The article for this week was first published in 2016, but bears repeating with the continuing upsurge in school violence and student indiscipline that we are witnessing. It is time we recognise that education is a collective social responsibility and all stakeholders must come together to generate solutions to this problem that has the potential to destroy the very fabric of our society.
THOSE THAT readily blame teachers only for the problem of school indiscipline and violence might be well advised to spend a day in some of our secondary schools.
There they will encounter students who arrive late, don’t conform to the uniform code, refuse to attend classes, challenge/ignore basic instructions, have no books and materials to engage in classroom activities, walk in and out of classes as they wish, walk out on teachers and school officials when they are being spoken to and even verbally insult school officials.
Teachers spend most of the period simply attempting to get students into the classroom, only to be confronted with verbal conflicts that may erupt into physical fights. If the teacher is lucky to get all settled in the classroom and attempts to teach, phones are whipped out and engaged, notwithstanding the school rules.
There are students who belong to gangs and the ensuing gang rivalry is a reality that teachers have to contend with on a daily basis. Students devise extraordinary measures to smuggle illegal items onto the school compound. Ensuing searches may or may not be done with the help of the police because, despite calls for police assistance, this may not always be forthcoming.
Some students are before the courts on various charges, having already been exposed to criminal behaviour. Gang/mob culture is propagated on the school compound by virtue of the school location.
When a teacher confronts an individual student, they are immediately surrounded by a group of other students who encourage the offending student to defy the instructions of the teacher or, worse, threaten the teacher. They may even dare the teacher to call the police, openly defying instructions to disperse and go to their classrooms.
The new norm of students is to call their “parents,” “friends,” and “associates” onto the school compound if they have issues with other students or teachers. These people then go to the school to “deal with” anyone who “interferes” with their children. There are many schools where teachers are fearful for their personal safety and resort to walking the corridors in groups.
Some male students make openly suggestive remarks towards young female teachers. Sometimes students may be engaged in illegal activities and if challenged have been known to threaten teachers with physical harm if reported.
Fights erupt in a classroom for simple issues such as a verbal disagreement between two students or Facebook posts with the lone teacher being almost helpless.
Then there are those students who only attend school for meals and for the social welfare forms to be stamped and signed by the school officials.
These are some of the realities that our teachers and school officials have to contend with daily in some of our schools. These students are ill-prepared for environments where rules and structure prevail. They have not been taught limits of behaviour or a sense of self-restraint/regulation, which are requirements for schooling.
Teachers have not been trained or equipped to deal with students who are socialised into such behaviour. Lumping large numbers of underachieving children into a school without commensurate support systems overwhelms its capacity to treat with their antisocial behaviour.
Schools are woefully inadequate to address these social deficits. So too are the support systems that have been put in place. The Student Support Services Division is inadequately staffed, making it almost impossible for it to make the kinds of meaningful interventions necessary for bringing about much needed change.
If we are to realise the promise of education to develop citizens for a democratic society, if we are to fulfil our lofty goals of graduating students who are problem solvers and critical thinkers, then we must do more. Less talk, more actions.
Every time you point fingers at teachers holding them solely responsible for students’ behaviour, think about how many fingers are pointing back at you. Before judgment is made, walk in our shoes for a day.