Make schools a safe haven for learners

2017-11-08 06:00
Matshidiso Pholoana - Social Observer

Matshidiso Pholoana - Social Observer

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The recent alleged sexual harassment of primary school learners in Soweto has been a shuddering event – not only to the province, but to the entire nation.

It is very disconcerting that when parents are expecting their children to be safe at schools, they turn out to be victims of sexual harassment and violence.

The blame should entirely be put on the perpetrators who do not recognise the importance of school and the contribution it makes in transforming the country. The Department of Education is doing all it can to promote education and to make sure all learners are safe.

However, a few rotten apples, through their muddy conduct, wants to put the Department of Education into opprobrium.

I firmly believe that what has unfolded in Gauteng, is an indication that there are a few individuals who must be dealt with precisely by facing the full might of the law.

It cannot be that a safe institution for learning and education becomes a safe place for sexual harassment of children, perpetrated by those who ought to provide guidance and security.

When the story broke about 87 learners’ sexual harassment by a guard and that the school principal coerced the learners into not reporting the incidents to their parents, I was very perturbed.

I must really commend the Gauteng MEC for Education, Panyaza Lesufi, and the Gauteng government, for really showing commitment towards tackling the matter by acting when this incident came to the fore.

But this has triggered my mind that such incidents could also escalate to other provinces if not attended to. Measures should be put in place.

Based on the recent sexual harassment and assault cases in our schools, I think the following should be put in place:

  • A commission of enquiry on preventative measures to combat such incidents before they occur and provide strong recommendations;
  • extended oversight on schools by the Department of Education and legislature committees;
  • 24-hour police presence at schools, which will provide security and other external police services such as certification of documents;
  • comprehensive public participation and consultation;
  • the installation of surveillance cameras; and
  • the screening of officials and members of school governing bodies (SGB).

Schools should be the safest place where teaching, learning and guidance take place.

To make a school a safe place, it takes both parents and SGBs, as well as government efforts.
– Matshidiso Pholoana is a fiscal policy assistant director (policy research) at the Free State Treasury and wrote this article in his personal capacity.
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