Video: Over 300 Gauteng learner deaths in 9 months spark intervention

Gauteng Education MEC Matome Chiloane says schools experiencing incidents of suicides or attempted suicides have asked for assistance.

The Gauteng Department of Education (GDE) has registered 300 cases of learner deaths in nine months.

About 40 of them, alleged suicides, were reported since the beginning of the 2023 academic year.

The high number of deaths has spurred the GDE to step in and buff up security and psychological assessments for students and staff in a bid to reduce the loss of life.

Some of the learner deaths recorded in Pretoria in 2023:

  • On August 7, a Grade 10 learner was discovered hanging in a Soshanguve secure centre dormitory during lunch after he had been taken to the juvenile centre and was awaiting trial.
  • Also on August 7, a Grade 9 boy from Kgetsi Ya Tsie Secondary School tragically took his life at home.
  • On July 4, a Hoërskool Garsfontein Grade 10, 16-year-old Mia Kühn’s lifeless body was discovered on the rugby field by school staff. It is alleged she did not die due to natural causes.
  • On May 25, 17-year-old Palesa Malatji in Grade 12 at Ntsako Secondary School did not make it home from extra classes. She was found a day later raped and strangled to death.
  • On May 24, Zanele Chauke (9) from Tlakukani Primary School in Mamelodi East. The Grade 3 learner was walking to the Eerste Fabrieke railway station en route home in Skierlik informal settlement when she was hit by a car on Tsamaya Road.

Gauteng education MEC Matome Chiloane says his department has partnered with the Matthew Goniwe School of Leadership and Governance, South African depression and anxiety group (Sadag), Teddy Bear Foundation and National Association of Child and Youth Care Workers to help learners and educators deal with the psychological challenges leading to suicide.

Chiloane says Sadag had already received numerous requests for assistance from schools, which had experienced incidents of suicides or attempted suicides.

“We are also concerned about the incidents of violence in and around our schools, driven by gangsters in some areas. Substance use and abuse by learners as well as bullying continue to be a matter of concern to the department.”

He adds violence and instability undermines the safety and well-being of the school community.

“We are aware that the deaths have had a massive psychological impact on our learners, teachers and the greater schooling community. It is therefore imperative that we provide support to those affected and, in the long term, we respond with lasting solutions which can help turn the situation around.”

Chiloane says the department would be deploying 500 learner support agents to provide early warning mechanisms and give peer counselling to support 1 200 schools.

He adds 120 social workers will also assist the troubled schools.

The following actions will be implemented until the end of the financial year in March 2024:

  • Security guards will be deployed to 75 schools in high crime areas and have also experienced some form of violence or burglaries across Gauteng.
  • The guards will search for weapons. A total of 245 high-risk schools across Gauteng have received hand-held detectors to help with screening for weapons.
  • Discipline will be enforced in all these schools to ensure punctuality and regular attendance by teachers, all staff and learners. The school governing bodies (SGBs) will be required to enforce and improve awareness of the school’s code of conduct during school assemblies.
  • E-panic buttons will be distributed to more than 3 000 staff in the 245 schools. This forms part of the elevated priorities announced by Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi during his 2023 State of the Province Address.
  • Regular patrols by police and safety wardens will be implemented in schools as part of a reinforced Adopt-a-Cop programme.
  • CCTV cameras will be installed in 90 schools across the province. In addition, schools will be linked to the CCTV cameras to be deployed by the provincial government.
  • Comment boxes have been deployed to schools to enable anonymous reporting of bullying and harassment. Social workers will be responsible for analysing and responding to these reports.
  • A QLTC school safety summit is planned for October to bring together experts, principals, teachers, learners, parents, government officials, police and SGB associations to find solutions and cooperate on resolving violence and crime in school. These will be followed by regional summits to take forward actions agreed upon at the provincial summit.

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