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School CP - April 2000

Corpun file 5451

Sunday Times, Johannesburg, 2 April 2000


Teachers cannot beat values into children

By Phylicia Oppelt

TWO 11-year-olds arrived at their Pretoria school last week, but unlike their fellow pupils they were not only carrying books, pencils and lunches in their bags. They came armed with their parents' guns.

After their eviction from school and the resulting media attention, obvious outrage and questions followed - who was responsible, who should be blamed? The education system, an easy scapegoat, was once again examined. Educators attributed the lack of discipline on South Africa's school playgrounds to the fact that they can no longer rely on visible deterrents like corporal punishment to keep pupils under control.

Last weekend, Bernard Ngoepe, Judge President of the Transvaal, said children could and should be caned - as long as it was done with love and purpose. Corporal punishment, he said, was not illegal as a way of achieving discipline in school. He seemed to believe that the government's position on caning was, at best, an inconsequential decision.

Still, only two weeks ago in a parliamentary debate on education, the Minister of Education, Kader Asmal, vehemently opposed the return of the cane. "There is no possibility that this government or this ministry will bring back the cane and the whip. Our task is to uphold human rights, not encourage or legitimate their violation," he said.

Asmal also declared that he was impatiently waiting for his department's new disciplinary guidelines.

But teachers, finding themselves at a loss to cope with unruly, disobedient pupils, wish for the days when corporal punishment instilled fear and a military-like obedience.

And some, like Valerie Ryan, a teaching assistant in KwaZulu-Natal, lapse into reaching for a cane as their control over their charges disappears.

Ryan, who gave a 13-year-old female pupil two cuts across the buttocks, was taken to court last year by the girl's parents. They were outraged at the sight of red welts on their daughter's body.

Ryan received a warning in court. The organisation that controlled the school, the Christian Education South Africa group, had already fought a Constitutional Court case in 1997 to reverse the Education Department's ban on caning. Their application was rejected.

Like the 13-year-old, we all have caning stories to tell. These memories relate to sadistic teachers, revelling in their authoritarian behaviour. There, love was an unknown emotion.

We all remember how it started with the broad side of the ruler in primary school - two soft cuts for talking in class. Then, the thin side of the ruler followed, this time a little harder for not achieving the required marks in a class test. By the time we reached secondary school, we were acutely aware that caning was as intrinsic a part of our education as were textbooks, shiny black shoes and morning prayers.

Not only male teachers caned; we had an Afrikaans teacher with a nervous tic and a shrill voice who stood on her toes as she brought the stick down on our hands. Her adult frustrations, unrelated to our inability to recite all the verses of an A D Keet or a Totius poem, seemingly found an outlet in the welts left on our hands.

Teachers, especially male ones, became legends - not for their extraordinary teaching methods or inspiring presence in our lives, but rather for their ability as brutal hitters. Our history teacher accumulated cuts as we did revision - failure for not knowing Woodrow Wilson's League of Nations or SA's annexation of South West Africa would be punished at the end of the lesson. When he grabbed a boy's seat and felt more than one pair of shorts, he would make the pupil strip.

That moment when the cane snapped as he hit a pupil offered an excruciating reprieve. At least punishment would be deferred to another day.

Ngoepe said he had no problems with caning as long as it did not go beyond reasonable bounds. But who decides on the measure of reason? Do we trust teachers to draw up guidelines that stipulate that a cane should only be so thick; that being late for class should merit so many cuts?

And while parents complain about the potential ruin that South Africa's bad education system could inflict on their children, they should perhaps interrogate themselves. Far too often far too many parents have ceded their child-rearing duties. They expect an educator to teach far more than just a knowledge of maths, science and biology. They expect teachers to do their job - instilling fundamental values like a sense of morality, respect and discipline.

If parents are not capable of rearing their children in a responsible manner, then how can they expect teachers to beat values into them?

Corpun file 5510

ANC News briefs, 11 April 2000


Bring back the rod: NNP

The beating of children should be brought back to counter increasing indiscipline in schools, according to New National Party education spokesman Andre Gaum.

He said in a statement on Tuesday it was untrue corporal punishment amounted to a violation of pupils' human dignity and was humiliating.

This was only the case when the punishment was abused.

Parent communities should be allowed to decide for themselves whether corporal punishment should be allowed at schools. It was not for the government to decide this for them.

Corpun file 6429

The Sowetan, Soweto, 18 April 2000

Zapiro cartoon


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