Govt slams school safety report as 'hype'

A report by the South African Institute for Race Relations (SAIRR), which said South African schools were the most dangerous in the world, is “media hype” and “negative propaganda”, the Department of Education said on Wednesday.

“[The SAAIR’s] latest media hype about safety at schools [which has nothing to do with race relations] is evidence that this once-credible institution has fallen prey to a political agenda, and in so doing has severely damaged its credibility,” said department Director General Duncan Hindle.

“Nobody is asking for sanitised news, but in this case one has to ask whether the sole aim of the institute is to make South Africans feel bad about themselves and their country.”

Hindle said the data used by the institute was derived from perceptions.

“Children were asked if they felt safe at school, and many did not.

“That is worrying, but it should not then be taken that these children are in fact not safe. Feeling something does not make it so.”

Hindle said in fact there were remarkably few incidents of violence at South African schools, given that 12-million children attended school every day.

He said the department had undertaken numerous steps over the past five years to make schools safer.

Last weekend, Minister of Education Naledi Pandor launched a programme to provide schools seriously at risk with fences, lighting, security guards and even metal detectors.

Hindle said all schools had been provided with safety guides that had resulted in various anti-violence initiatives.

“We also sponsored legislation last year providing for the search and seizure of dangerous weapons and drugs at schools.”

The findings of a Progress in International Reading Literacy study released on Tuesday ranked South Africa last in terms of school safety.

“In that study South African school pupils were asked whether they felt safe when they were at school and if they had experienced incidents of stealing, bullying and injury to themselves or to others in their class within the last four weeks.

“Only 23% of South African pupils said they felt safe at school. On average South Africa’s schools ranked more than 20 percentage points below the worldwide average of 47% of pupils saying they felt a high degree of safety in the classroom,” said SAIRR spokesperson Thomas Blaser.

He said school violence appeared not to be isolated incidents anymore but “part of a growing pattern of violence and disorder”.

According to the Department of Education’s own data, published in the SAIRR report, 24% of schools had no burglar bars, 35% had no security gates and 80% had no alarm systems.”

On Wednesday, Hindle said the department asked the community to continue supporting its campaign to build “safe and caring schools”.

“Those attempting to trash this country in pursuit of party political goals will not succeed,” he said.

Crisis mode

According to a Finweek report last week, South African education is in crisis mode.

The report reveals not only a shocking skills shortage 13 years into post-apartheid South Africa, but also a fundamental crisis in an education system sorely lacking resources to equip a nation adequately for future growth.

The report points to the failure of the education system to face up to the challenges of global competition in the 21st century.

“We’re probably talking about an effort—assuming for argument’s sake we get the education system functioning optimally now—lasting an entire generation before we see the results of a well-educated society working its way through the labour market and economy,” Stellenbosch economist Servaas van den Berg told Finweek.

During the past two years, the South African education system ejected 535 000 people from school without any passing certificate and a very uncertain future.

These school leavers will join the ranks of the unemployed, says Finweek. At this time, citizens between the ages of 20 and 24 represent 14% of the labour force, but are already over-represented among the unemployed, accounting for roughly 27% of that number.

The decline in pass rate and a lack of skills, says the report, are creating a slippery slope for further economic growth.

It warns that a knowledge economy cannot survive with a severe imbalance between the educated and uneducated, causing a self-fulfilling vicious cycle in which lack of skills reduces demand and vice versa.—Sapa

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