Paarl Boys’ High pupils rallied around their head of discipline on Friday after a difficult week of allegations of corporal punishment at the elite institution
In a video titled “You’ll never walk alone”, posted on Instagram, pupils stand closely at one of the school’s stairways, with their arms over each other’s shoulders.
One pupil says: “We back sir 100%”.
In a semi-circle they sing loudly: “Hold your head up high and don’t be afraid of the dark…” to the tune of the famous song by Gerry and the Pacemakers.
Comments on the Facebook page where the video was posted, were almost all in support of the school, with rows of blue hearts and messages of solidarity.
Said one: “As a parent, you have a choice… send your boy to one of the Cape Town schools, and spend nights awake wondering if he’s trying tik at a friend’s party, or doing the Momo challenge, etc.
“Or you send him to Paarl Boys, and sleep easy, knowing that teachers like Mr Visagie are showing him how to be respectful and make the right decisions – preparing him for life. So the number one school in the country [doesn’t] do things like other schools…Coincidence? I think not.”
Another wrote: “Goosebumps! Our hearts are blue!”
“I have a lot of respect for the school! and Mr Visagie,” read another comment. “Paarl Boys’ High values that was taught to me i still use today! thank you Paarl Boys’ High and thank you Mr Visagie!” (sic).
This followed a News24 story in which a parent and several past pupils alleged that Visagie had meted out corporal punishment as head of discipline, in spite of it being abolished and against the law since 1996.
Almost 50% of users in support of corporal punishment
A News24 poll on Thursday revealed that 49% of users who responded believed corporal punishment was “good for discipline”, 38% believed it was “okay, within reason”, and only 13% believed it to be “child abuse”.
The school’s principal Derek Swart and school governing body chairperson Ritzema de la Bay denied the allegations and said they would investigate any claims.
The Western Cape Education Department said that Visagie had received a final warning for misconduct last year and a fine, with regard to corporal punishment.
The department had also received complaints but could not take them further because the complainants did not want to be named.
Numerous people who wrote to News24 to support claims of corporal punishment did not want to be named either, but also said Visagie was a good teacher and that they loved being at the school.
Are there alternatives?
For others who did not attend the school, the story brought back memories of their own corporal punishment at their school, with the topic leading to anecdotes of the type of corporal punishment they received.
The University of Cape Town’s Children’s Institute indicated that the problem was not only at Paarl Boys’ High School. Corporal punishment was still being used in 50% of schools, according to the National Prevalence Study of School Violence by Centre for Justice & Crime Prevention.
“Research shows that corporal punishment is not effective in changing children’s behaviour – in fact corporal punishment increases child aggression rather than reducing it,” said senior researcher Stefanie Rohrs. She noted that the Department of Basic Education simply says corporal punishment is not allowed and it has not provided guidance or alternatives to corporal punishment.
“For me, it’s not so much about alternatives. You don’t want them to replace corporal punishment with some other punishment. It’s about creating a school culture based on shared values and an understanding that children have equal rights.”
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Concerns about increase in violence in schools
Nomusa Cembi, spokesperson for the SA Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU) said that discipline at schools in South Africa is becoming increasingly worrying and teachers are feeling unsafe or traumatised.
The most concerning aspect for teachers, was that if they called a pupil out on unacceptable behaviour, the same pupil and teacher had to sit together in detention and this made teachers feel unsafe.
Or, if a pupil was suspended, the same teacher who raised issues about them had to still work with the pupil privately to make sure he or she kept up with the syllabus.
“We are very concerned about the increases of violence in our schools, but we do not condone the use of corporal punishment,” said Cembi.
“Schools are supposed to come up with codes of conduct that should be observed by all involved, including the learners. In that code of conduct it should be stipulated as to what procedures would be followed if a learner does this and that.”
Teachers ‘not getting enough support’
Cembi notes that teachers who invoke the code of conduct often end up being exposed to further abuse and trauma.
“They are not getting enough support. Whatever is there, at the end the teacher also feels it. But at the same time, we cannot condone corporal punishment and violence at school.”
For Cembi, discipline is a societal matter which should not be limited to the school or the home.
“We have instances where we see child-headed families, children looking after themselves, or parents are working somewhere else.
“The family structure has changed. It is not the same.”
For her, each school should have somebody who specialises in psycho-social support permanently based on the premises to get to the bottom of some children’s behaviour.
SADTU is also currently putting the finishing touches to a programme to turn communities situated around schools into “fans” of the school, akin to the fandoms which jealously guard the well-being of their favourite sporting club.
“They should be the fans of their schools, like they are with Orlando Pirates or the Blue Bulls.”