Teachers to call for armed guards

20 October 2013 - 02:02 By PREGA GOVENDER
Image: Gallo Images/Thinkstock

A TEACHERS' union wants Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga to urgently deploy armed guards at schools to protect teachers from violent pupils.

About 3000 delegates who attended the National Teachers' Union's national conference earlier this month unanimously endorsed a resolution calling on the department to beef up security at schools following a spate of attacks on teachers.

At least 47 000 of South Africa's 391829 teachers at state schools are members of the union.

The union's deputy president, Allen Thompson, said it had resolved to ask the department to provide an armed security guard for every 300 pupils at a school.

A document was being prepared for submission to Motshekga on Friday.

The union's bid to protect its members comes amid revelations by the Suid-Afrikaanse Onderwysersunie that its teachers were lodging complaints of verbal and physical abuse almost daily.

A survey by the Sunday Times found that at least 13 pupils in three provinces have been expelled since January for assaulting or threatening to assault teachers. They include:

Two in Limpopo who were found guilty of insulting and intimidating teachers;

Seven in Gauteng who were expelled for "pushing and threatening" teachers; and

Four in the Western Cape, including one who burnt a teacher's hair with a cigarette lighter.

A further 29 pupils in Gauteng and four in Limpopo were expelled for assaulting fellow pupils. In the Western Cape, the call centre of the Safe Schools project received reports of 116 assaults at schools between January and June.

In the most serious case, a pupil from New Eisleben Secondary School in Nyanga, Cape Town, was stabbed to death this month.

The Gauteng education department, which appears to be dealing with the largest number of complaints of pupil attacks on teachers in recent weeks, is taking unruly pupils to meet inmates at Johannesburg Prison in a bid to get them to reform. So far, 1 322 pupils have visited the prison.

From next year, pupils found guilty of serious misconduct in Gauteng could be forced to attend diversion programmes at school, after hours, for two to three weeks or up to three months.

Teachers are also being abused by pupils on social networking sites. A Grade 9 pupil at Protea School in Springs on Gauteng's East Rand was made to apologise to her teacher recently after saying on Facebook: "If she should die, I'll dance on her grave."

The principal, Wynandus Bezuidenhout, said the pupil had been suspended for seven days and given a final written warning.

Teachers this week spoke of their terror at setting foot in the classrooms because of being constantly targeted by pupils.

A female teacher from a primary school in Welkom in the Free State described how she was reduced to tears in class on several occasions after being insulted by a group of pupils who called her a whore. She outlined the abuse in a six-page report to the Onderwysersunie this week.

"The disrupting of my class, verbal abuse, emotional abuse, disregard for my authority is getting the better of me. I cannot handle it any more."

Zascia Hakkesteeg, a teacher, was punched in the face by a 14-year-old Grade 7 pupil at Jim Fouché Primary in Johannesburg. She said she felt hurt, shocked, violated and terribly humiliated.

"I don't think I can walk into a class again and own that class. We're getting abused verbally and mentally by these kids and it's getting worse and worse."

The pupil attacked her after she asked him to remove his black jersey because it was not part of the school uniform. She has laid a charge of assault.

Anthony Meyers, director for psychosocial support in Gauteng's education department, said winter camps were held this year to assist undisciplined pupils.

A 17-year-old Grade 9 pupil from Ekangala Comprehensive High School, outside Pretoria, who attended a camp, said he had learnt his lesson. He said he was forced to attend the camp because he had passed off a friend's assignment as his own.

"I got angry with the teacher who said I was not fit to be in the grade after she found out it wasn't my assignment."

Basil Manuel, president of the National Professional Teachers' Organisation of South Africa, said schools did not have sufficient intervention strategies, for example, counsellors to deal with children with behavioural problems.

"Society is pretty violent at the moment and schools, being a microcosm of society, are reflecting what society is doing."

govenderp@sundaytimes.co.za