Growing scourge of the loverboy teacher sweethearts

SEXUAL relationships between teachers and pupils are hampering learning and teaching in schools

In 2009 Oliver James, a columnist for The Guardian newspaper, posed this question to readers: "How would you react if your 16- or 17-year-old daughter had an affair with her male teacher?"

Some years back a female friend at secondary school confessed to me that she was having a sexual relationship with her male teacher.

She also mentioned that since the start of their relationship she always got exceptionally high marks in the subject taught by her "sweetheart teacher".

Her confession was not an isolated incident but a drop in the ocean.

The South African Council of Educators' Code of Professional Ethics (section 3.9) states: "(An educator) refrains from any form of sexual relationship (physical or otherwise) with learners at a school."

Unfortunately the Department of Education has been turning a blind eye to evidential reports on the prevalence of sexual relationships between teachers and pupils.

The media has long been reporting on male teachers who propose love to female pupils in exchange for exceptionally high marks in tests and assignments.

Some of these teachers leak test and examination question papers to their "beloved" female pupils, placing these pupils in an awkward position because they do not know whether to accept or reject sexual advances from teachers.

In 2003 UK-based academics Fiona Leach and Pamela Machakanja conducted a collaborative study titled Sexual violence in schools: breaking the silence.

Their study uncovered that male teachers who sexually exploit learners are rarely expelled from the teaching profession - even if they get a schoolgirl pregnant. Some are merely transferred to another school.

According to their study, "Other teachers often choose to ignore what is going on, principals are reluctant to report the matter [to education authorities] because of a bureaucratic investigation, and pupils and parents are either intimidated or lack information about how to make a complaint."

Research conducted at 11 secondary schools in Uganda in 2003 found that eight percent of female pupils have had sex with male teachers in exchange for good marks, money and clothing.

Teachers are supposed to be the custodians of exemplary leadership in schools.

These sexual relationships usually lead to teenage pregnancies and contribute to the spread of sexually transmitted diseases in schools.

Teachers who impregnate pupils usually deny paternity for fear of being charged with sexual misconduct by the South African Council for Educators.

Teachers who solicit sexual favours from pupils generally fail to command respect and dignity among pupils in the classroom.

This entire practice diminishes the value of education and teaching among pupils and the youth in general.

This might explain why most young people in South Africa are not interested in the career of teaching.

Part of the solution of this scourge is to actively promote sex education in schools.

It is also important that teachers are trained and equipped to teach sex education in schools.

In this regard South Africa could draw valuable lessons from the success of the Mema kwa Vijana (Good Things for Young People) programme present in Tanzania.

The sex education project has contributed to the reduction of sexually transmitted diseases, teenage pregnancies and HIV infections among young people in Tanzania.

Lastly, the Department of Basic Education must commission a research study on the prevalence of sexual relationships between teachers and pupils and its effect on learning and teaching in schools.

It is also important that principals and education authorities ensure that teachers adhere to the Educators' Code of Professional Ethics.

Failure to do so must lead to serious sanctions.

  • The author is a political analyst and researcher at the Institute for Dialogue and Policy Analysis.