The recent assault of a 35-year-old teacher by a Grade 9 learner in a Western Cape school has highlighted increased violence against teachers in South African schools.
According to the Western Cape Education Department (WCED), in the first quarter of this year alone, 23 staff members were assaulted by learners, including a cleaner and a security guard.
The teacher, who remains anonymous, stated that the assault could have been prevented if the school had acted on previous complaints regarding discipline. However, the assault was preceded by verbal abuse, and other learners were involved. After the incident, the teacher received no support from the school and was instead reported to the Department of Labour. The teacher has since opened a criminal case and awaits the outcome of the disciplinary hearing and police investigation. The incident has left her emotionally scarred.
Support for Teachers
The WCED supports teachers who have been attacked, including psycho-social support and wellness programs. The Employee Health and Wellness Programme (EHWP) offers professional support for various issues, including family challenges, financial advice, relationships, medical advice, and work-related challenges. In addition, the EHWP provides teachers with a toll-free number to have confidential conversations with counselors who will provide counseling support.
Trauma, personal relationships, work-related relationships and conflict, and other issues are identified as the most prevalent issues by the department. In January, the WCED issued a circular regarding the process to be followed in violence against school employees. In addition, district psycho-social support teams provide training and workshops within schools to help teachers deal with stressful classroom situations and manage problem behavior.
Online resources are also available to provide guidance and tips for teachers to use in the classroom. Sessions on ‘trauma-informed schools’ and emotional first aid training have also been provided to thousands of teachers across the province. In addition, every district has a positive behavior support program to help capacitate teachers in dealing with disruptive behavior in the classroom.
Collaboration with Other Departments
The WCED works with Safe Schools to supplement the services of department-employed psychologists and social workers by working with the Department of Health, the Department of Social Development, and NGOs.
To ensure the safety of teachers and provide the necessary support to those who have been victims of violence, the WCED must take urgent action. Teachers should be made aware of the EHWP and encouraged to use it. Schools must implement and enforce disciplinary sanctions against learners who engage in violent behavior and provide teachers with the necessary training and resources to manage problem behavior in the classroom.