06 May 2021 | Story Dr Bekithemba Dube | Photo Supplied
Dr Bekithemba Dube is a senior lecturer at the University of the Free State’s Qwaqwa Campus and is a curriculum specialist and prolific researcher in the field of education, religion and politics in postcolonial Africa.

The death of 15-year-old Lufuno Mavhunga - who died from an overdose after being bullied at school - is a fresh reminder of the unresolved social crisis within the corridors of the classroom. While death is part of the human journey and is a reminder that humans are mortal. It is unfortunate that schools are becoming shrines of terror, social disintegration and a death trap. Each day South African society is confronted by various abuses in schools which mirror the society at large. Durkheim’s observation is that schools are a miniature of society. Parents and educational stakeholders become unsure if their children will make it home as they are continually confronted by terrors such as bullying, body shaming, xenophobic attacks and  rape.

Lufuno is one of the many learners in South Africa who succumbed to school violence within and outside the classroom. School violence has not only affected learners but educators and principals too, and is unfortunately perpetrated by their peers, who in normal circumstances should learn, live, and address social problems together. Continued school violence is contrary to the functionalist view that schooling creates homogeneity and social cohesion. Thus, Lufuno’s death is far from attesting to the ability of the curriculum to re-invent a society that believes in non-violent means of resolving conflict. 

Before examining the curriculum, let me remind readers of the magnitude of the problem at hand in relation to school violence manifested through bullying, body shaming and in some cases killings. Lufuno follows other victims of school violence. For example, Tshepo Mphehlo, 14,  was stabbed to death at Sebokeng High School.  Another student was stabbed to death at Eesterivier School in the Western Cape in 2020. Similarly another was stabbed to death by a classmate at Eastwood Secondary School in Pietermatrizburg in 2019, not forgetting a learner who was also stabbed to death at Reunion Secondary School in Isipingo in 2019. The victims are multiple and should be a concern to all peace-loving citizens. As part of problematising school violence, I will focus on the limitations of the school curriculum in South Africa. 

The curriculum should be evaluated in terms of its ability to produce a learned people with the ability to engage in peaceful and non-threatening strategies for conflict resolution.  Thus in this opinion paper I share the limitations of the curriculum that fail to address social pathologies such as school violence as evidenced by the death of Lufuno and many others.

Life Orientation is a disappointing citizenship education

The peace and stability of any successful nation is anchored on the strong foundation of citizenship education. With reference to South Africa, the introduction of Life Orientation teaching was seen as a brilliant means to instil good citizenship among learners.  However, while the intentions of introducing the subject were good, the implementation has proven unsuccessful in teaching humanity among learners. In some cases, the subject is taught by educators not trained for it, or who have failed in other subjects thus failing  to evoke humanity, tolerance and human dignity in the face of conflict. Should citizenship through education be taken seriously, I am sure the subject would contribute to a tolerant society, committed to embracing human dignity despite colour, race and other social variables. 

Lufuno and the accused had a conflict, which is part of human nature, the Life Orientation curriculum should have been a source for bringing about a peaceful resolution of their differences. However, since the subject is not taken seriously at schools, I am sure they saw no reason to apply Life Orientation principles to the conflict which unfortunately culminated in Lufuno’s death.

Curriculum as job security and the demise of humanness

The curriculum in South Africa is preoccupied with the need to produce learners who will fill the ever-existing skills shortages. As such, there is an emphasis on skills development with  much of the curriculum’s energy used to produce competent learners, which in turn creates job security that is ideal for the  expectations of  parents and the corporate world. But it has come at a cost especially because less emphasis is placed on the human sciences as an integral part of a successful nation. It is critical that the school curriculum produces balanced learners who have the ability to perform well in subjects that gear them for jobs, but also placing value on the human sciences that cement good citizenship. Lufuno’s death is a reminder that a school curriculum that does not balance education that offers job security and inculcates humanness results in social trajectories such as school violence.

By the way, what did we say about religious education? 

The year 2008 saw the demise of religious education at most South African public schools. Very few schools still offer the subject. It was seen as useless, and debates arose in terms of which religion should be on the curriculum. While religious education had its problems like any other subject, no one can doubt its ability to teach morality, an integral part of humanity lacking in many ways at South African schools. Religion and its teaching reminds people of the relationship they have with a divine being yet calling for accountability on the treatment of fellow citizens. Now that the subject is not taught at school, learners are deprived of learning about social responsibility and being accountable to God for their actions. Morality, characterised by tolerance and peace, is lacking among many learners, hence the unending school violence. The South African school curriculum is limited by overemphasising natural sciences at the expense of subjects that belong to the human sciences, such as religion. Lufuno’s death is a reminder that morality in a curriculum is indispensable in reinventing education that benefits learners by inculcating  in them a high standard of morality.

The suffering soul of the teacher: 

How far can teachers engage in the loco-parenting role? Seemingly, whenever teachers are confronted by the need to implement a loco-parenting role, they are met with resistance, anger, and ridicule. I remember a teacher who was blamed for combing learners hair at school. To me, the teacher was exercising her loco-parenting to make learners more presentable. However, some social media users saw her as an uncivilised teacher and unworthy to be in the schooling system. It is because of this, that teachers fold their hands and neglect the care role of a teacher. With reference to Lufuno, if teachers were allowed to exercise their loco-parenting role, I am sure they could have intervened in the conflict, as parents, and resolved the issue. But now since teachers have often been blamed for acting as parents within the schooling system, they have withdrawn their loco-parenting role, and we have lost Lufuno. Society should allow teachers to exercise a loco-parenting role within the confines of social justice, and care without the use of corporal punishment.

In conclusion, Lufuno’s story is disheartening, and unfortunately, there is nothing we can do to bring her precious soul back. But we have an obligation to society to continue problematising violence. The moment we teach learners that violence is normal, we pass on the mentality to the younger generation and each day we will continue to bury victims of school violence. Yes, today it’s Lufuno. Tomorrow it will be me  or you. Thus the school should be part and parcel of reinventing a society that values non-violent means to resolve conflict.

Opinion article by Dr Bekithemba Dube, School of Education Studies, University of the Free State (UFS).

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