Archaic Education Act: Catalyst for wayward behaviour in schools


The video clip that recently trended on social media platforms showing a male teacher corporally punishing a female student at Sir Seretse Khama Memorial Junior Secondary School (SSKMJS) in Gaborone has reignited the debate about factors that lead some students to misbehave to the point of even peddling drugs within school premises. Mmegi correspondent LEBOGANG MOSIKARE found out that the Education Act is also to blame for the status quo

FRANCISTOWN: How the student was treated ignited a war of words between unions representing teachers and a human rights organisation, the Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV and AIDS (BONELA), which says that corporal punishment in schools should be abolished.

The pro “spare the rod and spoil the child” cultural advocates, were supported by a host of Batswana who say that corporal punishment is a cultural practice that has stood the test of time in disciplining children. On the other hand, the anti-corporal sanctioning proponents were on the corner of BONELA.

While the gist of this article is not to say who between the pro and anti-corporal punishment backers is/was right or wrong, it became very clear during the debates on social media that the practice is widely supported by many Batswana from all demographics. Gleaning from the social media posts, it is also apparent that BONELA still has a mountain to climb to change the public’s minds about corporal punishment.

BONELA and other human rights organisations will surely use the envisaged constitutional review exercise to galvanise the public to support their call for the abolition of corporal punishment from the Education Act and will also use it to advocate the repealing of the death penalty.

When asked to give his views about what broadly causes some students to misbehave in schools and not necessarily about the recent SSKMJS incident, who among other reasons allegedly incurred the wrath of school authorities after she was caught selling weed cake (a cake mixed with dagga) to other students within the school premises, the vice president of the Botswana Sectors of Educators Trade Union (BOSETU), Mogomotsi Motshegwa said that a host of factors come into play.

Motshegwa said nowadays school children spend most of their time with teachers at schools while they spend little or no time with their families. “Today’s parents are mostly preoccupied with their jobs hence they have little time for their children unlike in the olden days when it was predominantly the women’s duty to raise children within families.

Some parents have also abdicated the responsibilities of raising or guiding their children to teachers. It is even difficult for some of these parents to even know that their children may be engaging in anti-social activities such as drinking alcohol or taking drugs but will only be shocked when they are summoned to schools and told by teachers that their children are drinking or taking drugs,” said Motshegwa.

Citing an example of another student whose picture is now trending on social media showing a learner drinking alcohol in a classroom, Motshegwa expressed concern about the picture saying that it is highly probable that the parents of the student concerned may not be even aware that he is drinking alcohol.

“Ill-discipline is a thorn in the flesh of teachers because they spend more time with children at school than parents. Nowadays some teachers hardly teach because most of their time is consumed by attending disciplinary hearings of school children who are out of control,” a disappointed Motshegwa buttressed.

He also added that to show that students’ behaviour has greatly gone out of control, teachers sometimes conduct impromptu searches on students, which process unearths unimaginable things.

“During these searches we confiscate various brands of alcohol and drugs from the students. We also find dangerous weapons such as knives which learners can use to injure each other and teachers,” a worried Motshegwa explained.

Asked if the law that expressly states that teachers should only apply corporal punishment to students once they got permission from their headteachers is not somehow contributing to the declining levels of misbehaviour in schools, Motshegwa said: “The Education Act of 1968 is also a contributory factor.” He continued: “The Act has been overtaken by time and should be amended to give teachers the flexibility to discipline school children as and when the need arises without having to wait for permission from school heads. You should remember that the law was enacted in 1968 when headmasters acted as point persons in schools but you should remember that by then there were few schools and students in Botswana.”

Motshegwa added: “A modern headteacher acts like a Chief Executive officer (CEO) of the school who is mainly tasked with drawing strategic plans for the school that will benefit all education stakeholders.

The population of some of our schools exceeds 1,000 students and it is therefore practically impossible for the school head to attend to issues of school children who are misbehaving all the time because he also has to carry out other vital school duties. This is why we are calling for the Act to be reviewed so that it espouses the realities of modern education.”

The Act in its current form, Motshegwa reiterated, is an elephant in the room for progress because teachers are even afraid to apply any form of punishment to students without the express permission of the school head.

“Teachers are afraid that school heads may disown them if they punish students without their (school heads) permission even in situations when teachers have used the required force to cane learners. This whole process of teachers having to inform school heads whenever they want to apply any sanctions on students wastes a lot of time hence the Act should be abolished and be replaced with a modern Act,” said Motshegwa.

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