The democratization of South Africa in 1994, which hugely impacted on the social, economic and political sectors, subsequently led to far-reaching changes in the education system. The previous education system, which was characterized by rigid rules, strict discipline and a
patriarchal relationship between teacher and learner, was substituted by a new approach, Outcomes Based Education. The establishment of a culture of rights placed schools in the middle of a barrage of constitutional reform. In the new dispensation corporal punishment, which had
previously been an acceptable means of disciplining learners, was abolished and learners were made aware of their human rights. As a consequence, the authority of teachers and principals has since been eroded to the point where the maintenance of proper discipline presently constitutes
a thorny dilemma which impacts negatively on teaching and learning in schools.
During the past few months many have voiced their disapproval of the lack of discipline in schools which has escalated to the point where a growing number of educators are traumatised by its effect. This flurry of protest is led by those who argue that the situation would only be remedied by the prompt reinstatement of corporal punishment in schools. However, their argument is
counteracted by the view that a return to corporal punishment would merely be a quick fix and therefore short-sighted. Those who propagate the latter view quote research, both nationally and internationally, which consistently points to the detrimental effects of reactive forms of punishment
such as corporal punishment, aggressive verbal chastisement, expulsion and exclusion. It seems evident that the abolishment of corporal punishment in 1996 has left a gap. The apparent inability of many educators to manage learner behaviour is cumbersome. They seemingly lack the
skills to bridge the gap between reactive and pro-active discipline, the latter denoting more positive forms of discipline. It seems that the inability of some teachers to manage learner behaviour effectively, adversely leads to the implementation of erroneous and occasionally even illegal forms of discipline which clearly violate the constitutional rights of learners. Research indicates that these methods do not effect positive behavioural change. On the contrary, it shows that punishment-based interventions in fact cause an increase in behavioural problems among learners.
It is patently clear that the training of teachers in South Africa is lacking and that cooperation between provincial education departments and teacher training institutions is unsatisfactory.
The following questions come to mind: are sufficient resources (time and money) invested in the measures and competencies needed to address the problem effectively? How often do policy makers, education departments and professional educational service organisations jointly launch
projects which would educate principals, teachers and parents to make the transition from corporal punishment and other unconstitutional methods of discipline to alternative methods which would not contravene the learners’ human rights? Recent publications on the subjects of
behavioural problems in schools as well as the effective management of learner behaviour – nationally and internationally –clearly illustrate that this is a sensitive and complex issue which should be approached with the utmost of care. Since teachers were not realigned to manage discipline with alternative methods of behaviour management it seems explicable that they would revert to traditional methods reminiscent of the previous dispensation. Against the sketched background, the overarching purpose of the authors was twofold:
• To determine to what extent secondary school principals, being first-line managers
with first-hand experience of the discipline dilemma, have difficulty with it.
• To pin down feasible solutions to the problem within the current constitutional framework.
Taking cognisance of the prevalence of the discipline dilemma in most education districts countrywide, it was decided to narrow the investigation down to five secondary schools in the D4 education district in Gauteng. Each of the five target schools has a unique profile as far as location, racial composition and socio-economic status are concerned, and they therefore collectively constitute a representative picture of the problem nationally. Data was collected by means of a semi-structured interview with each principal to shed light on their personal experiences with and perceptions and opinions of the discipline dilemma.
The interviewees were resolute about the following:
• A solid partnership between the school and parents should be established.
• The community has to accept co-responsibility for the education of learners.
• Other forms of discipline should be introduced.
• Principals and school governing bodies should be granted greater authority and power in order to deal with offenders at their own discretion.
• A renewed emphasis on value-driven education is imperative.
It cannot be expected from teachers to attain skills overnight to counter the widespread occurrence of bad behaviour among learners. The authors are in favour of a balanced approach to addressing
disciplinary problems at schools. Some transgressions call for more direct intervention and would inevitably be of a more reactive nature. Much depends on the behaviour profile of the specific learner in question as well the values, norms and culture of the community in which the
school is situated. Various research findings advocate the success of pro-active intervention programmes and the role of positive behaviour modification to address the problem. It is of paramount importance that rigorous strategic intervention programmes with action steps are
devised and implemented with immediate effect. Achieving this goal would only be possible if the Department of Education, in collaboration with educational experts, afforded schools substantial financial and training support. AFRIKAANS : Die demokratiseringsproses in Suid-Afrika wat in 1994 beslag gekry het, het ’n geweldige impak op sosiale, ekonomiese en politieke terrein gehad. Hierdie impak het onvermydelik uitgekring na die onderwyssisteem met gevolglik verreikende veranderinge. Die vorige onderwysbedeling, wat gekenmerk is deur rigiede reëls, streng dissipline en ’n patriargale verhouding tussen onderwyser en leerder, het plek gemaak vir ’n nuwe benadering, naamlik Uitkomsgebaseerde Onderrig. Die
gepaardgaande vestiging van ’n kultuur van regte in die nuwe demokratiese bestel, plaas skole in die spervuur van konstitusionele hervorming. In die nuwe bedeling is lyfstraf – ’n voorheen
aanvaarbare praktyk om leerders te dissiplineer – afgeskaf, en word leerders toenemend van hulle regte bewus gemaak. Hierdie klem op regte het onder andere meegebring dat die gesag van
onderwysers en skoolhoofde sodanig ondermyn word dat die effektiewe handhawing van dissipline tans een van die grootste knelpunte in die onderwys is. Die doel met hierdie artikel is om die oorsake van die wydverspreide dissiplineprobleme te identifiseer en aan te spreek. Dit word gedoen aan die hand van onderhoude wat met vyf skoolhoofde in Pretoria gevoer is, asook relevante literatuurbevindinge. Die artikel sluit af met aanbevelings oor hoe aan die probleme rondom dissipline by skole aandag gegee kan word.