Johannesburg - While government continues to annually roll out a range of Back to School initiatives at the beginning of the year to promote education as an apex priority towards human and economic development, the lack of safety in schools has threatened this very basic right.
It is well documented that education is essential to lifting people out of poverty and enabling them to live a better life. The Gauteng MEC for Community Safety, Faith Mazibuko, embarked on the school re-opening activities on Wednesday, 12 January 2022, to mark the beginning of the academic year.
The MEC used the opportunity to observe the first day of learning and teaching while also addressing safety challenges experienced by the schools. The National Development Plan (NDP) calls for the implementation of a joint national initiative involving all stakeholders to drive efforts to improve learning outcomes.
In line with this initiative, MEC Mazibuko, joined by stakeholders with an interest in safety, visited several schools in Sebokeng, namely Boitumelo Secondary School, Mohaladitoe Secondary School and lastly, Ikageng Montessori Pre-School as part of the school readiness programme. The MEC also visited Magasela Primary School, Mofolo Primary School and Emanzini Primary School in Evaton.
Many schools continue to grapple with violent incidents amongst learners, such as stabbings, assault, sexual assault, bullying and gangsterism. These criminal elements have the potential to destabilise learning and teaching in schools. Violent acts derive from long-term exposure to gun violence, parental abuse of substances such as alcohol, domestic violence, physical and sexual abuse of children.
It is, therefore, essential that schools become crime-free zones.
In August 2021, Gauteng recorded a fatal stabbing of a Grade 8 pupil by another learner at the Pholosho Secondary School in Alexandra. This is one of the many incidents the schooling community continues to experience. It is worrying since learners spend more of their time at schools than anywhere else except in their respective homes.
According to the anti-bullying campaign, roughly 57% of South African pupils have been bullied at some time during their high-school career, considering that 2.2 million of the South African population are school-going children. These percentages translate into staggering numbers.
Research also indicates that schools are grappling with rising disciplinary problems.
Schools have become territories prone to crime and violence, and this represents a threat to the successful achievement of educational goals. The problem persists despite the South African Police Services (SAPS), the Gauteng Department of Education and Community Safety (DCS) having several Safer Schools initiatives in operation.
The Gauteng Department of Community Safety, as a custodian for safety in the province, is cognisant of the fact that for learners and teachers to thrive, the environment needs to be conducive to effective learning and teaching. To this end, the department roped in the police as a stakeholder during the Back 2 School campaign in Sebokeng and Evaton, respectively. The department views safety in schools as an apex priority towards effective learning and teaching.
The department, through its School Safety programme, continues to carry out operations in problematic schools as identified by the Department of Education across the province in an attempt to clean up drugs and other gang-related activities.
School searches are conducted by the members of the South African Police Service and other members of various law enforcement agencies. Gauteng schools are working hard to change the status quo since the introduction of the “Adopt A Cop” programme.
There has been an improvement in safety, especially in some of the schools that were previously grappling with increasing disciplinary issues.
School safety is often a critical obstacle to learning and teaching. Prevention and early intervention are the most reliable and cost-effective methods to support schools in consistently delivering learning and teaching in an environment that is safe and conducive.
A multi-disciplinary approach is needed in an effort to ensure safety in our schools. The Learners Representative Council, School Governing Body, SAPS, Metro Police, Local Ward Councillors, Social Workers and Community Police Forums (CPFs) are supposed to work together to fight all social ills within the schooling precincts.
The department will continue to mobilise all sectors of society to be active participants in the fight against crime in our respective schools and urge them to participate in various safety programmes available in their communities. Community Police Forums and Community Patrollers are thus important components towards the realisation of the safety of our schools and learners as directed by the National Developmental Plan.
Information regarding drug suppliers and pedlars within the community that contribute to drugs being supplied to learners can be shared at the CPF.
Participation within the CPF by school management assists in finding cohesive solutions to the crime challenges faced by schools within the communities.
As communities, we have a task to nurture our learners in a way that is acceptable and to inculcate in them values and norms that represent Ubuntu. This way, we will raise learners that are respectful and grow to be responsible citizens.
The department urges law abiding citizens to play their part to ensure the safety of learners and educators in schools. All sectors of society are expected to oppose any form of violence committed against learners, educators and relevant stakeholders in schools. Together we can make our schools safer for all.
Hlulani Mashaba is the Deputy Director of Media Relations at the Gauteng Department of Community Safety.