Crucial that kids have psychosocial support

Mbuyiselo Botha Gender Imbizo
A police vehicle is parked outside Forest High School, south of Johannesburg, where a pupil was stabbed to death by another outside the school.
A police vehicle is parked outside Forest High School, south of Johannesburg, where a pupil was stabbed to death by another outside the school.
Image: ALAISTER RUSSELL

In August 2015 I made a call to our government, urging that every school should be equipped with at least one psychologist or social worker. With the rising violence in our schools, I think this has never been more urgent.

We see them being allocated to schools following a traumatic incident which affected pupils and staff - which is important and necessary. However, as a society we stand to benefit even more if such services were not activated only on a case-by-case basis, but were housed within schools.

If we are prepared to invest in tablets and paperless classrooms, we should also be prepared to invest in the psychosocial wellbeing of our children. What is the use of all this investment in technology when that is not taken care of?

Do not get me wrong, I am not disregarding the importance of technological development of our schools' curricula and infrastructure. I am however saying that these should be happening in conjunction with developments that aid the psychosocial wellbeing of children.

Every year, during the announcements of matric results, we read shocking headlines along the lines of "nearly half of the pupils who enrolled in grade 1, 12 years ago, have disappeared from the schooling system".

Could readily available and accessible psychologists or social workers curb this high rate of pupils exiting school prematurely? I am convinced this could indeed form part of the solution.

The reality is that SA has many socioeconomic issues that require a multifaceted and interdisciplinary approach to solving them.

Equipping schools with psychologists or social workers goes a long way in dealing with other contextual factors that adversely impact on a child's ability to meaningfully learn and remain in school.

The reality is that a child cannot be divorced from their circumstances - when they are in the classroom, they do not suddenly forget the reality waiting for them at home.

A reality that could very well be characterised by poverty, abuse, taking care of a sick parent, neglect, child-headed households, hunger, violence, a lack of support, a home characterised by drug and alcohol abuse.

Why then do we not have such critical services to help such children located within schools? This approach will also help with the unfair burden placed on educators to not only teach, but to also offer psychosocial support to pupils.

With the lack of resources and adverse conditions that many educators have to work in, it is unfair that they also have to play the role of being a psychologist and a social worker to their students.

For a country like ours, that is plagued by gross levels of inequality, high rates of violence and abuse, with children being the most vulnerable, it is puzzling that psychologists and social workers are not an integral part of the school's staffing.

Most of these services are in school districts, which isn't always easy for a child to access. And, again, it is the teacher who is left with the responsibility of identifying these children who need help and the additional duty of facilitating the intervention by the district.

Many teachers do all of this, while having to also do the work they actually get paid for. If there was an on-campus social worker, interventions would be quicker and smoother.

And who knows how many children would be prevented from prematurely exiting school. A child who exits school prematurely is likely to end up unemployed, in crime and living in poverty.

These are some of the social ills we are trying to get rid of as a society; these are the generational cycles we are trying to end.

Children spend most of their critical, formative years in school. It is therefore crucial that schools are equipped with psychosocial support structures.

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