GEORGE NEWS - A classroom climate based on mutual respect within which learners feel safe and affirmed will decrease the need for disciplinary action and develop learners' ability to practice self-disciplining.
Against the background of increased instances of violence and abuse at South African schools, we would do well to take these words by a previous Minister of Education, Professor Kader Asmal, to heart.
Since the beginning of this year, several parents have approached George Herald with the complaint that their children have either been bullied, assaulted or targeted by teachers at their schools. Parents said these incidents are happening more and more, and some schools just brush it under the carpet, hoping it will go away.
Two such cases allegedly occurred at Pacaltsdorp High School recently.
In the first case an educator allegedly pointed a finger in a matric learner's face, slapped the learner hard on the back and "always finds fault with everything". She then apparently went on to say that if this learner would attend the matric camp, she herself would not.
According to the mother, the school chose the teacher's side, because they need extra hands to "keep the learners in check". The mother says she knows the school's rules and will not let this break her child. "I have learned from incidents in the past to listen to my child, to watch for the signs. It is out of character for my child to lie about something this serious."
She says people might think she is biased as a mother, but one has to know what type of person one's child is. In this case, she said, her child dislikes unfairness, even at home, and will speak up about it. She was also upset that her child could not attend the matric camp because of the teacher.
In the second case a Grade 8 learner was allegedly assaulted by a male teacher. The mother says her daughter was slapped on the chest, her hair was pulled and she was then sent out of the class with an accompanying insult. The parent is upset as she did not know how to help her child, who was traumatised by this break in trust.
The Western Cape Education Department (WCED) has been notified of the incidents and released a statement on Tuesday saying they are very aware of the many disciplinary challenges educators face daily in schools.
The department encourages educators to constantly search for alternatives to corporal punishment.
The statement says there are several ways to prevent such incidents, including the establishing of ground rules.
"Set class rules with your classes at the beginning of the year; you may choose to re-evaluate them at the beginning of each new term. Make sure that everybody understands the logic behind each rule. Put the rules where they can be seen or give each learner a copy: they could even sign it as an agreement with everybody in the class."
Bronagh Hammond, director of communications at the WCED, says a complaint was filed against the first allegation (bullying), and is being investigated by Labour Relations.
"Regarding the camp, the teacher is not attending as she has personal commitments to attend to. The camp has been cancelled subsequently."
Hammond says the principal is aware of previous complaints lodged against the teacher by the learner's mother. These have been addressed and were thought to be resolved.
WCED statement full statement
The South African Schools Act (SASA), 1996 (Act 84 of 1996) and the National Education Policy Act (NEPA), 1996 (Act 27 of 1996) clearly bans corporal punishment in our schools. Learners are encouraged to call our hotline 0800 45 46 47 and report abuse.
Corporal punishment shall, by implication, be regarded as an act of assault. Therefore, any form of assault on a learner is considered illegal.
While the WCED supports the right to defend oneself when one is directly in physical harm's way, we do not support the use of corporal punishment to deal with learners that show signs of behavioural issues or are ill-disciplined.
Through the school's code of conduct, schools should state clearly what kind of behaviour is unacceptable. Should a learner transgress, then the school has the right to discipline the learner.
The WCED will support schools that ensure that the relevant disciplinary procedures are followed when it comes to violence and substance abuse in our schools. This is because we take a zero tolerance stance on learners that transgress various disciplinary codes by attacking or assaulting their fellow learners or educators.
Schools are to ensure that they are informed of the relevant guidelines to assist them in this regard. This includes the WCEDs policy on Learner Discipline and School Management, as well as the WCED Abuse No More protocol document.
It has been mentioned on many occasions that educators feel unsure as how to deal with discipline in their classroom. While there is not a "one size fits all" approach to unruly behaviour in our schools, there are certain methods that can be adopted to deal with different circumstances.
By implementing a proactive approach, teachers can put things in place which will safeguard the culture of learning and teaching in their classrooms. Simple things like preparing for lessons; exercising self-discipline; having extension work available; ensuring that teaching and learning happen consistently; ensuring that learners are stimulated; establishing class rules with the learners; making a space for time out or a conflict resolution corner; affirming learners; and building positive relationships with learners are all strategies which will set the stage for a positive learning environment and can significantly reduce problems with discipline in the classroom.
Positive culture of learning and teaching can be created in different ways. Adopt a "whole school" approach and make sure that your classroom discipline reflects the school's policies - discipline is not only a classroom issue, it impacts on the whole school. Classroom and school strategies should be congruent.
Create a climate in which these issues are discussed, evaluated and new strategies put in place. Cooperation and consistency among the staff will strengthen whatever individual teachers try to implement in their classes and give learners a sense of security, as they will know what to expect as well as what is expected of them.
Extensive research shows that corporal punishment does not achieve the desired end - a culture of learning and discipline in the classroom. Instead, violence begets violence.
Children exposed to violence in their homes and at school tend to use violence to solve problems, both as children and adults.
Key research findings show that corporal punishment does not build a culture of human rights, tolerance and respect and does not stop bad behaviour of difficult children. Instead, these children are punished over and over again for the same offences, which does not nurture self-discipline in children. Instead, it provokes aggression and feelings of revenge and leads to anti-social behaviour.
It does not make children feel responsible for their own actions. They worry about being caught, not about their personal responsibilities. This undermines the growth of self-discipline in children.
Adopting a non-violent constructive approach to discipline does not mean that everybody will suddenly be using identical approaches. Although the law commits all educators to finding alternative ways of disciplining learners within a human rights-based framework, everybody will not do this in the same way. Some educators might find that they use a number of different styles according to who they are, how they perceive the learner and his or her needs, and their reading of the situation.
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