As the new school year commences, millions of Grade 1 children across the country formally entered the education system. Social media was abuzz with the hashtags #bundleofjoy #firstdayofschool and #backtoschool pictures of happy parents, kids and some not so happy kids as they began their basic education journey while others transitioned to high school with more to follow this week. It is more than just the start of a 12-year learning journey, it is the beginning of integration into a system that will see children from diverse backgrounds, family structures, ethnicity, class, religion, race – a true reflection of South African society – congregate and co-exist in a learning environment. This provides an opportunity to pro-actively close gaps that we have seen in behaviour in recent times in our schools; as the saying goes “get them while they are young”.
Last year saw a high rate of learner misbehaviour in South African schools which included violence against fellow learners, teachers and sexual assault. We also saw parents side with their unruly kids who disrupted class and teaching. Our communities resorted to burning down school infrastructure and disrupting learning to voice their discontent with local municipalities forcing the department of education to divert resources to affected learners and schools.
In 2017, the Basic Education department’s director for school safety Paseka Njobe told MPs in parliament that 22% of pupils or 1‚020‚597 learners had experienced some form of violence in school adding that 54% of sexual assaults and 51% of physical assaults took place in the classroom. A further 13% of sexual assaults took place on the playing fields‚ and 12.5% were committed in school toilets. Surely this is a reflection of our society being played out in our schools.
The reality is that we raise our children in the privacy of our homes and the results thereof manifest at school, hence discipline, good values and behaviour can be relative and differ from one home to the other. However, children congregate and socialise in a school environment armed with behaviours and values – good or bad – that have been modelled to them in their respective homes. No two homes are the same. Some are from families burdened by poverty, divorce, physical abuse, substance abuse, unemployment, or child-headed households.
With all these societal challenges and our diversity should we aspire for universally an acceptable minimum set of norms, standards or values to instil in our children that transcend race, class, religion and schools for them to live by? That is, to create the society that we would like to see; emotionally intelligent children that display tolerance, empathy, kindness towards one another and critical thinkers who are not easily influenced by misinformation? I strongly believe this goes parallel with our need to prioritise literacy and numeracy in the early years, particularly in the foundation phase and primary level.
In education globally and here at home, there is a move to do away with homework or to at least reduce it significantly and replace it with play and family time. In its place, parents and guardians should use this as an opportunity to intentionally model positive behaviours.
Would such intentional and proactive involvement by parents relieve teachers of behavioural issues that tend to eat into teaching time? Behaviour issues and poor conduct are one of the major reasons for teachers leaving the profession.
By the time kids start Grade 1 they should be taught from home that bullying will not be tolerated, how to resolve conflict, and sharing. How does a child with a tablet or bike voluntarily share with another without being instructed to do so (emotional intelligence)?
How do we speak and treat our kids in the privacy of our homes? Do we drink, smoke, swear, or badmouth people, consume inappropriate content, use racial slurs, display homophobia? Do we resolve conflict through violence in front of them? Why do we act shocked when they demonstrate the same behaviours as us? These are behaviours that we pass on to our children whether we are aware of it or not
This is not meant to pass judgement on how parents raise their kids, instead, it is a way to collectively find common or basic values with which we can raise our children in our diversity. In other words, a minimum set of standards that our children can walk into school premises upholding before any learning and teaching take place.
The onus is not on the children but on the adults in their homes and communities. It is a call to parents, teachers, uncles, aunts, school bus drivers, coaches etc that come into contact with kids to do better and model positive behaviours.
We need to be intentional about how we raise and socialise our children. Our good intentions, paying school fees, buying food and putting a roof over their heads alone is not enough. We live in very toxic times with the proliferation of smartphones and tablets. We cannot afford to outsource the socialisation of our children to external forces through (misinformation, cyberbullying, violence, racism and homophobia) on social media platforms.
The parental role in the triangular relationship (school, parent and learner) has never been more important than now.
Come 2031 I hope we will not only report on the NSC and IEB results but on the behaviour in our schools which will also be a reflection not only on their parents but the adults in their community.
I wish districts, schools, teachers, support staff, parents and learners a better year than 2018. DM