Vodacom has partnered with the Department of Basic Education (DBE) to place twenty psycho-social professionals in their Schools of Excellence (SoE) across the country. The initiative, which is aimed at reducing the scourge of violence plaguing schools in this country, is a huge milestone for Vodacom in the fight against gender-based violence in South Africa.
The programme is part of Vodacom’s gender-based violence ecosystem, which provides prevention, response, and victim support programs in partnership with government and civil society organisations. Following a rigorous selection process, which commenced in 2020 with the participation of the University of Stellenbosch, so far, ten such professionals have been placed in KwaZulu Natal, Mpumalanga and Gauteng provinces with effect from the 2021 academic year.
South Africa is grappling with the rising cases of gender-based violence, which was also declared by President Ramaphosa in 2020 as the second pandemic to Covid-19. In recent weeks, the DBE has condemned rising cases of bullying in schools after the death by suicide of a learner in a Limpopo school in April 2021. A video went viral showing the learner being assaulted in the school premises by a fellow teenage learner in full view of peer bystanders.
“As a caring company that is committed to addressing societal challenges, Vodacom continues to collaborate with the public sector and non-government organisations to find long-lasting solutions to deal with some of the socio-economic problems affecting women and children,” says Takalani Netshitenzhe, Director of External Affairs in Vodacom Group.
“In South Africa, school violence is arguably a national crisis, and measures, such as this initiative with the DBE, will also provide support to communities, including both the victims and perpetrators of gender-based violence.
“The programme will address various aspects of gender-based violence including bullying and peer bystanders, with the ultimate aim to promote harmony and mutual respect between learners and between learners and educators, including the root causes.”
In a National School Violence study conducted by the Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention in co-operation with the DBE, 22% of high school learners experienced violence. This encompasses psychological and verbal abuse, robbery, physical assault, gang violence, sexual violence and bullying. Most of these encounters were targeted at females.
Trained by the University of Stellenbosch, the psycho-social professionals are a critical resource that will promote a safe and positive school climate, provide support to educators and learners, and encourage student participation and empowerment to reduce school violence. Although they will be based at the SoEs, they will also serve some of the surrounding schools in each district.
With a startling school drop-out rate of about 50%, and youth unemployment being a major challenge in this country, SA needs to break the cycle of school violence that only exacerbates a loss of hope and optimism in young people’s future, and the capability to cope with adversity in social and economic environments. Vodacom hopes that through this initiative, they can help to transform schools into places of safety and learning, where learners can flourish without fear and make a positive impact on the communities in which they live and on society more broadly.
A United Nations report reveals that truancy, a decrease in educational performance, depression, fatigue, and later aggressive behaviour as well as other psychological effects are just some of the results of violence associated with school. Regular exposure to violence can reinforce the message that it is the preferred way to solve conflict and instil discipline and compromise the ability to form trusting relationships with others.
“The consequences of school violence go beyond the direct and indirect impact to the victim. Violence-free schools also have the potential to initiate social cohesion in troubled communities, prevent gender discrimination, and contribute to national development – as safe, inclusive education improves lives now and in the future,” said Netshitenzhe.