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Playing the blame game

By Phindile Lukhele-Olorunju

It is becoming extremely difficult to be a teacher, a parent or a student in South Africa.

There is no week that passes without one hearing one or two disturbing occurrences that have taken place in our schools, both primary and secondary schools. We read in the media about bullying among the learners, threatening of teachers by pupils, carrying of dangerous weapons to classes by pupils, raping of students by teachers, raping of students by other students, pregnancies at both primary and secondary schools. The most shocking has been the recent death of Lukhanyo High School Grade 10 pupil Keamogetswe Sefularo, who is believed to have been stabbed to death by fellow pupils in a satanic attack.1

What has gone wrong?

Sometimes I sit down and wonder what has gone wrong. A lot of the things happening in schools I could never have even imagined during my time (1960–1990s). School was a safe place to go to and, in some cases, even safer than in some homes. Today, according to the South African Council of Educator’s report on school-based violence released in 2011,2 more than 15.3% of pupils have experienced some form of violence or abuse at school.

Widely, teachers fear students and students fear teachers. Cordial relationships between teachers and students can only be found in few selected schools where teachers act as parents to students and there is mutual respect on both sides. I sometimes wonder how parents feel as they drop their kids in schools where some of these terrible things happen: they must spend their whole day worrying more about the safety of the kids at school than whether the child is learning something or not.

The same applies to a teacher who wakes up in the morning to go and teach in a school where his or her own life is at risk because some students are carrying knives, guns and axes to class. In such cases, the teachers are even afraid to challenge a student who ‘talks back’, to say nothing of disciplining the child when necessary. It is a difficult situation indeed!

A call to rethink values I want to believe that whatever is wrong is linked to a number of issues, such as the absence of or non-adherence to certain values both at home and at school by parents, teachers and learners. I must quickly add here that since we all are influenced by the environment we live in; we need to factor in organisational values, societal values and even national values. I think the home is the centre point of what happens later in the life of any human being. I am one of those who believe that teachers can only assist to shape what has already been engraved in the human being in terms of values and character in the home. They add value, but do not and not manufacture the product, if I may put it that way.

Have we therefore failed as parents/guardians to do our part? How many of us can say we have done well in instilling good values in our children? How many of us parents can and say ‘my home is a better school for my child than the school out there’? Are we more concerned about our jobs than the beneficiaries of our earnings? What joy can we derive when we have all the money, expensive houses and cars and yet we suffer from heartaches because our children are not like us or even care less about what we have accumulated in their name or on their behalf? Is the family structure broken and irreparable in South Africa?

We must appreciate our differences and therefore recognise that we need each other.3 The Department of Education cannot survive on its own. It needs you and me, as parents. We must take our basic responsibilities of bringing up our children well seriously. If I teach my child to listen, think, obey, respect and be honest and work hard, 60% of South Africa’s problems would be solved! Teaching a child to listen, think, obey, respect, be honest and work hard is not a privilege for the rich or educated.

We must live our values: each organisation has its values, just like each home has its values. The problem we have is that they are on paper but not in our hearts. We read them but we do not believe in them and that is why we do not live them, neither take them as absolute truth.

We must all contribute to a solution

Let us be realistic about building this country. The education system in South Africa needs to be discussed, not only by politicians but also by all South Africans, because it does affect every sector of society.4 Parents are concerned about the poor scholastic performance of their children which makes them unemployable, society is concerned about the negative impact on social cohesion, universities are concerned about the quality of students they get and the government is concerned about the effect on manpower for the labour market.

Teachers are beginning to be scared for their own safety in classrooms, where they can be attacked by children under the influence of drugs and frustrations from homes that are not really conducive for child upbringing and support. Let us think of solutions that will help the students, teachers, parents and the community. I do not think government alone has the solution, but should make this a national challenge that invites all South Africans to throw in their contributions, no matter how seemingly insignificant. There are many teachers who believe in their vocation and students who desire excellent education who are being frustrated.

In closing, though the subject can never be closed, I suggest that parents take our own responsibilities seriously before we can shift the blame. Most teachers are also parents, and they should be able to show that they are responsible parents not only at home but also at school.


1. See, for example, in-alleged-satanic-attack-1.1483138.

2. See Report-2011.pdf.

3. Professor Lukhele-Olorunju has written further on this topic at: 2012-04-26.

4. Professor Lukhele-Olorunju expanded her views on these issues at: and-government-all-stand-accused-september-2011-2011-09-06.

Category: Winter 2013

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