Recently, there has been an increased focus on misbehaviour/negative behaviours of schoolchildren. To my mind, the media has gone on a kind of feeding frenzy on this issue.
There are reports of bullying, assault on teachers, school-gang warfare and sexual misdemeanours, among other negative behaviours. This issue has been raised before and policy-makers, in the past, have gone along with some criminology research that suggested pupils were afraid of certain bad elements in schools, and this line of research also produced information about how many pupils were armed with knives and other weapons. So there were bad pupils who had to be contained.
This “bad pupils” argument fitted in well with the dominant sociology prevalent in society and among teachers about bad parents, especially single parents. The end result was that policy responded to the “bad pupils” argument and a crime-control solution was applied to schools.
I want to argue that this approach is wrong and has made the situation worse and will continue to cause it to deteriorate. The crime-solution approach gave us high fences, more security guards and more safety officers, etc.
The end result is that in many schools, teachers retreated to the staffrooms and classrooms. The corridors and extra-classroom activities were no longer in the hands of teachers. The teaching function was limited to the classroom. The other living spaces fell into the hands of security officers. Some schools tended to become more like penal institutions than institutions of learning.
What we need is an educational solution to the problem of pupil indiscipline, not a crime solution. If pupils are experiencing failure from primary school and then enter secondary school without the skills to benefit from the curriculum, the school situation will be doing violence to them on a daily basis. If they are in fact suffering from a difficult home life, a harsh and unfriendly school environment is not what they need.
Negative behaviours of pupils are largely due to the negative experiences of schooling. They need a caring environment that engages them in meaningful ways. Even adults who are not meaningfully engaged indulge in negative behaviours.
If we continue with the crime-solution approach, more and more schools will fall into the hands of police and security officers. And discipline will get even worse. I do not propose to offer all solutions here and am sure a genuine conversation among stakeholders would reveal many creative solutions.
We need a certain quality of school leadership and teacher competence to make caring a central aspect of schooling. We need greater diversity among schools and curricula to meet the needs of pupils and we need a different kind of school staffing as well. The core of school life must be a fulfilling one for pupils.
Anti-crime initiatives in schools, if they are necessary, must come with an expiry date as educational solutions are identified and implemented to make them redundant.