/ 29 November 2010

Hlayiseka tackles violence

Hlayiseka Tackles Violence

Hlayiseka is a Tsonga word which means “be safe” and it’s also the name of a school intervention which aims to equip South African schools burdened with violence to cope better with their situation.

The Cape Town-based Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention (CJCP) launched this project in 2008.

For the past three years Hlayiseka’s four-day training workshops have reached 1 100 schools nationally as various provincial education authorities signed up.

Patrick Burton, executive director at CJCP, says they launched Hlayiseka after research at schools nationwide revealed worrying levels of violence: thousands of learners in primary and high schools had been assaulted at school. Boys and girls faced sexual violence, while alcohol and drugs were easily accessible at schools and so were weapons like knives or guns.

One of the most high-profile cases of school violence occurred two years ago at the Nic Diederichs Technical High School in Krugersdorp, where Morne Harmse killed fellow learner Jacques Pretorius with a sword and injured three others. He was sentenced last year to 20 years’ imprisonment and the judge recommended that he be given psychiatric counselling and rehabilitation during his prison term.

Referring to the Hlayiseka project, Burton explains that it takes the form of a tool-kit containing informative handbooks to equip a team of participants committed to making schools safer. Each participating school has its own team that comprises learners, teachers, the school principal, members of the school governing body, the local police and the provincial education department’s district officer.

“We know what the risk factors are. We need to build resiliency among children. This aims to be an early intervention to work with children,” says Burton of their project.

“A well-managed school will be safe. A school needs to have policies in place and learners must be involved … They put together a safety plan for the year and implement it. There should, for example, be an anonymous [crime and violence] reporting mechanism for kids and teachers.”

Burton says that a Hlayiseka project mentor works with the school to ensure that the initiative continues throughout the year.

“Our workshop allows the learners and educators to identify that there is a problem at their school and they need to do something about it. The idea is that the tool-kit equips the school to take responsibility. This is not going to be an NGO or education department responsibility though. It doesn’t ask teachers to spend extra time on it. They just have to draw up their policies and implement it,” he explains.

“We bring in other role players because schools often feel isolated from the community. We bring in the local district officer and a police officer so that there is more success.”

Hlayiseka tackles the practicalities of ensuring a safe school while guiding learners on how to take responsibility for their environment. Burton says that learners need to know that “rights come with responsibilities”.

“This project is about respect and how you engage with people. It’s about everybody walking into the classroom and doing what they’re supposed to do. It works for the teachers and children.”

Workshops also start a conversation between learners and teachers where communication barriers exist. Schools with high levels of violence tend to have distrust between learners and teachers, says Burton.

“Learners need to feel free to say why they don’t feel safe and what the risks are at school. They need to have a space where they feel they can talk to teachers. But the school must respond and take action on complaints … There are incidents where kids are bullied and teachers do nothing about it. Kids need to be a lot more active in saying why they don’t feel safe. They need to be empowered and need to feel that they are not victims.”

While the national department of education was an instrumental partner in drawing up this project’s framework and funded initial trials, provinces are now expected to fund this initiative. The Open Society Foundation of South Africa was the project’s initial funding partner and has increased its backing.

Meanwhile, Bronagh Casey, spokesperson for the Western Cape education department, says that they also run the Safe Schools Programme, which aims to “ensure that our schools become free of dangerous objects and drugs”. In October this year it was revealed that there were 227 reported assaults and stabbings at the province’s schools since the beginning of this year. Assaults involved learners attacking each other and there were many links to gang violence.

Casey says the education department installed metal detectors last year at 109 “high-risk schools to ensure that no weapons are brought onto the school premises”. Other physical security measures at schools include gates, burglar bars, alarms, perimeter patrols by community volunteers and armed response.

Learners were also involved in programmes focusing on conflict management, trauma counselling, behaviour modification, human rights curriculum, entrepreneurial training, and sport and cultural activities.

Casey says this programme’s 2010/11 budget was R22-million and it incorporated a range of services.

“There’s an Integrated School Safety Plan and a toll-free call centre where children can lodge complaints or request assistance, and are referred to the school social workers, school psychologists or external service providers for therapeutic and psychological intervention,” says Casey.