Tot tests for schoolkids?

2008-05-03 00:00

PUPILS could soon be tested with breathalysers in schools as binge drinking among teenagers spirals out of control.

Teachers, psychologists and local NGOs have raised concerns over the increase of drinking among children. Binges over weekends, holidays and even during school hours have become common.

To curb the problem, many have suggested that schools introduce breathalyser tests to be administered to pupils during school hours.

Carol du Toit, director of the South African National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (Sanca), says she supports the use of breathalysers.

She said binge drinking is a bigger problem than drugs and children start drinking at younger ages. Eleven is a common age for binge drinkers and Du Toit said Sanca’s youngest patient is nine years old.

“It’s quite commonplace for children to start drinking at a younger age and this poses a real problem for us … ” she said.

Du Toit said that teachers notice that Mondays have the highest absenteeism rate and that some of those pupils who do attend school are unable to concentrate.

She said that she has received reports from teachers about unruly behaviour and poor concentration due to pupils drinking during school time.

“Besides drinking at school, these children consume alcohol on the weekends, at parties and during the holidays,” she said.

She said that alcohol reduces impulse control and teenagers are indulging in high-risk sexual behaviour.

“Some can’t even remember what happened [while they were drunk]. This increases their chances of being raped or contracting diseases,” she said.

For the breathalyser tests to work, Du Toit said each school must have a policy in place that teachers, pupils and parents are aware of.

She said that the policy helps pupils understand that there is a procedure in place should they need help.

Educational psychologist Fathima Essack said that breathalysers could help reduce teenage binge drinking.

“The increase in alcohol use among learners is becoming the norm. The lack of effective discipline measures in schools and at home leaves the youth of today with a seemingly permissive culture where most behaviours are tolerated,” she said.

“Adolescents are seeking the next thrill in this instantly gratifying technologically advanced era we live in. Alcohol is probably cheaper and more accessible than the other drugs.”

Essack said that peer pressure and the need for group acceptance are contributing factors.

Education Department spokesman Ntokozo Maphisa said that drinking is a problem in schools and is more prevalent on school excursions.

He said that breathalyser tests are an option that the Education Department could consider, but he would not confirm anything.

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