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Education experts plead for life orientation to be taken seriously to help curb violence in schools

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The recently reported attacks on educators by learners across the country should signal to South Africans that the government alone will not win the war against crime, education experts warn.

Increasing levels of criminal conduct in schools is problematic. Picture: File

THE RECENTLY reported attacks on educators by learners across the country should signal to South Africans that the government alone will not win the war against crime, education experts warn.

Last week, the country was left shocked after the Gauteng Department of Education announced that a 13-year-old Grade 6 learner from Primrose Primary School in Germiston had shot and injured the school principal with a firearm belonging to his father.

What was more shocking were the revelations that followed through a WhatsApp group, detailing how the learner had actually planned to shoot his class teacher, the principal and deputy principal.

In other news reports, a teacher from Rammupudu Primary 1 in Tafelkop was assaulted by a 17-year-old learner after they got into a heated altercation.

The Limpopo police indicated that the teacher apparently approached the learner to find out the reasons for removing materials from the board, after which the learner allegedly proceeded to hit the teacher on the head with a piece of wood.

The learner was subsequently arrested, with the teacher recovering in hospital from the injuries sustained.

Education activist Hendrik Makaneta said the increasing levels of criminal conduct in schools were extremely problematic.

He said the fact that criminal acts were being perpetrated by learners as young as 13 should be a cause for great concern not just for those within the sector and government, but also for parents and ordinary citizens alike.

Although the government has, over the years, called for safety summits, Makaneta said it appeared that there were no effective measures in place to remedy the unrelenting situation.

“It should be clear at this point that the government alone will not win the war against crime. Learners are members of communities and if a community struggles with crime, such criminal conduct will always spill into schools as the schools are based in communities.

“We need a collaborative effort between parents and teachers without further delay. Government should admit that the abolishment of corporal punishment did not yield the desired results as today’s learners are even more violent than those who learned during the times of corporal punishment,” said Makaneta.

He added that he believed the presence of specialists, such as psychologists, in schools may go a long way towards detecting learners who were likely to commit acts of gross misconduct; however, he highlighted that currently there were simply not enough psychologists in schools, which left an evident gap in the system.

Unisa’s Professor Ramodungwana Tabane shared similar opinions as he said mental health was a serious issue in the country, and more so for children and adolescents; hence, educational psychologists in schools were so important.

In light of this, he stressed that it was a pity that there were not enough educational psychologist posts and neither were enough posts being created by the Department of Education.

What further exacerbates the situation in the case of South Africa, he said, was the fact that private psychologists are simply too expensive and medical aids do not cover certain therapists or interventions by those specialists.

“A child who can actually plan to create or harm adults or any other person should be very worrying and more so with a weapon. Conduct disorder is something that educational psychologists would have noticed early on and its prevalence in such situations.

“We do not necessarily know the history but things such as a person who attacks another child and the likes is why proper assessments by these specialists are needed. Such attacks do warrant alarm and speak to the focus required by the education departments, social services and security clusters to come together,” said Tabane.

Tabane further explained that while security and whole school safety was looked at for high schools due to similar attacks, where boys were found to be attacking teachers with weapons, such as knives, and videos were flooding social media of girl learners assaulting each other, primary schools had all but been ignored.

With the abolishment of corporal punishment and introduction of the Basic Education Laws Amendment (BELA) Bill, Tabane said he believed teachers were left feeling disempowered as in the past, the stick was seen as an object of discipline.

It was for this reason, he said, he believed teachers ought to be further capacitated on how to deal with conflict, but most importantly, for the education department and everyone to start taking life orientation more seriously as a subject.

“Teachers need to be capacitated and have opportunities for the sector to look into if there are enough case studies where teachers can look to say how others dealt with and communicated difficult circumstances. Life orientation teachers are extremely crucial as alternative discipline and measures to deal with conflict are taught here, instead people continually dismiss it as being unimportant.”

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