Traumatised pupil withdrawn from school after watching 'Macbeth'

Trauma puts focus on teachers' video aids

11 August 2019 - 00:00 By PREGA GOVENDER
Several parents have complained to the basic education department after their children were shown age-inappropriat audiovisuals at school.
Several parents have complained to the basic education department after their children were shown age-inappropriat audiovisuals at school.
Image: 123RF/Marino Bocelli

A 13-year-old girl was so traumatised after watching a violent movie version of Macbeth in class that she had to be withdrawn from school.

The incident has thrown a spotlight on teachers' use of audiovisual aids after the former Fish Hoek Primary pupil had to attend about 10 trauma counselling sessions and is now being home-schooled.

In addition, the parents of some pupils from Wynberg Boys High, also in the Western Cape, have lodged complaints with the provincial education department after their children were shown a video on the Rwandan genocide.

The Fish Hoek grade 7 girl's father, who cannot be named to protect her identity, said at no point were he and his wife made aware of the audiovisual content to be shown to their daughter. He said that as more disturbing, harmful, age-inappropriate, violent audiovisuals were shown to her at school, she became more tearful and anxious.

Her class was shown the Roman Polanski adaptation of Macbeth, though he says Shakespeare is only prescribed for high school pupils. The 1971 film is rated R, meaning that viewers under 17 must be accompanied by a parent or adult guardian.

The other film the children were shown, Amistad, is a 1997 American historical drama based on the true story of events in 1839 aboard the slave ship La Amistad. It is also rated R. "The scene that still sticks out most for my child is that of the captured slave woman giving birth at the bottom of a slave ship and then dying," said the father.

His daughter did not want to leave the class when the audiovisuals were shown as "she feared losing out on marks".

The scene that still sticks out most for my child is that of the captured slave woman giving birth at the bottom of a slave ship and then dying
Parent

The complaints led to the Western Cape education department launching an investigation, which recommended that clear guidelines be issued on selecting appropriate audiovisual material.

Fish Hoek Primary's English teacher, Kerry Campbell, told the pupil's father in an e-mail that at no time did she consider the visuals "inappropriate".

The school's history teacher, Andrew Saunders, said that before showing Amistad, he told pupils there might be "some disturbing scenes that might be slightly over dramatised as it was a film based on true events".

Provincial education department spokesperson Bronagh Hammond said workshops were being held on how to manage e-resources, "specifically addressing content that could be sensitive to learners".

Catherine Kell, an associate professor at the school of education at the University of Cape Town, said teachers need to ask themselves what purpose viewing a video served.

"Is it academic, does it build disciplinary knowledge, understanding, or is it to get an emotional reaction or for the shock value? If the latter, they need to ask themselves if that is a justifiable educational outcome."

She said teachers can gently indicate to pupils that the content may be upsetting and support those who would rather not watch.

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