Pupils Speak Out: Popularity and smoking weed
The article you are about to read is part of a weekly series of comment pieces written by pupils about the problems they encounter in their schools. The series offers pupils a chance to be part of the debate about South Africa’s education system.
When pupils smoke weed, it disrupts our classes and results in theft just like in other schools in central Johannesburg.
Michael*, a pupil in grade 11 who smokes weed, says: “Smoking weed is a choice, and if so many students use it, then I think it should be legalised because I believe it helps people and it is good for your brain cells and it is a cure for cancer.”
Since many pupils want to be popular in their schools, it seems smoking weed has become the easiest way to gain popularity. Having the best academic performance at school can be hard and takes a lot of work, but to be known for smoking weed is much easier for pupils who lack motivation.
Michael continues: “I feel like everything can be done positively and I have more confidence when I’m ‘high’. The fact is that when I smoke weed, l feel more alive, I do this to prove a point that life ain’t worth living without a joint, because the weed brings life within.”
Children often use weed because they think they are not cool enough or they don’t get enough attention at home. Some of them also do this because they are influenced by their friends and when you are feeling down, you can only count on your friends. “All you need is money and to know where to buy it. There are several places where you could get it from and it’s cheap but affording it is not always easy.”
Some weed smokers end up stealing from other pupils at school to make enough money to buy weed that will last them at least a week. Michael says: “It does not really affect my behaviour towards other people in class or anywhere I am, but it sometimes does when I crave for it and I have no money. When I have this feeling I could do anything for money.”
Weed can be bought in areas around the school for different prices depending on what you want: “Swazi” is R5, “Skunk” is R10, “Chronic” is R100, “Crystal” is R150 and so on.
Pupils are not supposed to smoke weed. But in some cases, pupils come to school high and this interferes with their learning. These pupils sometimes cause chaos in the class with their teachers and this takes up time that could have been spent on other pupils.
Some of the smokers come to school smelling of weed and they can’t control themselves and they dress in an unruly way. This brings a bad name to their schools in particular when people see them on the streets.
At times, the school is visited by different organisations that speak to pupils about substance abuse and what the substance abuse does to their lives, bodies and brains. The organisations also help pupils see how school is very important and needed. This is useful to some pupils because it gives them a fresh start and a lesson to learn from.
We have been taught that weed is linked to risky and violent behaviours. It should be totally forbidden from being used because it affects people’s mental health, but many pupils still believe that weed can prevent depression.
Pupils at our school come from different backgrounds such as poor and problematic families.
These problems can affect them at school when they are not spoken about. Many of them suffer from not being listened to, not getting enough attention from their peers and they feel they cannot talk to anyone about these issues. Most of them are not satisfied deep within themselves.
“I would love to finish with school and become a professional dancer. I have hope for the future and I see myself teaching how to dance,” says Michael.
He believes he can achieve this by working towards his career path, if only he stops smoking weed, which he hopes to quit sometime soon. Although smoking weed is illegal in South Africa, it is still being planted and grown by people and is sold to children who are not capable of resisting it.
We should try the simplest ways of addressing this problem by introducing more fun activities and enjoyable volunteering experiences for young people around where they live. Children must be given a chance to experience their feelings more and find interest in good and fun things.
*Not his real name
The pupil who wrote this article is a participant in the Children’s News Agency project by Media Monitoring Africa and has asked to remain anonymous. This non-profit media watchdog organisation, based in Johannesburg, aims to enhance participation of children in mainstream media by providing them with the skills necessary to report on problems that children face.
The agency works with pupils between the ages of 14 and 17 who attend an inner-city public school in Johannesburg and are mostly from underprivileged backgrounds. The project participants identified problems they face in and out of school, interviewed other children affected by the same problems, then wrote comment pieces about what they discovered.