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Schools not safe yet

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Schools not safe yet

by Tammy Petersen
12 Sep 2007
Peoples Post
Peoples Post

Despite elaborate plans by the Department of Education to make schools safer, high schools in Athlone have become war zones, forcing teachers who should be working towards providing education to become impromptu security guards.

Reservists and volunteers have now also been recruited to assist in ensuring safety at Athlone, Bridgetown and Spes Bona High following a recent spate in school and gang related violence.

Captain André Venter, spokesperson for the Athlone Police Station, says these incidents have resulted in havoc in educational institutions. "There is a high level of harassment and fights being brought to our attention at these schools. These are caused by kids, most of them between 15 and 19."

He says that after Bambanani volunteers and police reservists joined in the fight, there has been a radical decrease.

"Things seem more quiet. We're proud to say that the violence seems to have calmed down and is under control thanks to police visibility. But the principals of these schools should take more of an interest in helping us to combat the problem."

Craig George, principal at Bridgetown High, says the school's main concern is to secure its grounds as teachers are now forced to teach as well as monitor school safety. "The incidents of violence are not related to the learners per se. Outside influences, especially gangsters, come here in an attempt to recruit our children into joining gangs."

He says he is awaiting funding from the Safe Schools project for a stronger fence to be erected so that unwelcome elements can be kept out.

"Kids are coming to school with weapons such as knives for protection as they realise they are soft targets. The worst thing that has happened is that some learners were stabbed outside the school gates.

"The welfare and safety of our students is our primary concern and first priority."

Safe School's manager Nariman Khan says great leaps are being taken by the organisation to combat school violence.

"Depending on the nature of the issue, we look at the gap in the security infrastructure and how to address the situation effectively. If it's outsiders entering the premises causing the problem, we look at installing barbed wire or remote controlled gates to keep them out."

She says conflict among students results in the school considering methods that will help the learner react without resorting to physical attacks.

"We then have to find the root of the conflict and resolve how to deal with the issue without violence."

She states that the code of conduct of a school plays an important role in stating the rules of the institution and its drug and weapon policy. "However, if it involves a learner being stabbed or shot, the law takes its course and it immediately becomes a civil case." She emphasises the importance of community involvement to help make the learning environment safer. "People should act as the watch dogs of our schools. It's essential that we work together to provide safety to these students."

Fifteen vulnerable communities, including Manenberg, Hanover Park and Philippi, have also been earmarked for the installation of CCTV cameras to monitor safety and check up on behaviour at schools.

"If there are concerns of smoking or children carrying weapons, we can zoom in on the area and thereafter deal with the culprits and the problem efficiently," an Education Department spokesperson said.

Western Cape Education MEC Cameron Dugmore says the CCTV cameras are "part of a package of measures to improve school safety". "While we acknowledge that cameras alone will not be a sustainable solution, we are convinced that this is necessary as part of a provincial-wide strategy to address the many social pathologies in our society," he said.

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