Debate on “Combating Increasing Levels of Violence, Drugs and Sexual Abuse in Schools” by Cde Zanele Nkomo

 

14 November 2019

Schools are the places where minds are formed and leaders are developed for the future developed, economically prosperous and growing nation we are working towards. It is the place whereby we arm and prepare our young learners for future contributions they will make in our economy, sectors and places of work. This happens in the microcosm of schools, which is part and parcel of society.

It is concerning though, that these places of learning in the transition to democracy have been characterized by alarming high levels of both political violence and violent crime. Brutal force was used on learners in our schools and we hoped that we would overcome these practices post 1994. Assault, rape and sexual violence however have been prevalent in South African schools even post democracy.

The schooling system operates within our societal patriarchal systems, and it is not exempt from such negative spillovers. As we have seen the scourge of GBV in our streets, places of work, homes and universities – this has also had spillovers in our schools.  A concerning statistic of the highest incidence of rape occurring in South Africa, of 138 per 100 000. Schools will not be exempt. It is therefore concerning but not surprising to find the high level of school-related gender-based violence. This nature of violence has detrimental effects on the ability of learners to complete and benefit from the educational opportunities open to them.

Before moving forward with strategies, we must address the challenging circumstances we find ourselves in as a country and respond adequately. In order to employ effective interventions and measures to combat such violence and protect and empower the girl child from such exploitative behaviour – we must acknowledge the shortfalls.

It is a point to consider that we must investigate where we have gone wrong as a nation, and how do we rebuild and create a safe environment in our schools. A police state whereby schools are heavily guarded and children searched in order to prevent gang violence and murders on site should not be normalized. We must combated and impeded violence with the utmost commitment, but prevention is certainly better than cure. However what are the reasons for such behaviour?

Our societies are highly violent and the respect for human life and laws of the land have become the norm. We need to rebuild the respect for human life. We need to rebuild respect for elders. We need to rebuild the respect for teaching and training learners without abusing and exploiting the most vulnerable who are in our hands, as teachers. I am reminded of the times of civil society and churches joining together towards a cause of nation building in the times of anti-apartheid movement.

I believe for us to rebuild confidence and protection in our schools, it will require societal transformation and partnership with all stakeholders. Moral regeneration is not something we can consider at a high or theoretical level. It is necessary and sufficient condition for creating a safe and protective school environment. We must drive moral regeneration, however we ourselves must be examples as leaders.

We must bring back respect for teachers, with the advent of social media we have seen the worst form of ridicule and disrespect of our educators. We need to rebuild mutual respect for girl children. We have seen shocking beatings that are violent of male learners on girl children. We have seen brutal bodies being dragged by school children in this our nation over the last few months. We may have become desensitized but this cannot be a norm.

We want to ensure that the young girl child in a safe and protective environment is able to reach her highest capabilities and potential. Equity in schools means that we have equal access and equal opportunities to becoming scientists, astronauts, engineers, artisans and entrepreneurs irrespective of their backgrounds and gender. This mean that stereotypes and norms about what a girl child is expected to become and do must be changed.

Career guidance fairs and expos are tools that our DBE must employ in partnership with agencies like the CSIR and Dept. of Science and Technology which are examples of means and mechanisms to expand the knowledge and access to information of our young learners. We have to continue to massify such interventions to reach the most rural areas and regions that are not economic hubs and centres where such interventions are most needed.

 

In response to this, according to the National Schools Violence Study children spend approximately half of their hours at school. Schools can serve as the second most important socializing mechanism after the home. We however as a nation know that many come from families that are broken, with no parents or elders, poverty is entrenched or dysfunction where safety, security and love is not found in the very homes school going learners come from. Therefore communities themselves need to be rebuilt.

A study undertaken by South African Medical Research Centre for the Department of Health, entitled, The 1st National South African Youth Behaviour Survey (2003) provided statistical data of violence in schools. The study consisted in fights and of 23 schools in each province, which sampled 14,776 learners. The study revealed that; 17% of students carried weapons, 41% of students were bullied, 14% belonged to gangs, 15% had been forced to have sex, 15% had been threatened or injured on the school property and 19% were injured on school property and 19% were injured in fights and 32% felt unsafe at school (MRC, 2003). Another study revealed that 50% of students had experienced violence either as victims or perpetrators.

Teenage pregnancy year on year is above 50 000  in our schools with devastating consequences on learners, although adolescents are afforded schooling opportunities however it has been proven that learners who fell pregnant decrease their ability to improve their economic plight or exit the poverty trap. It is important we begin to revisit values and principles that will equip our learners to live their purpose without any hindrance or inhibitor.