South African schools are under siege


Since the beginning of the year, our news cycle has been dominated by incidents of school violence which include assaults, rape and murder. Something seems to have gone deeply wrong and as a nation we seem to be sinking in this desperate situation. Schools have become dangerous places and no longer places where young ones are sent to be moulded into upstanding citizens expected to take the baton from the older generation and lead our country into prosperity.

 In the latest incident, a 19 year old Mondeor High pupil was stabbed to death near his school after being attacked by a group of boys from a nearby school. The mind boggles at the age of the suspects following the arrest of a 13 year-old boy and two 15 year-old of his alleged accomplices. For heaves sake, these are children and for them to be associated with such a dastardly deed should be a serious concern indeed. In sending our condolences to the families of those affected by this spectre of criminality, we need to analyse where the wheels came off and how the situation can be arrested and thus restore hope to our national psyche.

Firstly, discipline in schools has been a long-standing challenge which is beginning to look insurmountable in the wake of the latest tragedies. What needs to be understood is that the task of instilling discipline in young ones cannot be left to schools only. It is indeed a societal concern which should involve all sectors of society starting with homes, churches and the community at large. Schools can only do so much to supplement the foundation that has been laid from the home. At this point, we need to be reminded of the words of the Chinese teacher and philosopher Confucius, when he wrote that “the strength of a nation derives from the integrity of the home.” In this regard, it is important for parents to know what their offspring are up to and to discharge their guiding duties consistently and conscientiously.

As far as schools are concerned, it has been argued from certain quarters that the abolition of corporal punishment in schools served to worsen the discipline problems with teachers unable to control their pupils. I must point out at this stage that as a former teacher, my relationship with corporal punishment has always been an ambivalent one. I was subjected to assault by teachers during my schooling days and hated it yet I somewhat found myself meting out the same physical violence on my charges. The arguments and justification for this ambivalence is a subject for another day save to say, I am convinced that beating children does not in the end, bring out the best in them. Children need to be nurtured with love and understanding.

The aversion for corporal punishment should not mean the complete discarding of the concept of punishment. The purpose of punishment should however not be to inflict harm through physical violence but the correction of unacceptable behaviour and the modelling of proper and expected behaviour. Notwithstanding the challenges facing our schools, teachers should desist from administering any form of corporal punishment as it also threatens their livelihoods as it holds prospects of them being criminality charged and convicted.

What can tip the scales in favour of schools in the battle to discipline pupils is the cooperation and partnership of the parents. It has been said ad infinitum that parents simply cannot afford to abdicate their responsibilities to schools. The reality currently is that a considerable number of these parents become parents by accident and are thus not ready to discharge any duties associated with parenting. This task is then left to grandparents who may find it difficult to do so owing to several factors. The absence of fathers which is rife exacerbates the situation with children from these less than ideal circumstances more susceptible to outside influences which lead them astray. 

Real parents love, guide and take care of their children. They invest their hopes in them and make sacrifices to ensure their children become the best they can be. These are parents who will not abdicate their responsibilities to schools, but will work with schools to ensure the success of their children. On the other hand, parents who bring children to the world and then leave them to their own devices to fend for themselves, contribute to the crisis of out-of-control youngsters who terrorise communities and end up committing despicable acts including murder.

To all worthy parents out there, let us know and love our children. In so doing, we shall be making a huge contribution to the building of a strong, peaceful and prosperous nation, which will turn the tide against the current state of siege.

Nathaniel Lee is a social commentator with a keen interest in educational and political issues.