Violence against pupils under spotlight in KZN schools
“I HAVE not seen an incident worse than this and I grew up in a system where it was legal!”
That was the reaction of Tim Gordon, the chief executive of the School Governing Body Foundation, to a video showing how a teacher assaulted a teenage pupil.
The spotlight on violence at schools in Kwazulu-natal comes after a teacher was caught assaulting at least two female pupils with a cane at Umdlamfe Secondary in Esikhawini, near Richards Bay.
A pupil was beaten on her legs and body after the teacher wrestled with her.
The footage was recorded by fellow classmates.
The Congress of South African Students (Cosas) called on township schools to stamp out corporal punishment.
Cosas spokesperson Noxolo Makhanya said teachers knew it was wrong but used misbehaving pupils as an excuse.
“We will retaliate against corporal punishment by taking brutal action in the form of opening criminal cases against teachers,” she said.
Teachers said ill-discipline was a problem at schools as parents did not play an active role in the education of their children.
Vuma Mfeka, the former principal of Umgaga High in umlazi, said teachers needed to be trained in how to deal with ill-discipline.
“There were no alternatives given on how to punish pupils.
“Teachers are making their own decisions.
“In my time corporal punishment was allowed but it had limitations,” he said.
He referred to the incident as an assault.
Nomarashiya Caluza, teacher union Sadtu’s provincial secretary, said such incidents undermined the good work of teachers.
“We are trying by all means to stop this. The department needs to look beyond the law, this is a societal problem. Pupils beat pupils, pupils beat teachers and some teachers beat pupils,” she said.
Paul Colditz, the chief executive of the Federation of SA Schools (Fedsas), said the new education system was underpinned by parents and the communities taking ownership of schools.
He said the 23 719 public schools in the country were run by SGBS and not government because there were no state schools, but public schools owned by the people of this country.
“As a collective the SGB takes responsibility for the school,” he said. “Corporal punishment and violence have always been there, it was brought to the public eye because of the smartphone and social media. If that was not recorded on a phone, few would have known about it, but we can’t say there is an increase. It does exist at schools.
“What this incident does is bring to the public eye that parents and the community are not taking responsibility,” he said.
Colditz said a long-term solution to the problem involved everyone in the school community adopting the values of the constitution – those of human dignity, equality and freedom.
“No teacher should consider assaulting a child. That was not corporal punishment, that was assault. We are not going to change attitudes and behaviours at the school by replacing corporal punishment with an alternative punishment,” said Colditz.
Colditz said SGBS needed to be used as the focal point to drive a value-driven approach of respect, loyalty and by adopting constitutional values.
“Parents should then realise that they have an obligation to their children, the teachers and the schools. There is no quick fix. We need to change our mindsets to discipline with ethical values,” he stressed.
Professor Kobus Maree, an educational psychologist from the University of Pretoria, said schools were mimicking society.
“The violence at schools is symptomatic of what is happening in our communities. Poverty levels are escalating and people are angry,” he said.
Maree said perception in society was that the elite did not care about the poor and that gangsters got away with murder. This, he said, had an effect on pupils.
“People are taking billions and they are getting away with it. The poor become frustrated and they have no resources and their anger boils over because they are set up for a dark future,” he said.
Violent language and behaviour from home was then reproduced at schools, he said.
“The moment a teacher senses learners are angry, start communicating, talk to the class representative, talk to the principal,” he said.
Gordon said when pupils were given rights in the new South Africa, it was supposed to change the autocratic nature of schools. But, he said, pupils were still expected to treat teachers with respect.
He said the transition posed a huge mindset shift which teachers were still struggling to cope with.
“They were simply told now it is stopped,” he said, referring to corporal punishment.
Pupils provoked teachers to a point of them losing their temper, but as adults, teachers had no excuse for acting in a violent manner.
Schools should sit down and discuss corporal punishment issues and how best to deal with them, he said. As an alternative punishment, he said, isolating the pupil from others and making them do tasks such as mowing the grass, pulling out weeds, and picking up litter, were options.
Academic exercise-driven punishments were bad as they sent the message that learning was bad.
Kwazi Mthethwa, a spokesperson for the KZN education department, said 300 teachers had been dismissed for corporal punishment, sexrelated offences and financial mismanagement since MEC Mthandeni Dlungwane took over last year.
“Teachers can’t beat up pupils and claim they want them to do better or it is part of punishment.
“Teachers must use communication skills to deal with ill-disciplined pupils and if it fails involve the principal and parents,” he said.
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A high school teacher beats a pupil at the Umdlamfe Secondary in Esikhawini.the teacher has been suspended.