Experts: Pupils’ pledge a good start, but …

The pledge the government intends having all schoolchildren recite during morning assembly is a good start, but more is needed to instil values in children, experts said on Wednesday.

”The mere recitation of an oath, even in one’s mother tongue, is meaningless unless the children participate in discussions, activities and other extensive programming over time to enable them to subscribe to the values of respect, consideration, compassion, empathy, honesty and so forth,” said Dr Bev Killian, head of the University of Natal school of psychology’s child and family centre.

The proposed pledge was unveiled by Education Minister Naledi Pandor on Tuesday. It reads:

”We the youth of South Africa

Recognising the injustices of our past,

Honour those who suffered and sacrificed for justice and freedom.

We will respect and protect the dignity of each person,

And stand up for justice

We sincerely declare that we shall uphold the rights and values of our Constitution

And promise to act in accordance with the duties and responsibilities

that flow from these rights.


Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika”

Killian said the opening statement is not appropriate as it would be meaningless for many children, unless it is paired with extensive knowledge and understanding about the history of South Africa.

Linguistics Professor Vic Webb, of the University of Pretoria’s Centre for Research in the Politics of Language, said the language used is very complex. ”One, however, has to consider that the action of a pledge is a symbolic one rather being focused on what is being said.”

He said the pledge would be difficult for primary schoolchildren and even some high-school pupils to understand because of its complex language. ”It doesn’t need to be understood; it’s more the symbolism of one’s pledge to the country that needs understanding.”

One organisation that already has children taking an oath is the Scouts. ”On my honour I promise that I will do my best — to do my duty to God, and my country; to help other people at all times; to obey the Scout law,” the Scouts promise states.

The promise is recited in all 153 countries that have Scouts, including South Africa. It has been translated into all the languages of those countries.

”The Scouts programme is to build around a values programme and the Scout promise is part of that programme,” said South African Scout Association chief executive Milly Siebrits.

She said while the promise itself is short and easy for children to learn and understand, Scout members are also required to learn the 10 Scout laws to understand the promise.

”It will have different meanings for different ages of Scouts; an 18-year-old Scout would have a more mature understanding of it than an 11-year-old would have,” she added.

Afrikaner youth organisation Die Voortrekkers also has a promise recited by its members. Roughly translated from Afrikaans, it states: ”On my honour I promise that I will strive to honour God, to serve my nation, country and fellow man and live the Voortrekker code.”

Die Voortrekkers leader Professor Piet Strauss said: ”A promise works if the child says something that he believes in. He must have a conviction that what he says has meaning, otherwise it becomes something he recites out of habit rather than understanding its purpose.”

He said the organisation teaches its values — being a modern Afrikaner, a positive citizen and a consistent Christian — to its members before asking them to recite the promise.

Strauss said the government’s proposed pledge is too long and too complex for children to understand. ”It must be something that is simple and easily understood by children,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Freedom Front Plus (FF+) said on Wednesday the pledge is an attempt by the African National Congress (ANC) to indoctrinate children with a permanent guilt complex. It called the proposed pledge a disgrace and said it will fight it every step of the way.

”The announcement that a pledge of allegiance which would give recognition to the injustices of the past and pay tribute to those who fought for freedom [will] henceforth be recited at all schools is arrogant and shows contempt for the rights of minorities,” FF+ Gauteng legislature member Jaco Mulder said.

He said the pledge was first suggested by the Democratic Alliance (DA) in Gauteng. ”This oath is nothing more than an attempt by the ANC to indoctrinate vulnerable schoolchildren with a permanent guilt complex and the DA is supporting it,” Mulder said. — Sapa

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