Kids versus teachers

2017-12-10 05:53
In this stage play, pupils who want their school to get back to normal enact a fight with a teacher they have accused of destroying their futures. Picture: Phuti Raletjena

In this stage play, pupils who want their school to get back to normal enact a fight with a teacher they have accused of destroying their futures. Picture: Phuti Raletjena

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Some see a recent court ruling against corporal punishment as a setback for teachers who suffer abuse at the hands of pupils.

Pupils slap, stab, threaten and throw chairs at teachers.

Teachers fight schoolboys over schoolgirls, while female teachers are sexually harassed by boys they teach, the same boys who have had sex with other women teachers.

These were some of the tales of violence in schools teachers told City Press this week.

“These boys sometimes don’t understand why a female teacher refuses when approached. Teachers resist and fight back. Things are getting out of hand. It’s the survival of the fittest. It’s the law of the jungle out here,” said one.

On Tuesday, nongovernmental organisations, police and officials of the departments of cooperative governance and social development met to discuss alternatives to smacking, spanking and other forms of corporal punishment. The event took place at the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities’ (CRL commission) headquarters in Braamfontein.

The discussion follows a high court judgment on October 19 that makes it unlawful for adults to physically discipline children. This followed a father’s appeal of the assault conviction he received for beating his 13-year-old son.

Experts, including CRL commission chairperson Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva, decried the judgment’s implications. She said it left parents, especially poorer ones, without a means to keep their children away from drug dealers or put pressure on them to focus on their school work, to improve their lives.

Experts tabled no alternatives and only recommended that government consult communities when introducing legislation and that the judiciary should consider how different cultures deal with raising children.

Feeling powerless

Manene Tabane, Gauteng chairperson for the Congress of Traditional Leaders of SA, said he had heard horrifying stories from teachers in Gauteng schools.

“Teachers feel like they are just cheque collectors. Their morale is low. They can no longer discipline pupils. They feel they are not protected. Boys are proposing to their female teachers because there are no serious repercussions for their actions,” he said.

One teacher said detentions and suspensions have proved ineffective in some schools, as parents either protest or pupils simply repeat offences, leaving teachers feeling powerless.

Nosisa Thinta*, a head of department at a school in Tembisa, found herself on the receiving end of the violence two years ago, when a Grade 11 pupil slapped her when she asked him why he was not in class.

“He was hanging out on the balcony and I asked him why he was not in class. He turned, without saying a word, and slapped me. He slapped me so hard I lost my balance,” she said. The boy ran away. He was expelled following a disciplinary hearing.

Thinta still lives with the effects of that slap. She can now only partially see with her left eye.

“I don’t know who to sue: the child, his parents or the department,” she said.

She laid assault charges against the boy, but withdrew them because she didn’t want him to have a criminal record that could affect him for the rest of his life.

Shortly after her assault, another schoolboy threw a chair at her colleague while walking down the school stairs, after the teacher reprimanded him for not doing his homework. Even talking to pupils and punishing them by making them clean toilets and classrooms was not longer working, Thinta said.

Teachers rely on parents to discipline their children and meetings are held at school every term to discuss discipline.

“We just tell parents that their children are going to fail if they don’t perform tasks that count for marks at the end of the year,” she said.

Tough school leadership was required

City Press received similar reports from Eastern Cape teachers of women staff being beaten for rejecting schoolboys’ sexual advances. Meanwhile, boys have stabbed or used guns to threaten male teachers who propositioned their girlfriends at school.

In Limpopo, City Press was told of male teachers being sexually harassed by schoolgirls.

Chris Mdingi, Eastern Cape secretary of the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu), said detaining and suspending these children sometimes did not work.

“I don’t know if it’s the pigment of our skins. Parents in our schools sometimes get arrogant when teachers write to them informing them about their behaviour or about their not submitting tasks. That is not happening at former model C schools,” he said.

Sadtu general secretary Mugwena Maluleke said the situation at schools around the country was bad.

“Pupils violate the rights of other pupils and teachers, and teachers violate the rights of pupils and of other teachers.”

Maluleke said social ills and violent service-delivery protests had compounded the problem. The only solution was for parents to discipline their children and teach them the value of education.

Tough school leadership was required and teachers needed to set an example by behaving professionally, being punctual, arriving to lessons prepared and for government to provide support.

“Schools should not be boring places. There must be recreational facilities, so children can enjoy being at school. These children have their own culture and they know their rights,” Maluleke said.

Themba Ndhlovu, spokesperson of teachers’ regulatory body, the South African Council for Educators, said they had no figures of how many teachers had been assaulted by pupils.

“However, we hear about this through the grapevine. We’ve been saying to teachers that they must report these incidents, even though we do not have jurisdiction over pupils.”

Ndhlovu said detentions and suspensions worked in some schools, but that others had reverted to illegally meting out corporal punishment since April. A total of 141 complaints regarding the latter had been lodged.

“All these are under investigation, with some already at the disciplinary hearing stage,” Ndhlovu said.

*Not their real names

Read more on:    education  |  sadtu  |  youth

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