Learner Discipline in Crisis: Can South African schools overcome the problem?

Author: Pierre du Plessis

Discipline problems do exist in South African schools, and in other countries, and the situation is getting worse. The author argues that everyone who cares about children should cares about poor discipline and school violence. He adds that it is time to break the silence that too often characterises even the most well-meaning school communities. School discipline and safety, he feels, are every-one’s job.

Traditional behavioural management practices, including corporal punishment, are prohibited in South African schools. Instead, contemporary practices are advocated. These centre on management through supportive school programs, including appropriate curricula and school-support structures.

An area of concern is whether learner discipline policies and procedures are equitable, fair and effective. It is the school’s role to ensure that all learners are aware that while they have rights, they also have responsibilities. This awareness is more likely to be achieved in a supportive school culture where each learner is recognised for having unique qualities that can mature and grow in an environment that is conducive to learning.

If the discipline problems in schools are not going to be managed, they will put the education system in a crisis. In light of this background, the following research questions was asked: How can South African schools overcome problems of discipline?

In order to answer the research question, a literature review on school discipline was done. Books, journals, electronic journals, government policies as well as current newspaper articles were analyzed.  A synthesis was made to develop a critical argument on how best to deal with problems of discipline in the South African school context. The following themes were distilled from the literature review: The aim of discipline; Teacher styles to discipline; Positive discipline versus punished-based discipline; School discipline and school effectiveness; School discipline and policy; Responsibilities of stakeholders; Prevention and discipline.

Based on these themes, the author makes the following recommendations:

  • Better management of discipline as a whole-school approach must be implemented. To improve discipline, all stakeholders must be involved in drawing up a code of conduct for the school.
  • Educators must look for alternatives to corporal punishment.
  • Schools must become safe havens where positive and effective education can take place.
  • Effective practices for improving the behaviour of troubled learners must be investigated and documented.

The author concludes that coordinated school efforts can help to overcome the looming discipline crisis that schools are facing. Together stakeholders must develop solutions, because the responsibility to solve the problem does not rest with the schools alone. If finding the solution is not going to be a coordinated effort, then the constitution, which promises safety and security to all, will become an empty document.

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