Violence against teachers is escalating, and not just in SA

Teachers are regularly subjected to physical and verbal attacks. This can no longer be swept under the rug and attributed to youth who have lost hope in the future. Picture: iStock/Gallo Images
Teachers are regularly subjected to physical and verbal attacks. This can no longer be swept under the rug and attributed to youth who have lost hope in the future. Picture: iStock/Gallo Images

Violence against teachers is the nadir of parenthood.

The fact that teachers are regularly subjected to physical and verbal attacks on school properties can no longer be swept under the rug and attributed to youth who have lost hope in the future.

Media reports show that the Limpopo province alone experienced more than 900 incidents by June 2018.

This scourge is not unique to South Africa.

Recently a teacher in New Jersey, USA received compensation after she was attacked by a pupil.

In the UK, violence against teachers increased by more than 50%, often resulting in severe physical and mental damage suffered by the victim.

In the USA, school-based violence has spiked.

Similar increases are reported in Australia, Germany, Japan, Sweden and China.

Twenty-one thousand incidence of school violence per year in 41 different countries cannot be ignored.

Suggestions that school violence is an exclusively third-world phenomenon or that it is driven primarily by racism, is not the case.

It is clear that school violence is not unique to South Africa. In South Africa, however, it is easy to get away with school violence because there are little or no consequences for the perpetrator’s actions.

Recent media footage about teachers being attacked clearly show an intent to inflict grievous bodily harm.

Most incidents in South Africa are not simply a matter of a student venting his/her frustration.

It is about the intention to be disruptive and unruly in order to show others how “cool” the perpetrators are, and how easy it is for the perpetrators to terrorise teachers and pupils alike.

Some media footage shows seven year olds acting out a tantrum simply because a teacher asked the pupil to sit still and not to be disruptive in class.

Having spoken to a number of school pupils on the issue to violence against teachers, I was not surprised to hear that pupils boast that they cannot be touched even when committing the most unthinkable acts.

“It is a crime to punish us,” one pupil boasted. “You touch me, I lay a charge of assault against you.”

Our society has bleated for years that people have rights. Unfortunately, no one has told school thugs that rights also come with a host of responsibilities. Actions have repercussions.

That does not mean that South Africa’s teachers must enforce such strict levels of discipline that a gulag looks like a holiday resort.

Perpetrators must learn that their actions have consequences. The education system is already strained beyond breaking point, and neither teacher nor pupil knows how to cope within a system in which mediocrity is the norm.

Some schools have an average class size of 60 pupils or more per class. In some cases, one teacher has up to four different grades at the same time in his/her class.

Under such circumstances, it is very difficult to teach and to focus on those pupils who actually need help.

Experienced teachers speak about the fact that a policy of “massification of education” must be reconsidered.

In very large classes, it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to detect which pupil is able to master the curriculum and which needs help.

In large classes, teachers become like robots that regurgitate information, knowing there is not enough time to maintain order, keep pupils focused and to explain difficult concepts.

Within an environment of overpopulated class rooms, it is logical that pupils who struggle, become frustrated and that such frustration could lead to the violent behaviours shown by some pupils.

In our interview with many school pupils, one hears horror stories about teachers’ behaviour. There are indeed many media reports about teacher actions bordering on criminal intent, too.

But to hear that teachers openly drink alcohol in class, and to hear that teachers keep on telling pupils how useless they are, does not paint a pretty picture.

Many pupils come out of very toxic environments. It will be a mistake to say that poverty, unemployment and bad living conditions are the only catalysts of toxic environments.

Some pupils in rich suburban schools come out of wealthy households where they have to fend for themselves because parents are too busy with their own lives.

For example, one has to question the wisdom of a 16-year-old having a credit card with a R 100 000 monthly credit limit on it.

Parental neglect is one other reason why some of the pupils behave in they way they do.

Parents are often quick to argue that they pay schools to teach their children manners and discipline.

The very same parent pushing his/her child rearing responsibilities on to schools is the first to act when teachers discipline the pupil while following of the education department’s guidelines.

Frankly, parents and schools are supposed to be in a partnership as far as the education of the youth is concerned.

If parents or schools fail in this partnership, unruly pupils who think they are impervious will be the result.

Peter van Nieuwenhuizen is chief financial officer of the Growth Institute, a specialist education company specialising in management education, skills development and enterprise development.

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August 2020

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