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‘Teachers do not know better than using corporal punishment’

An international children’s organisation has told the South African Human Rights Commission that teachers in Limpopo who have long been in the profession use corporal punishment because that is the only form of discipline they know. 

The commission is currently hosting provincial hearings into bullying, corporal punishment and sexual relations between educators and learners.

Speaking on the second day of hearings, Mamahloli Masepa from Save the Children told the commission that the organisation works with schools in the Capricorn and Vhembe districts where they provide training to teachers on positively disciplining learners. 

Masepa said it was during these training sessions that teachers told them that they did not know any form of discipline except for corporal punishment even though they knew that it was outlawed. 

“People who became educators post 1994 are usually accepting of the fact that corporal punishment is not part of disciplining children but people who became educators prior to 1994 find themselves using corporal punishment. This is the information we get directly from the teachers. They use corporal punishment because this is what they are accustomed to and they do not know anything else in terms of disciplining learners,” she said. 

Masepa told the commission that teachers have also expressed that they are stressed and complain about a lot of administrative work that they have to do on top of teaching and preparing for their lessons. Teachers said they find themselves overwhelmed and frustrated, and as a result take out their frustrations out on the learners using corporal punishment. 

“Educators find themselves frustrated in terms of how to discipline children as they display different behavioral issues in the class. They find themselves not knowing how to discipline because the methods they are taught, whether from training from the department, usually do not work. They are not quick fix solutions. So corporal punishment is something that quickly solves something that is happening right now,” Masepa said.

The Mail & Guardian recently reported on the new regulations the department of education had gazetted which state that educators dismissed for seriously assaulting a learner will be banned from teaching for life. The regulations focused on the terms and conditions of educators’ employment concerning the prevention of re-employment of those found guilty of misconduct or who resigned before disciplinary action was meted.

Opening the hearing on Tuesday, the provincial head of the Human Rights Commission, Victor Mavhidula, said that the hearings emanated from the bullying incident at Mbilwi Secondary school in Sibasa outside of Thohoyandou last month when a video of Lufuno Mavhunga being hit by another learner went viral on social media. Mavhunga committed suicide after the incident.

Mavhidula said the commission realised that problems in schools were more extensive than they had anticipated and that there were “many learners who are being bullied in our schools”.

Mavhidula said in their investigations they had also found that in many cases learners and parents did not trust the education system to resolve their cases.

On the first day of the hearing allegations of teachers sexually assaulting young children in primary school emerged as well as claims that teacher unions defended their members where they were found in the wrong. 

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Bongekile Macupe
Bongekile Macupe is an education reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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