Sunday, September 20, 2020

Fear and loathing in Botswana schools

BY MPHO KUHLMANN

Armed and dangerous! The chilling phrase that is always associated with menacing blood thirsty criminals is now as much part of Botswana schools as chalk and blackboard.

In a desperate bid to quell the spate of violence that is rocking Botswana schools, the Ministry of Education issued a statement last year, warning that any student found in possession of a weapon such as knife, blade or similar within schools will be subjected to an immediate 20-day suspension. The public statement by the ministry followed the tragic stabbing to death of a 16 year Serowe student by his classmate.

Shortly before, a teacher was brutally beaten by a group of Form Five students at Matshekge Senior Secondary in Bobonong.

With the spiraling school violence it is safe to say Batswana students are almost as likely to be attacked or killed in their classrooms as in a bar. Well maybe not almost, but Botswana schools are becoming more dangerous for both students and teachers.

A research paper, “Crime & School violence in Botswana Secondary Education;  the case of Moeding Senior Secondary School,” by a University of Botswana lecturer Joseph Matsoga found that  “the widespread violence and misbehavior that exists in many secondary schools interferes with the teaching and learning process, and often such misbehavior manifests itself in various ways, including bullying, lateness to school, vandalism, alcohol consumption and substance abuse, truancy, and inability or unwillingness to do homework.”

Matsoga observed that the causes of disciplinary problems appear to be age-specific or related to pupils’ development phase. These problems seem to occur more frequently at the secondary-school level than in primary schools. Botswana like many other countries around the world face the problem of school violence, though for a long time serious school crime in the form of murder was not a concern. 

Indications; however are that the growing spate of school violence may be a symptom of an even bigger problem. Matsoga quoted Thomerson who argues that school violence is not uniquely a school problem and does not begin in schools. Rather it is an extension of violence that occurs at home and within the larger community.

The digitisation of Botswana’s society seems to have given the scourge a new wind as school violence also presents itself through cyber bullying.

While cyber bullying typically relies on psychological harm, bullying itself is a violent behaviour that is frequently exhibited in aggressive students, but can also lead the victim of the bullying to engage in self-harm or in some cases commit suicide. Students learn what is considered appropriate regarding aggression from their pupils and teaching authorities.

 

As both Matsoga and Thomerson point out although not in so many words, a child that is exposed to family members with a history of substance abuse, domestic violence, and other types of family dysfunction has a greater risk of developing aggression. When family members engage in this type of behaviour, it becomes normalized for the child that is exposed to it. They then begin to understand this problematic behaviour as being normal; therefore increasing the chance they will behave similarly. It is common that students that hit, punch, and kick other students were either abused themselves or witnessed abuse happen to another family member.

Dr Sethunya Mosime, senior Sociology lecturer at the University of Botswana says bullying perpetuates violence in kids. “Bullying has become so normalized these days, kids bully parents and bully other kids. A lot of the times bullying activities take place after school which then makes it look like it wasn’t school based. The violence then extends into the society, I think we live in tough times where it is somewhat difficult to be the best parent and the culture of kids demanding things then and there also fuels the situation. In some cases parents are to blame for the behavior kids are depicting in schools, neglectful parenting often has an even greater impact on the violent tendencies of kids that physical abuse does, and this can be characterized by withholding love and affection amongst others from the child. This usually happens in households where the parents have some type of addiction or alcohol problem.”

Anecdotal evidence suggests that to an extent parents are to blame for their children’s foul behavior in schools. Parents are increasingly in conflict with teachers over what constitutes good behavior. Parents are also seen as undermining teacher’s efforts to improve children’s behavior by setting bad examples and as it is, kids model the behavior of their parents. Some parents tell children that if they have been hit by another pupil in the playground then they should ‘hit them back next time.” Teachers are less likely to punish a student for the fear of retaliation and likewise, students become more uninterested about schoolwork and deviancy because they realize they will not be punished severely. This leads to less attentiveness amongst students. Simply put, the violence epidemic simply leads to more violence .While some seclude themselves, withdraw from school, the most serious reaction is of retaliation. Some students, when acted against, begin carrying weapons to school and this only lead to further violence among students.

Ms Sabone Matenge a teacher at Motswedi Junior Secondary School whose job places her at the frontline of the growing school violence says violence in schools is a clear and present danger, but sometimes goes unreported. “There are some instances where the school is disrupted by students with delinquent behavior. Most of these student come to the school armed and dangerous and aren’t afraid to use these weapons. Peer pressure plays a huge role where other students are roped into bad behavior by their peers. Reaching out to parents at times proves pointless as they don’t really care what goes on with their children at school and are not bothered that their children are being a nuisance. Regrettably teachers and support staff are suffering the backlash from deteriorating standards of behavior. They are frequently on the receiving end of student’s frustration and unhappiness, and have to deal with the fallout from parents failing to set boundaries and family breakdowns.

Ditshego Moalosi who works at Stanbic Bank in Gaborone says parents somewhat contribute to the kid’s bad behavior in schools. ”Some parents do the exact opposite of being abusive to their children. Instead of harsh beatings, punishments and neglect they give no consequences for their bad behavior at all. I think this becomes problematic because children need and want their parents to set limitations through an authoritative parenting style. When parents don’t, kids act out in ways that are meant to get their attention. Pampering children doesn’t prevent violence, if anything it encourages more violence because the child is always allowed to get away with cruelty.”

Dineo Mapitse who works at Kgalagadi Breweries in Gaborone on the other hand says peer influences remain a major predictor of youth violence. “Youth who have low-quality social connections with peers are at an increased risk of participating in violent behaviors, same with youth who associate with delinquent or antisocial peers. Involvement with deviant peers is one of the most powerful influences in the start of delinquent, violent behavior. Participation in violent activities may be a tool for gaining group membership, obtaining the respect and attention of peers, or as a way to establish independence from the adult world.”

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Sunday Standard September 20 – 26

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of September 20 - 26, 2020.