Saturday, September 23, 2023

New watchdog will tackle cyber-bullying of students by teachers

It is everybody’s hope that the coming into being of the Botswana Teaching Professionals Council (BOTEPCO) will professionalise a trade that should have been the very first to get such treatment. One very important aspect of such professionalism will certainly be articulated in a yet-to-be-developed code of ethics and will help keeping learners out of social media.

In October 2020, the Minister of Basic Education, Fidelis Molao, launched BOTEPCO’s 15-member board and late last month, Dr. Raphael Dingalo was appointed as the Council’s founding CEO. He is the former Limkokwing University Vice Chancellor and CEO of the Human Resource Development Council. The Council’s mandate includes regulating the teaching profession; maintaining professional and ethical standards for teachers – which standards include teaching knowledge, skills and competence; licensing teachers; maintaining a register of teachers; establishing, publishing, reviewing and maintaining a code of ethics for teachers; and monitoring adherence to the code of ethics.

The particular importance of those responsibilities is that they may finally end the social media madness that has possessed some teachers ever since they acquired iPhones. The reason supermarkets don’t display “Do not urinate here” signs between aisles is that, everything being equal, they don’t expect anyone to do that. By the same token, the Ministry of Basic Education has never found the need to have a policy that instructs teachers to not post audio or video clips that assail the dignity of learners. Part of the reason is that teachers are supposed to be parents to learners and good parents protect their children at all times.

The reality though is that some wayward teachers have been posting the most inappropriate content featuring students on social media platforms, notably Facebook and WhatsApp – while taking care to stay off-frame themselves.

One such video that just went into circulation is of female students crowding at a male teacher’s table. One student begins by asking the teacher why the names of her father and those of the fathers of other students are not ever written on their birth certificates. The students have a fruitless back-and-forth with the teacher who, at one point, asks the questioner why she didn’t ask her mother. The teacher flippantly uses the cringe-worthy Setswana word “mmago” when he had ample choice of more respectful words – like “mama”, which one of the students actually uses.  

Nna ga le ka ke la ta la botsa nnake eng o ne o sa botse mmago?” asks the teacher in Setswana that translates as “You can’t ask me that; why didn’t you ask your mother?”

To be clear, “mmago” is proper Setswana but it doesn’t meet standards of proper indigenous decorum. The teacher also uses the plural form of the word’s equally rough-edged masculine equivalent (“borraalona”) in the same context. Describing a situation that perceptibly applies to other students at the teacher’s table, one responds by saying that she doesn’t know her father. By the same generalising token, another student says that her father is a Zimbabwean and she has never seem him: “Bo rraarona ke Ma-Zimbabwe mme rona ga re ise re ba bone.” The faces of eight students are clearly visible in the video while that of the teacher stays off-frame for the entire period (62 seconds) that this exchange lasts.

When you are in your early teens, your mind is not fully formed and what is on your mind typically reaches your mouth with virtually no delay. Resultantly, it is guaranteed that infantile statements that you make today that are captured on video and shared with the rest of the world, will greatly embarrass you in a decade or less. When you are a teacher at a junior secondary school, you are supposed to be mature enough to know that and the last thing you want to do is videotape an interaction where students say what those in the video say – then literally share that video with the world. Tragically that is what that teacher did. The interaction is somewhat light-hearted but the subject matter is very serious and there will certainly be days when the students in the video suffer mental torture just thinking about their absentee fathers.

Many more videos shot by teachers continue to surface online.

Last year there was one that featured two male lower-primary school pupils. One says that the other had, in the absence of their female teacher, told other students that he wanted to turn himself into a rat and set about nibbling on the teacher’s stock of “panties” until there was not a single stitch left. As she films this report, the teacher, who is off-frame, then summarises what the boy said to confirm that she got the story right: “O ta a ichencha pebaa bo a a ja diphenti tsame?” Salaciously humorous though this story is, the teacher is supposed to have used her time at the college of education to familiarise herself with psycho-sexual stages that pre-pubescent go through. Resultantly, she should have handled this delicate matter more professionally – which in one respect, means outside social media.

Another video was of a Molefi Senior Secondary School female student who was videotaped by teacher writhing on the ground in pain. The student had reportedly drank some chemical in the science laboratory and had a bad reaction to it. In no time, the video was posted to Facebook and went viral. Child Line Botswana interceded on behalf of the student and reported the matter to the police. However, the case fizzled out because the police couldn’t identify the culprit because like all others, he had stayed off-frame.

Onkgopotse Thobega of Child Line told Sunday Standard that they are aware of this misconduct (which borders on child abuse) and are none too pleased about it.

“We are aware of such incidents and find them very troubling because they are an attack on children’s human dignity,” said Thobega adding that this practice also amounts to cyber-bullying especially when it targets people who, like children, can’t defend themselves. “Even when children have done something wrong, it is still highly improper to film them and post the video on social media.”

Thobega also revealed that Child Line has intervened in a case involving a student in Bobonong. The student stole some goodies in a shop, oblivious of the fact that his thieving expedition was being filmed by shopkeepers, who later confronted him and posted a video of the encounter on social media.

With teaching being professionalised, BOTEPCO’s code of ethics will imperil the job security of teachers who post the videos on social media. The Botswana Teaching Professionals Council Act says that the names of teachers found guilty of breach of the professional code of ethics will be removed from the register of people registered as teachers and that such people will not be able to teach anywhere in Botswana. It is unlikely that teacher unions will be of any help to the culprits because they are themselves represented in the Council’s board and would have been party to the decision to remove the culprits from the register.


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