We have just celebrated World Teachers Day this past Friday but spare a thought for those teachers who have found themselves at the receiving end of student violence.
I was not aware of the magnitude of this problem until I saw a video recently showing two female pupils kicking and assaulting a teacher. A bit of research also revealed last year in Limpopo alone there were 942 reported cases of pupils attacking teachers. When one extrapolates these figures to the other provinces, we may be sitting with a bigger but under-reported phenomenon.
Traditionally, schools have always been regarded as safe havens for students and teachers alike. But the truth, at least from the videos that have made it onto social media, is that the landscape depicts significant physical violence and verbal threats by pupils against teachers. Indeed, we have a silent epidemic plaguing the educational system. Student attacks against teachers’ border on occupational hazard in the workplace and could lead to competent teachers leaving the system in their droves if the problem is not addressed.
Even so, the view exists that there could be far more violence against teachers in our schools than is being reported. Teachers may not be coming forward because it is an embarrassment for the them to report these incidents. Shocking as these incidents are, there is a part of me that is unsurprised. These incidents are symptoms of society. Ours is a violent society. We can’t expect that our children will be different.
Our young people are socialized by the example they see at home. They learn to aspire to the standards they see embodied in the actions of those that surround them in their formative years. So why are so many of our young people resorting to violence? The answer is that we have normalized violence as a legitimate means of addressing our social concerns. In our political process, in our domestic disputes, in our community engagements, our society has too often resorted to violence for short term effect, at the cost of our national social culture in the long term. But more this later
I am aware that the Department of Basic Education has put a process in place to deal with pupils that attack teachers. This involves suspending the pupil from school for five days, holding a disciplinary hearing and thereafter sanctioning the pupil. Sanctions can be anything between expulsion of the learner or relocating them to another school. The department must be commended for the efforts it is making to address this problem. We need a zero tolerance policy against student attacks on teachers.
However, this is a problem far bigger than education authorities. It starts in the home. Students who attack teachers clearly have behavioural problems and lack discipline. This can, in most instances, be traced to lack of parental involvement in the education of such students. Students who know their parents are interested in and/or monitor their school lives are likely to be on straight and narrow because they know daddy or mommy will know about their behaviour.
Speaking to some teachers, I have heard them complain about how parents are “abandoning responsibility” for their children’s behaviour at school. Indeed, many teachers feel let down by the lack of support from parents over behaviour. Some parents send their kids to school with mobile phones, iPods and all sorts of devices when teachers just wish they would bring to school their homework and so, as we seek solutions to student violence against teachers, let us not forget the role parents have to play in ensuring their children are well-behaved at school and that they too support the school when teachers take action.
The problem of school violence is deeply rooted in our community. Students see violence daily in their communities and receive unintentional messages suggesting that violence is a viable means of problem solving. It is for this reason that teachers must be supported in order for them to assist students become well-attuned adults.
Every part of our community must confront the issue of student violence against teachers for the sake of the greater good of our society. In every community there is a cop, a police station or religious establishment. We need practical initiatives on the ground – for example, a cop adopting a school or a church adopting a school – for us to help deal with some of the challenges our schools face. One police officer taking an interest in one school can make a dent on some of the ills manifesting at our schools. A church looking after one school can help it with counseling and coping skills in challenging situations.
Education authorities must adopt a welcoming posture and tap into existing community resources and social institutions in their localities in order to deal with some of the challenges they face. Even for the kids who may not be having parents to look up to, pep talks with them by local role models can positively impact their behaviour.
The students who are terrorizing teachers are our kids. We cannot be hopeless and helpless in the face of their wayward behaviour. Let us as parents, students, education authorities and social formations work together to confront and rid our schools of this scourge.
Church and Religious leader in particular, who enjoy the power of declaration and exist to uphold spiritual formation, must take up a mantle to preach on the universal values of humility, honour, decency and service. It is these ancient wells from which the church can once again draw the wisdom for what has now become a state of national social decay. The leaders who will stop the degradation of our families, communities and nation cannot arise tomorrow, for tomorrow may be too late. We must take a stand today, and do so earnestly, motivated by a deep love of our Children.
Pastor Ray McCauley is the President of Rhema Family Churches and Co-Chair of National Religious Leaders