A viral video showing a San Souci Girls high school teacher smacking a learner in the classroom has elicited a huge reaction, with many people left divided over the incident. On Wednesday, Education MEC Debbie Schafer condemned the incident, stating categorically that the actions of the educator are unacceptable.
“Any form of corporal punishment in schools will not be tolerated,” she said.
An investigation into the incident is now underway and will determine whether the learner will also face disciplinary action. Learners in the class have been asked to make a statement regarding the events that led up to the incident. According to the Western Cape Education Department, there is further video evidence that has been edited out of the version being circulated.
“Officials of the WCED visited the school this morning. As the teacher in the video is an SGB appointee, the SGB is meeting today to discuss the disciplinary steps going forward,” she said.
In the video, the two get into a heated argument over the pupil’s cellphone on her desk. The teacher shows the learner the school’s code of conduct, to which she replies in her mother tongue. At this stage, it is clear the learner has an attitude, which aggravates the educator further. The teacher threatens to throw the phone to which the learner replies “Throw it, throw it.” After the phone is placed on the teacher’s table, the learner gets up and pushes the desk into the educator and attempts to take her phone. She forcefully pushes into the teacher, who in turn strikes her.
While the principal has declined to speak to the media, on social media, many onliners have expressed support for the educator for taking a stand against the rebellious learner. However, others have berated the educator for her conduct, with some saying she have been better equipped to deal with conflict in the classroom. Many people are calling for her to be sacked immediately. Some have viewed the incident through a racial lense, in light of the teacher scolding the girl for speaking in her mother tongue.
Learners at the school held a peaceful protest in Assembly in support of the educator, stating that the incident was not race related. Schafer has cautioned the public against assuming the incident was racially motivated.
“We ask that the public allow the SGB to investigate the incident before such conclusions are made. It is this important that we establish all the facts,” she said.
The Progressive Professionals Forum (PPF) in the Western Cape said it was appalled by the incident, saying the teacher lacks understanding of school rules enforcement procedures.
“It is sad because the learner remains calm and composed meanwhile the teacher is shouting to an extent of throwing things around. The teacher further complains about language usage, in the same token she uses Afrikaans interchangeably with English,” said the PPF.
“PPF WC would like to make it clear, learners are free to speak any language of their choosing in South African schools, so long as it doesn’t interfere with the teaching and learning process. Therefore, the condemnation of the learner for “speaking a different language” in class is condemned in strongest terms and it smacks racism and intolerance.”
The organisation plans to visit the school and will further open a case of assault against the teacher as the act goes beyond discipline to criminality.
“We will furthermore write to South African Council of Educators (SACE) to institute speedily investigation against the teacher. South African education system doesn’t require this type of educators who believe solution to problems is through violence. South Africa already is reeling on violent society against women and children and such unbecoming behaviour as exhibited by the teacher cannot be allowed in a classroom.”
Discipline challenges in the classroom
Schafer said she is aware of the many disciplinary challenges educators face daily in schools, however, the use of violence to deal with learners that show signs of behavioural issues or are ill-disciplined cannot be tolerated. The South African Schools Act (SASA), 1996 (Act 84 of 1996) and the National Education Policy Act (NEPA), 1996 (Act 27 of 1996) bans corporal punishment in schools.
“Through the school’s code of conduct, schools should state clearly what kinds of behaviour are unacceptable. Should a learner transgress, then the school has the right to discipline the learner,” she explained.
“The WCED will support schools that ensure that the relevant disciplinary procedures are followed when it comes to any form of violence or antisocial behaviour in our schools. This is because we take a zero-tolerance stance on learners that transgress various disciplinary codes by attacking or assaulting their fellow learners or educators.
“At the same time, we ask that educators exercise control when confronted with issues of ill-discipline. It has been mentioned on many an occasion that educators feel unsure how to deal with discipline in their classroom. While there is not a ‘one size fits all’ approach to unruly behaviour in our schools, there are certain methods that can be adopted to deal with different circumstances.”