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School violence: What govt is doing to keep our children and teachers safe

Over the past few weeks, learners have been victims and perpetrators of violent crime on school grounds with some incidents fatal.

A grade eight pupil from Forest High School in the south of Johannesburg has died after being stabbed. Picture: @Lesufi/Twitter.

CAPE TOWN - Schools in South Africa were in the grip of an upsurge of violence involving learners and authorities were at a loss as to how to deal with the problem.

Over the past few weeks, learners have been victims and perpetrators of violent crimes on school grounds with some incidents fatal.

At Forest High School in the south of Johannesburg, a grade eight pupil was stabbed to death at the beginning of June. Nineteen-year-old Mohamed Mwela has been accused of stabbing three boys outside the school in an alleged school gang fight. In KwaZulu-Natal, an educator at Masuku Primary School was shot dead on school premises.

In the Western Cape last week, a grade 11 learner was stabbed at Indwe Secondary School. This came a few days after a 15-year-old grade nine pupil was stabbed at the same school.

The week before, a 15-year-old pupil was allegedly involved in an armed robbery at his own school - Sea Point High. The learner apparently assaulted a teacher and made off with 50 cellphones. He was arrested after police reviewed surveillance footage.

SO HOW DO WE PREVENT VIOLENCE IN SA SCHOOLS?

Harsher punishment for perpetrators would not end the cycle of violence in schools. In fact, it may actually exacerbate the crisis.

Vanessa Padayachee of the National Institute for Crime Prevention and the Reintegration of Offenders (Nicro) said punitive measures were not the solution to addressing violence in schools - and instead suggested restorative solutions.

She said the country needed alternatives to prisons and added that jail time was far too punitive for young people.

“Punishing them by putting them in environments that are more dangerous, and has more negative influences won’t help anyone. We need to put them in environments where they can learn how to live in communities. We do not have centres. We seem to criminalise everything. Conflicts in the community criminalises people who get sent to prison.”

Padayachee said there were a number of reasons learners were becoming more violent on the school grounds. These included living in a violent community or home, where they had witnessed violent behaviour by family members or people close to them.

The Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention said frequent law enforcement patrols would help and, more importantly, the community must assist.

Director Patrick Burton said this is a better approach than using metal detectors and conducting searches at schools. He said these methods did not have a positive effect in the United States, which also had to address violence in its schools. “What works is the partnerships between the police, schools, parents and welfare and development agencies within all the spheres.”

Burton rejected the idea that armed teachers could make schools safer: “The idea that you have teachers wandering around classrooms being armed is absolutely counter-productive. There’s no evidence anywhere in the world that it’s part of the solution.”

Meanwhile, Andrew Faull from the Institute for Security Studies agreed with NICRO and the Centre for Justice that a multi-pronged approach was needed to address school violence in the country.

“The problems are huge and multifaceted. I think we need to shift resources to where they're most needed. We know that most violence happens in a handful of areas and if we could focus on those, we could have a huge impact on violence. So we need to bring back the basic rule of law in the most violent areas so that whether it's in schools or just the streets of violent communities, people become aware that police will respond when they are called and people can rely on the state to help them when they are needed.”

Following the murder of the teacher at Masuku Primary School, the Educators' Union of South Africa called for teachers to be allowed to bring guns to school to protect themselves.

In response, the Department of Basic Education rejected the proposal. It said the call was irresponsible, reckless and dangerous, as it could only escalate the violence that was already causing huge distress among teachers, learners and the community in general.

Spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said the union that has called for teachers to be armed was not a recognised union in the basic education sector. He said the department was extremely concerned about the escalating violence involving learners and educators, particularly within the vicinity of schools.

“The violence has left both learners and educators deceased, others injured, and perpetrators facing lengthy jail terms. The majority of cases we observed indicate that unresolved issues led to violent attacks. Furthermore, the attacks have widely occurred outside school premises. We have also observed the rise in gang-related activity involving learners and violent incidents ending in unnecessary loss of life.”

INTERVENTIONS

The Department of Basic Education said it has measures in place to deal with bullying and other forms of violence in schools.

• The department said it has a long-standing protocol agreement with the South African Police Service. A total of 18,000 schools were linked to police stations within their vicinity. The agreement entailed the police conducting random visits to educate learners about the dangers of crime and violence, starting with bullying. The police were also expected to conduct unannounced search and seizure operations in schools.

• In Life Orientation, learners were taught the importance of self-discipline, responsibility, respect for self and others and other important life skills tools.

• The Department of Sports and Recreation has entered into a partnership with the Department of Basic Education, in which 2,500 schools, hubs and sports clubs received equipment and attire. This was part of an intervention to keep learners preoccupied and away from destructive activities

The department said it was deeply concerned that despite the measures, its anti-violence strategy was not yielding any results.

Mhlanga said the strategies required everyone affected to play their part in making sure that the policies and guidelines were effectively implemented.

“Crime prevention and the teaching of positive values and morals require a joint effort from all stakeholders, as violent tendencies are not just a direct influence but emanate from society.”

SAFE SCHOOLS PROGRAMME

The Western Cape Education Department said it has effective strategies to address school violence, which included:

• Building relationships between parents, learners and the broader school community; and involving the local community in the school which included holiday and after-school programmes;

• Training teachers, parents and learners to identify and address aggressive learners;

• Giving schools access to school social workers and educational psychologists to provide psycho-social support;

• Having accountable school management;

Safe Schools officials worked closely with schools and partners in every sector to implement plans to safeguard our public schools.

The programme included security infrastructure mechanisms such as perimeter fencing, electronic access control, burglar bars, metal detectors, and monitored alarm systems linked to an armed response service.

The department said 50 schools were targeted each year to receive increased security infrastructure based on ongoing stats and information provided to Safe Schools programme.

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