Are we failing our children?

02 December 2020 | Education

Bernadette Hess

Over the years we have experienced many highs and lows in our teaching profession. “When our learners excel academically or in extra-curricular activities we are overjoyed. More so, after our learners have left school and as teachers, we hear about the strides they have made and their accomplishments attained, we feel a sense of reward and pride. And rightly so, because teachers, among others, help mould the child into the being he or she becomes,” says Ms Hess, a teacher at Dawid Bezuidenhout High School.

“Sadly, when the tragedy of gender-based violence strikes our school community, we ask ourselves a myriad of questions: Have I taught them how to cope with the uncertainties, temptations and social evils they may encounter in life? Could I have done more to prepare them for the hurdles on their journey of life? Did I fail to plant the seed of respect and instill the value of human life in the minds of our boys? Or teach them that no means no?” Hess added.

In July 2010 Magdelena Stoffels, at the time a learner at Dawid Bezuidenhout, was brutally murdered within close proximity of the school. Politicians, learners, women’s groups and many sympathisers rallied together showing their outrage at this senseless loss of life.

“Marches were held and there was a general outcry. But this was short lived. Magdalena became another statistic, an unresolved case. Parents were robbed of the closure they needed. When the storm died down, people continued with their normal life. Now, ten years down the line, we are hit hard again by the brutal death of another past learner of our school, Shannon Wasserfall, who matriculated in 2016. And we’ve come to realise that more needs to be done than just a public display of emotions,” Hess added.

Hess believes that too often gender-based violence is sensationalised, which just magnifies the crime and does not focus on the actual issue to find a concrete solution. Gender-based violence, particularly violence against the female gender, is one of the most pervasive forms of human rights violations.

“It prevents these women from reaching their full potential, their life being snuffed out at a time that was not destined for them. We cannot keep saying it is the government’s responsibility to end GBV or say that all we need to do is to introduce the death penalty or change laws. Together we need to tackle this issue if we wish to contribute to nation building,” she said.

“The question arises, what can we, as educational staff, do? The first step of prevention is education. Prevention should start early in life, educating our children, promoting respectful relationships and gender equality. It is a critical time to forge values and norms on gender equality.”

Hess added that the curriculum objectives and educational programmes should be in place that support teachers to acquire the necessary skills and have the tools at their disposal on how to prevent and respond to gender-based violence.

“We need to tackle violence against girls at school level and raise awareness of the challenges our girls may face. More importantly, we need to transform the attitudes our boys have towards the female gender; behavioural change is needed. Our boys need to become agents of change. At school level we need to mobilise our youth so that they will speak out about violence using social media as a platform not only to bring awareness of this evil but to call for an end to this.”

Hess believes that teachers should be approachable so that learners can feel free to speak out and we to listen with compassion.

“Furthermore, the expertise of respected community leaders can be engaged to assist us in what appears to be a mammoth task. Let us do our part in addressing this issue and striving to eliminate GBV. It is an issue that knows no boundaries, be it economic or social.”