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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751


WOLHUTER, C.C.  and  VAN STADEN, J.G. Does a discipline crisis exist in South African schools? Experience of educators. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2008, vol.48, n.3, pp.389-398. ISSN 2224-7912.

From recently published research it appears as if learner discipline at South African schools is a problem. While the issue of learner discipline at South African schools has been researched from a variety of perspectives (including the experiences of school principals, the experiences of learners), a clear, distilled educator perspective is lacking. Educators after all experience learner discipline problems firsthand, and are on the receiving end of learner discipline problems. The aim of this research is the construction of such an educator perspective, in order to determine whether or not a discipline crisis exist in South African schools and, if so, what are the extent and nature thereof. A sample of educators at schools in the Vaal Triangle region, North-West Province and Free State Province completed a questionnaire, which surveyed the following aspects of learner discipline at their schools: state of learner discipline in their classes and in their schools, nature and frequency of discipline problems, methods used to maintain discipline and the effectiveness of those methods, and the effect of learner discipline problems on the lives of educators. The biographic information of respondents indicated that the sample included the total spectrum of educators in South Africa, regarding age, experience, post-level, grades and learning areas which educators teach and school categories (historically black, historically coloured, historically Indian and historically white schools) in which educators are employed. The majority of educators regarded the state of learner discipline at their schools and in their classes as either good or very good. 1.7% of respondents regarded the discipline situation in their classes as very poor, 13.6% as poor, 72.1% as good and 8.1% as very good. 5.2% of respondents regarded the discipline situation in their schools as very poor, 19.3% as poor, 67.4% as good, and 8.1% as very good. The results indicated that it is the relatively minor forms of discipline problems which dominate. The following discipline problems are encountered by most teachers on a daily basis: disruptive behaviour, rudeness, dishonesty, obscene language, cheekiness, untidy/wrong clothing, neglect of duty, telling lies, and absenteeism. At the same time there exist reasons for concern about the wide spectrum of problems which educators encounter on a weekly basis (for example absenteeism, telling of lies, obscene language, moodiness, untidy/wrong clothing, neglect of duty, and bullying) and also about the serious forms of discipline problems (such as vandalism, theft and violence) which occur as regularly as monthly. Turning to methods which educators use to maintain discipline, it appears as if preventive methods (which are educationally the preferred methods) are lacking. Reactive methods of maintaining discipline dominate. These methods include: reprimanding, isolation within the classroom, isolation outside the classroom, extra work, detention, referral to principal and referral to school governing body. The continual use of corporal punishment by 14% of educators - twelve years after it was officially abolished and at the risk of facing criminal charges - is cause for concern. Apparently educators do not have methods which in their experience are very effective. Many educators use methods which they themselves experience as ineffective. For example, 50% of educators who use isolation within the classroom as method, and 70% of educators who use isolation outside the classroom, regard these methods as ineffective. The situation regarding learner discipline causes 85% of educators to be at times or regularly unhappy in their work, has caused sometimes or regularly tension in the family lives of 58% of educators, and has led to health problems in the case of 54% of educators. These figures are disturbing. In order to address the problems outlined above, it is recommended that research be conducted on preventive and effective methods to maintain discipline and that educators are counselled accordingly.

Keywords : classroom discipline; corporal punishment; discipline; discipline maintenance; discipline problems; education; educators; learners; positive discipline; school discipline.

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