dren of­ten mir­rors en­trenched pa­tri­archy, be­cause in some com­mu­ni­ties where there is a break­down of fam­ily struc­tures re­sult­ing in sin­gle par­ent-headed fam­i­lies, mas­culin­ity be­comes the norm as the teacher is seen as the learn­ers’ fa­ther fig­ure.

“In our pa­tri­ar­chal sys­tems and struc­tures and toxic mas­culin­ity, I think there’s lot of fear be­cause the power dy­nam­ics are of­ten that it is the fa­ther who as­sumes the re­spon­si­bil­ity of in­flict­ing the pun­ish­ment…”

She em­pha­sises the im­por­tance of dis­tin­guish­ing be­tween spank­ing, as­sault and rea­son­able chas­tise­ment. “When you talk about rea­son­able chas­tise­ment, there’s no in­ten­tion to harm, to in­flict phys­i­cal in­jury, emo­tional in­jury, sub­jec­tion to any form of hu­mil­i­a­tion.

“But when the dis­ci­pline be­comes ex­ces­sive with an in­ten­tion to hurt the child, then we are look­ing at as­sault, and that con­sti­tutes a crim­i­nal of­fence…

“But (even at home), if it is be­yond rea­son­able chas­tise­ment, then the par­ents will also be charged for phys­i­cal as­sault.”

Omar says when ad­min­is­ter­ing chas­tise­ment to chil­dren, it is im­por­tant to con­sider the phys­i­cal de­vel­op­men­tal stage and phase of the chil­dren.

She warns of the un­in­tended con­se­quences of ap­ply­ing cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment, es­pe­cially when spank­ing be­comes a pat­tern, so fre­quent and se­vere. “This is al­ways catas­trophic be­cause there are phys­i­cal wounds that are in­flicted and the emo­tional scars re­main.

“Yes, we might get that im­me­di­ate re­sponse where the child may not re­peat that (mis)be­hav­iour, but (the re­sponse) is sim­ply out of fear, and not be­cause the child has ap­pre- ciated the cor­rec­tive ori­en­ta­tion. So, it be­comes a form of fear, and your child goes on to be­come the same par­ent as you and adopts that as­sault­ing be­hav­iour.

“Spank­ing plants seeds for later vi­o­lent be­hav­iour and doesn’t al­ways work. Chil­dren end up suf­fer­ing anx­i­ety, post trau­matic stress, de­pres­sion, sui­ci­dal ten­den­cies, sub­stance abuse and vi­o­lent be­hav­iour to­wards oth­ers.”

She thinks that dis­ci­pline “does not mean, or is not equal to, in­flict­ing some level of harm or in­jury, and that it is only then that a child will lis­ten. Vi­o­lence begets vi­o­lence, so to not pun­ish does not mean not hav­ing dis­ci­plined.”

At worst, she says, teach­ers need to ap­pre­ci­ate that spank­ing con­sti­tutes the vi­o­la­tion of chil­dren’s rights. She says while dis­ci­plin­ing chil­dren is nec­es­sary, its value can only be ap­pre­ci­ated if it is done in the right man­ner.

“Par­ents can, and should, dis­ci­pline their chil­dren to teach them roles, re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, val­ues and norms. But they need to un­der­stand that dis­ci­pline is there to help chil­dren to learn adap­tive be­hav­iours and un­learn un­healthy, in­ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­iours that could in­flict any kind of in­jury on them­selves and oth­ers and have neg­a­tive con­se­quences. Dis­ci­pline is about cor­rec­tive be­hav­iour, nur­tur­ing, and it is about re­viv­ing that un­con­di­tional love but within lim­its.”

She says dis­ci­pline needs “more phys­i­cal in­vest­ment, and ac­tu­ally sit­ting with your child, en­gag­ing, ne­go­ti­at­ing, pro­vid­ing op­tions, choices”. “Com­mu­ni­ca­tion, clar­ity and con­sis­tency, and cre­ativ­ity in your con­ver­sa­tion with your chil­dren is vi­tal.”

Paul Colditz, the chief ex­ec­u­tive at the Fed­er­a­tion of Gov­ern­ing Bod­ies of South African Schools con­curs. He says while the rules are im­por­tant in fos­ter­ing dis­ci­pline, schools should rather adopt a value ap­proach where teach­ers, pupils and par­ents come to­gether as a school com­mu­nity “to de­ter­mine a set of moral and eth­i­cal val­ues” for the school.

Mot­shekga ac­knowl­edges that it is sim­ply not suf­fi­cient to merely tell teach­ers what they can­not do, as teach­ers still con­tinue to ad­min­is­ter cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment any­way.

“The form of pun­ish­ment de­pends on the type of of­fence and the sever­ity. You have dif­fer­ent meth­ods to suit the crime and the age. The teach­ers must find al­ter­na­tive ways to dis­ci­pline be­cause you can’t run the school with­out dis­ci­pline.”

Chil­dren are be­ing scarred, maimed and even killed at our schools, says the writer.

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