On Monday, 13 February, MEC Barbara Creecy and LeadSA were reported to have announced that late-coming learners in Soweto would be taken to police stations. A video clip on Eyewitness News shows the MEC threatening learners at Lavela Secondary School with this punishment [source: http://www.ewn.co.za/MultimediaVideo.aspx?filename=120213leadsaewn].
Given Creecy’s experience as an educator and effectiveness as an MEC, it is likely that she made these comments in the heat of the moment, and has already thought better of them. We don’t foresee a confrontation with her in this regard. But in order to prevent any setback in her efforts to address latecoming, Equal Education (EE) requests that she clarifies her position as a matter of urgency.
Detaining learners would not be a sustainable, appropriate or legal way to solve the issue of late-coming. Learners cannot be taken into police custody and detained at a police station without being charged for committing an offence.
Late-coming is a critical issue in South African schools. Late-coming often disrupts lessons and impedes the general management of schools. A UCT economist Martin Wittenberg has calculated that late-coming and absenteeism result in 20% of teaching and learning time being lost in South African schools. EE commends the MEC and LeadSA for giving this issue the attention it deserves.
This follows a successful and well-publicised campaign against late-coming by Equalisers (EE members) in Tembisa highschools two weeks ago. This builds on the annual campaign against late-coming that EE runs in Khayelitsha, which has met with very positive results. The campaign uses peer-to-peer education, and is built upon a hunger for education. Every morning learners gather outside their schools where they encourage punctuality and warn about the damage done by late-coming. Late-coming teachers and learners are pressured to arrive on time. A record of the number of late-comers is kept, given to the principal, and posted up in the school for debate and discussion. Over time the positive peer pressure sees a reduction in the number of late-comers. This approach builds a culture of teaching and learning rather than one of fear.
However, while late-coming is an essential issue to address, it is important to remember that there are often a number of obstacles that learners face on their way to school. These obstacles can include having to travel long distances on transport that can be unreliable and expensive, having chores to do at home before school and having to take younger siblings to school in the morning. The mothers of many township learners are domestic workers who have departed for the suburbs before their children wake up for school. In some schools a good example is not set by teachers who also arrive late. Crime also stalks the streets that learners must walk, providing an incentive to leave home only once it is fully light and busy. If school itself was a quality experience, more learners would be motivated to arrive on time.
A disciplined school environment is essential to effective teaching and learning, but the suggestion that the police be employed to harass and intimidate learners into good behaviour echoes with the authoritarian of the past. With imagination a host of creative approaches are available, including competitions between schools, handing out pamphlets, and making school appealing and motivating.
For comment contact: Yoliswa Dwane/0723427747 or Nokubonga Yawa/0796501481