What happens at home is also your problem, Minister

2012-11-16 08:13

Recent teacher interviews in Cape Town’s townships brought to light the social complexity of being a teacher in a South African school. Each teacher was asked : tell me about a time you had to work with a really difficult learner. What was the problem and how did you try and resolve it? The responses were as from a post-apocalyptic world were societal structures have disintegrated to a point where anything goes.

Until social workers intervened, one young girl was raped by her father every night before coming to school. Her mother had dissapeared, and the father had taken the 10 year old girl into his bed. Another child was sent to foster parents as he had been abused at home. The foster parents rejected him and he was then sent into institutional care. His short life has been characterised by rejection and abuse. I heard of a young boys lost to lives of gangsterism and cruel initiations in the cape flats. How can a child apply his mind to the ABCs when the screams of the boy he stabbed the day before still echo in his ears? How can a pre-pubescent girl apply her mind to space and shape when she sits with the physical and emotional ache from the penetration of the father who is expected to be her protector?

What is admirable is that in these cases, a teacher intervened and got to the root of the problem. These children are not disruptive because they are naughty. They are disruptive because they are crying out for help. A little girl who never did her homework was not lazy. Her mother sent her to bed very early every night because their home was a popular drinking hole and she wanted the child out of the way – not seen and not heard. There is simply no time or space for homework in that house.

The Minister of Education was recently reported as saying that parents could not “pass the buck” when it came to societal problems. But in these cases, it is not the parents problem, because the parents are the problem. It seems that it is not the problem of neighbours and family, because these cases have clearly not been reported. These cases have been left up to the teachers and the school to work through.

While I understand the Minister’s frustrations and the complexity of her task, surely schools should be supported by a sympathetic department when working through these problems?

To use a crude analogy, this is akin to a factory owner receiving faulty raw materails and saying that it is not her problem, the supplier must deliver material that is to spec. But ultimately, the factory owner is entrsuted to deliver finished products that meet quality standards. While she has to work with others to resolve the quality issues, the buck, I’m afraid, stops with her.

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