School safety comes under the spotlight

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

School safety came under the spotlight in Parliament on Tuesday in a joint sitting of the portfolio committees of Basic Education and the Police.

Members of Parliament from the two committees convened the meeting to get reports on measures being taken to address the safety of learners and teachers in schools. 

Led by Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga, senior managers of Basic Education and SAPS deliberated on the issue of violence in schools.

“Bullying remains a major challenge, as it most often occurred in the classroom, generally in the absence of a teacher. The rate of bullying is high in terms of international standards and poorly managed schools tend to have more incidents of violence.

“Studies have shown that where communities take ownership of their schools, the rate of violence is low. School violence most often occurs on school premises, but it also takes place on the way to and from schools. Bullying is increasingly taking place online and with the use of mobile devices,” said the Minister.

Basic Education Deputy Director-General, Dr Granville Whittle, said the National School Safety Framework remained the primary strategic response to school violence.

“It is based on a social ecological systems model, which locates the school within its broader community; it relies on collaboration and partnership. South Africa joined the Safe to Learn global campaign to end violence in schools, in partnership with UNESCO and UNICEF,” he said.

With school safety as one of six apex priorities for the sixth administration, two protocols were introduced to address the challenge.

The protocols include the Management of sexual abuse and harassment and Management of Corporal Punishment in 2018; and Collective Agreement which simplifies and consolidates prosecution of teachers accused of sexually abusing learners.

Through collaborations with the Department of Justice and the Department of Social Development, several safety interventions are being identified.

These include the vetting of teachers and other staff and identification of hotspots for most at risk schools.

According to the Basic Education department, Learner Support Agents (LSAs) will be provided to all hotspot schools together with the provision of counselling services to victims (and perpetrators) of violence and abuse.

Other measures include improving the built environment, such as considering learner safety when planning school infrastructure, as well as closure of taverns and liquor outlets in close proximity to schools, in partnership with the Department of Trade and Industry, SAPS and South African Local Government Association (SALGA).

Measures also include search and seizures in partnership with the SAPS and the provision of security guards to schools at risk.

Minister Motshekga reiterated the fact that community involvement was critical especially where projects were undertaken in schools, as it meant there were always adults assisting with monitoring. She said parents needed to play their part and support schools.

“Our main problem is learner on learner violence, which is taking place inside the classroom, so the issue of security guards and the police are welcomed, but the key challenge is what learners do to each other,” said the Minister.

The SAPS said school based crime prevention would be intensified and that the collaborative agreement with the DBE would be revised in order to make it more effective. –