Classroom villains . . . and heroes

Prega Govender, Times (Johannesburg), December 2, 2007

THE government has sacked more than 400 teachers in 20 months—and 90 of them were fired for rape and sexual abuse.

A further 418 teachers are on the verge of being fired and have received final written warnings.

Among the shocking statistics to emerge from disciplinary records are:

# 187 cases of assault and corporal punishment;

# 183 cases of theft, fraud and mismanagement of school funds;

# 403 cases of absenteeism, including 90 cases of absconding; and

# 28 cases of being under the influence of liquor or other drugs.

At least 41 teachers were demoted for unprofessional conduct, while another 296 were fined the equivalent of a month’s salary, or between R2 000 and R6 000.

The statistics were compiled by the Sunday Times from provincial education department records.

National Education Department Director-General Duncan Hindle said the teachers dismissed for misconduct should be reported to the South African Council for Educators, which is responsible for registering teachers and striking from the register those found guilty of serious offences.

“We don’t want a case where a teacher is dismissed in one province but finds employment in another,” he said.

He said there were plans to blacklist teachers guilty of misconduct on an international register so that they are barred from finding employment in any other Commonwealth country.

“There are issues of privacy that we have to be careful of, but we strongly support the proposal,” said Hindle.

Among the dismissals were a Kwa-Zulu-Natal teacher facing a murder charge, and a teacher found guilty of molesting a child.

Two teachers, from special schools in the Western Cape and Mpumalanga, were fired for sexually molesting three mentally disabled pupils.

There were many cases of teachers charged with assaulting colleagues.

Among the attacks recorded were:

# A Gauteng principal was assaulted by a teacher and lost several teeth; and

# Twenty six Mpumalanga teachers were hauled before disciplinary hearings for assaulting their colleagues.

In one particularly violent incident, Gauteng teacher Gabisile Ngwenya allegedly attacked a head of department, Tsoane Ntema, with a cricket bat in the principal’s office.

The attack left Ntema, who works at the Thabang Primary School in Vosloorus, so traumatised that she no longer attends staff meetings or uses the staff toilet. Ngwenya pleaded guilty to assault during an internal disciplinary hearing that has yet to be concluded.

Western Cape provincial education spokesman Paddy Attwell said four teachers had been fired in the previous financial year for “sexual misconduct”.

A further two had been fired in the past eight months for similar offences.

“The perpetrators represent a tiny fraction of our teaching corps, but have the potential of doing great harm to learners if they remain in the system.

“We will waste no time in getting rid of them, if we find them guilty,” Attwell said.

Teacher unions welcomed the punishments, but they said some education departments were overzealous.

“We are adamant that any bad eggs must be identified and dealt with appropriately,” said Dave Balt, president of the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation.

But Don Pasqualie, deputy general secretary of the SA Democratic Teachers’ Union, said the penalties were “very extreme”.

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