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School CP - June 1997

Corpun file 1259 at


Cape Argus, Cape Town, 26 June 1997

Sparing the cane is spoiling the child

By Sabata Ngcai

Cape Town -- Most black communities believe that caning is the most effective way to discipline an unruly child.

Hence there was an uproar in township communities when caning at schools was banned last year.

Most teachers and parents disapproved of the ban because they feared pupils would become undisciplined.

Some schools, like Masiyile Secondary School in Khayelitsha, continued to use caning last year in defiance of the ban. And at Bulumko Secondary School in Khayelitsha last year teachers were assaulted and their cars stoned by pupils who went on the rampage because their parents had agreed that teachers could cane them if they misbehaved.

Teachers were even held hostage by students until they were released by police who fired teargas. There was no schooling for about three weeks because teachers feared for their lives.

Lack of discipline in the Cape Flats schools now threatens to turn school campuses into battlefields, with teachers sometimes being the targets.

Pupils have manhandled women teachers and used abusive language, and fighting on school property has become commonplace.

Detention, a punishment many schools have opted for, has not worked in many cases.

Frequently parents have called on teachers to use the cane to control undisciplined children. But so far, the temptation has been resisted by the teachers because it is illegal in terms of the South African Schools Act.

At Manenberg Senior Secondary School, where pupils have manhandled teachers, the principal, Abdurahman Petersen, says the abolition of corporal punishment has tied the hands of teachers and brought about mayhem.

"Taking away corporal punishment is a disservice to children, and to education as a whole," he said.

"We have to call in parents every time children get unruly. We detain them (the children), but this does not work on many occasions. The children defy us because they know there is nothing we can do .

"Sometimes we suspend unruly children, but this is a tragedy because it deprives the child of an education. Discipline fell away after corporal punishment was abolished last year. The boys swear at and manhandle women teachers. If a child knows they can be punished, they will behave much better.

"When corporal punishment was still enforced, there was not a single parent who came here to complain about his or her child being abused. The child knew that if they did wrong they would be punished," said Mr Petersen.

In terms of the Schools Act, any teacher applying corporal punishment could be charged with assault. The new code of conduct for teachers even prohibits them from using abusive language to pupils.

At Lavender Hill Secondary School, principal Abel Appel said parents had urged teachers to cane the pupils. "We refuse to do it because it is illegal," Mr Appel said.

"The pupils themselves always remind us that we are not supposed to touch or scold them."

He said teachers requested the assistance of parents when they had to discipline the pupils. The school even went to the extent of suspending unruly pupils, with the consent of the parents.

Other teachers attributed the lack of discipline in schools to the problem of bigger classes, which made it difficult for teachers to cope.

At Joe Slovo High School in Khayelitsha, principal Balakazi Mdingi said the school was faced with the problem of truancy. "Discipline will continue to be a problem until the right environment conducive to learning returns - the ideal goal of Curriculum 2005," she said.

"We are faced with problems of bigger classes and we are still grappling with the new teaching methods of the new curriculum. The learning environment leaves much to be desired." she said.

But at Guguletu Comprehensive Secondary School giving extra work to a naughty pupil seems to be working. School principal Nontobeko Msengana says the school involves parents in any decision-making on how to punish the pupils.

"For each naughty child we call a parent and discuss the matter with the child involved," she said.

"We apply our punishment, which on many occasions includes forcing the child to clean up a particular area at the school for a day or two. It works very well and in recent months it has acted as a very good deterrent in restraining pupils from doing wrong,"she said.

While some of the teachers feel they were left in the lurch by the Government when it abolished corporal punishment without providing an alternative, the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) is planning to explore how to use discipline at schools in a positive way.

When completed, the project is expected to bring about a radical change in methods of maintaining discipline.

The HSRC said it discovered that many teachers tended to equate discipline with corporal punishment, expelling culprits and using other negative practices, but put little focus on the positive aspects of discipline.

The HSRC drew a sample survey from Pretoria, the West Rand, East Rand, Johannesburg and the Vaal Triangle, which revealed that all schools were looking for an alternative to corporal punishment.

In its survey, the HSRC found that educators agreed discipline in schools was essential. But the vast majority felt it was basically the responsibility of the parents to teach children obedience, responsibility, respect for others, self control and discipline.

According to the HSRC, however, teaching children to distinguish between right and wrong and instilling democratic values was the combined responsibility of parents, schools and churches.

The HSRC survey concluded that some psychological and physical forms of disciplinary action were harmful to the child. As far as the physical punishment was concerned, the surveyed teachers found it totally unacceptable to throw a book or chalk at a child, to pull her ear or hair or to pinch the child.

Yet the majority of the respondents found spanking a child acceptable. Spanking was thought to be more acceptable than sending a child out of the class or sending her home.

In the same vein, the respondents thought that it was totally unacceptable to belittle a child, to tell the child that they were stupid, or to threaten or to ignore the child.

The majority of the respondents felt that a child's behaviour should not be ignored, and that the transgression should be dealt with. More than a third considered suspension as a viable option.

Parents of pupils at primary schools differed slightly from the parents of secondary school pupils when it came to suitable ways of dealing with transgression. Parents with children at primary schools were more in favour of letting the child stand in the corner, pleading with the child to stop her ill- behaviour, threatening or spanking the child and ignoring the behaviour of the child.

Parents of secondary school pupils were more inclined to agree to shouting at the child, sending them home or suspending them. The vast majority of the respondents thought that giving the child extra assignments and detention classes were good options for dealing with transgressions.

In the HSRC survey, parents were asked how seriously they regarded certain infringements by teachers.

Sexual harassment of children, staying away from school without a valid reason and doing private work at school were viewed as serious transgressions. Not being properly prepared, not checking children's books regularly and being untidy were also viewed as serious.

Although it was generally accepted that it was the task of the teacher to maintain discipline in the class, the question arose as to whose responsibility it was to reprimand the teacher.

The respondents assigned the main responsibility to the school principal.

Although traditionally the line of responsibility runs through the department of education, very few respondents regarded the school inspector as somebody who should reprimand the teacher.

Several parents assigned this responsibility to the school governing body. The HSRC said the pilot study did not attempt to come up with solutions to the problem of discipline at school.

The aim was rather to explore some issues that required further investigation.

The HSRC said the search for solutions would have to involve all stakeholders. "Parents have a right to be involved with the governing of schools and ensuring that discipline is maintained," a HSRC spokesman said.

"Teachers should also be empowered to deal effectively with discipline in schools while maintaining the right of children to fair treatment.

Finding ways to protect these various rights will be a challenge, but we need to find solutions if a culture of learning is to be promoted."

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