A recent report released by the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) revealed that more than 200 teachers in the Province continue to employ corporal punishment methods to discipline pupils. The report has initiated a debate about the continued struggles of teachers who are faced with disruptive pupils. While parents have called for recourse in response to the emotional impact that the teachers actions have had on their children, numerous community members are defending the plight of teaches.
Spokesperson for the Progressive Principal Association, Achmat Chothia, explains that while pupils were previously subject to corporal punishment, the departments reference to corporal punishment appears to reflect ‘physical or verbal abuse’ by teachers.
He confirms that anyone who is found guilty of corporal punishment or, as it is currently referred to, ‘assault’, may be convicted.
“In those 200 cases, the teachers were probably charged with different forms of assault,” he notes.
While he affirms that the actions of the teachers cannot be condoned, he says that within poorer schools teachers are subject to situations that leave them vulnerable to reacting ‘unconsciously’.
Chothia says that teachers face two challenges; social conditions within the poorer schools, which exhibit a lack of parental control and substance abuse, and the inadequate training of teaches who are unable to deal with the various learning barriers.
“Attention deficits in the poorer schools may mean that the student actually needs help. We can’t condone it [corporal punishment], but more training is needed. We all need to come together and find a solution.”
As a means to assist in preventing situations where teaches employ mechanisms of corporal punishment, he says that more teachers need to be employed in poorer areas in order to decrease overcrowding.
In addition, Chothia encourages teaches to increase extramural activity within the classroom environment as a means to improve teacher/pupil interaction.
Meanwhile, provincial secretary of the South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU), Jonovan Rustin, explains that any form of corporal punishment is not suited within the School environment.
Rustin says that since corporal punishment has been formally abolished since 2001, SADTU is concerned at the high rate of corporal punishment incidents.
He added that SADTU is calling upon the WCED to develop alternative methods in dealing with unruly behaviour of pupils.
While the department says that it has employed workshops to assist teachers in dealing with situations that require discipline, Rustin affirms that in many incidence teachers react “spontaneously.”
“Many of the incidents have been reactive behaviour, without thinking. In a number of cases, the children act our in class, misbehave and refuse to leave the class. It’s not like in the old days when we were whipped,” he continued.
Rustin further notes that SADTU intends to reinvigorate the discussion of what corporal punishment constitutes and to reaffirm zero tolerance toward corporal tolerance.
“We have to alert teachers that if they are confronted with a situation that the best thing is to step back and think about what needs to be done in terms of the protocol of the school.”
In light of severe socio-economic conditions faced by learners, Rustin asserts that these conditions do not grant learners the right to act out within the classroom environment.
He says that parents “must” take responsibility for the actions of their children since teachers cannot constantly lay prey to what he describes as “abuse” from learners.