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Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Basic Education today received presentations on safety in schools in the country where bullying and corporal punishment dominated the agenda.
Acting Committee Chairperson, Ms Pinky Mokoto, said that school safety is critical. “There is no way that learners can learn when the environment is contaminated by violence. It is important to continue working together and not in silos.”
She, however, appreciated the infrastructure that has thus far been put in place to ensure safety in schools like fencing. “It might not be sufficient, but it definitely is better,” she said.
The Department of Basic Education told the Committee several socio-economic issues played a role in school violence. Communities that experience high levels of crime and violence are likely to experience higher levels of crimes and violence in schools. Family and community factors intersect with the levels of violence and crime that occur in schools and schools that are poorly managed and governed have higher rates of violence and crime.
The Committee heard the fact that the Department of Basic Education has to deal with violence in schools detracts it from its core responsibility, which is teaching and learning. They now have to attend to socio-economic issues. Violence makes it difficult to have a conducive environment for teaching and learning to take place.
The South African Police Service (SAPS) said that a total of 23 064 out of a total of 24 844 public schools are linked to local police stations. The Committee noted that the linkage was slower in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal and urged the SAPS to strengthen this function in an effort to ensure safe schools. The Committee was reminded that corporal punishment is not only banned in schools, but is outlawed in the country.
The Director-General in the Department of Basic Education, Mr Mthanzima Mweli, emphasised that this is both outlawed in terms of the South African Schools Act and the Constitution. The Committee noted that the Minister of Basic Education last week strongly came out against the call by King Goodwill Zwelithini for corporal punishment to be reinstated.
The department supported a proposal for teaching/education to be declared an essential service. Mr Mweli said this matter was also raised during the “selling of posts” report. The Minister of Basic Education then said the Labour Relations Act and the Constitution would have to be amended. He said this is especially relevant in times of strikes by labour unions in the education sector.
The Committee has noted comments that research has shown it is not necessarily that violence in South African schools has increased, but it is rather a case of the reporting that has increased, especially because of social media.
The Committee noted with concern that the Department of Basic Education has received a notice of a looming strike by the South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) on Tuesday. The Committee further noted that the Minister and all MECs will be meeting on the matter tomorrow and urge all the stakeholders to find a solution as the sector finds itself within days of the commencement of the National Senior Certificate examinations.
Issued by Parliamentary Communication Services on behalf of the Acting Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education, Pinky Mokoto