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By Citizen Reporter


My Biggest Mistake – Trusting The South African School System

85% of almost 9000 moms were told by a school or teacher to medicate their kids for ADHD.

*Editors note Maz Halliday has just won Best Parenting Blog 2019 in the South African Parenting Blog Awards which were announced on Saturday 27th July.

I have been meaning to write this for quite some time, I just did not quite know exactly where to start (or how). I suppose I did not want this to be a blog post of me moaning without any end about all the negative things we experienced this year at my daughter’s (now previous) school. I was waiting for something positive to happen, but it never did. It got worse. What eventually prompted me to write this is that countless moms across the country started messaging me, having the same problems… feeling alone and not sure what the solution is.

I have always been very transparent and honest, so I am going to tell you our story, in the hope that we can find a solution together. Not only for the sake of my family, but for the countless other families that are too worried to speak up, or who don’t know how.

My daughter attended a prominent public school on the West Coast last year for Grade 1. As far as public schools go, it is considered one of the best. We were all so very excited, she is an academically strong child through and through – the thought of school made her happier than you can imagine. I would never forget her first day. How she put her uniform on with pride, helped me pack her lunchbox and the hopes and dreams she had for her first year at “big” school. She was a little scared, a little nervous… but she was determined. She made friends within the first 5 minutes of arriving, which is not unusual for her. Mikayla has a very kind soul, you cannot help but be drawn to her.

The first week or so was filled with excitement as they navigated the school grounds and made new friends. At the end of the 1st term, as I was fetching Mikayla from school, her teacher called me over and started frantically explaining to me that my daughter needs an OT as soon as possible. That she is not as good as the other kids, because her handwriting is messy and she doesn’t draw like everyone else. Her colouring was messy, she was disruptive in class and she moans too much, she talks too much. The word “ritalin” was thrown in for good measure, as she was 100% sure that Mikayla had ADHD. She did all of this in front of Mikayla and a few of her class friends. Mikayla burst into tears because all she took away from the conversation was that something was wrong with her.

That she was not like everyone else, and that in itself was seen as a flaw.

Now, no parent likes to listen to criticism about their child. It immediately makes you defensive. I asked for a proper meeting so we can go through Mikayla’s work, in a more suitable setting as I did not appreciate the way she was handling this.

We had our meeting and she showed me the kids’ workbooks. She compared Mikayla’s work to the top 5 in the class, and yes – her handwriting was a MESS. That being said, all of her answers were correct, she was reading on an advanced level to the rest of the class and showed a particular interest in math. Something was not making sense… Mikayla’s handwriting at school was not matching up with her handwriting at home.

I sat Mikayla down to have a chat. She explained to me that she found the work too easy and boring, and all she wanted to do was go out and play. She also said that she struggled to concentrate in class because the kids were so noisy, and her teacher would not make them quiet because she was playing games on her phone. She did not like the fact that everyone had to draw the exact same picture, or that everyone had to colour in the same colours. In her own words… “That is not how art works”. She also said the other kids were teasing her for being stupid, because they heard what the teacher said about her work.

My solution was to help Mikayla practise her handwriting at home, to help her deal with the other kids emotionally and show her some breathing techniques for when the noise in the class gets overwhelming. I suspected that she was struggling with some sensory overload, it happens to me often. I got her some trace & wipe boards from Nectar & Ink to help her practise (they are awesome by the way) and tried to guide her as much as possible.

R120 Nectar & Ink
R150 – Nectar & Ink

I then started getting almost daily WhatsApp messages from the teacher, sending me photo’s of Mikayla’s “bad” and “messy” work and asking me to take her to an OT or have her put on Ritalin because “she does not know how to handle her”. I am not disagreeing that Mikayla’s handwriting is messy, but I did notice that the work was extremely repetitive and… well, boring.

The amount of homework these kids were getting shocked me. We would get home from school and spend about and hour to two hours doing homework. It was exhausting and frustrating. Mikayla would be too tired after to go play outside and she started resenting school. I eventually stopped making her do all her homework, it was absolutely ridiculous and she is just a little child.

Kids should be allowed to be kids, and if they cannot do what they need to during class time – the teacher needs to work on their time management skills. That amount of homework for Grade 1 is excessive.

So, I suppose at this point you are wondering why I did not just send Mikayla to an OT? While I truly believe that OT’s have a place in this world, I am also sceptical. I ran a poll on my Facebook page during the second term and 78% of mothers voted that they were told by a class teacher to have their child assessed by an OT due bad handwriting or behavioural issues. 85% voted that a class teacher recommended their child be put on Ritalin.

Let me just repeat this so it can sink in… 85% of almost 9000 moms were told by a school or teacher to medicate their kids for ADHD. Please explain to me how that is not absolutely alarming??

I honestly did not believe that the issues my daughter was experiencing could be solved by an OT, so I did some research.

At this point Mikayla was complaining about going to school, struggling to get up in the morning and was being extremely emotional. She cried every day after school, and her appetite was suppressed, she no longer wanted to play and did not show an interest in her usual hobbies. She complained about stomach pains and headaches in the morning and exclaimed that she hated school. Of course, I recognised these symptoms… I am these symptoms. My little 7-year old girl was showing signs of depression and anxiety. If you had ever met or seen my daughter, you would know that this behaviour is incredibly unusual for her – she is a ray of sunshine.

We decided to take her to an educational psychologist and have her assessed across the board. Educational psychologists study children of all ages and how they learn. While investigating how children process emotional, social and cognitive stimuli, they make assessments based on the child’s reactions to stimuli. They use this analysis to identify learning, social and behavioral issues that impede children’s learning.

Honestly, it was the best thing I ever could have done. Mikayla was indeed showing signs of depression due to feeling inadequate at school. She was struggling to focus in a class with a lot of kids due to overstimulation and did not feel like she was fitting in with her peers. The school work bored her, and her teacher kept dismissing her which made her feel unworthy. There was a simple reason for all of this… Mikayla’s IQ was sitting at 129 as opposed to the average for her age of 110. She was processing information faster, getting bored and was not being stimulated enough.

Over R6000 later and countless assesments, I made an appointment with the teacher. Her response? It is not her job to entertain my child. She has too many kids in her classroom to give Mikayla individual attention. In short, she was not willing to do anything to help Mikayla progress in the way she needed to. I received the same sentiments from the school principle at the time and once again it was suggested that I put Mikayla on Ritalin to slow her down.

The issue is, you do not need to have a child with an above average IQ to experience issues in the classroom. They have dummed the curriculum down to such a degree that I don’t see how any child could actually enjoy it, or be intelectually challenged/stimulated.

I know not all teachers are like this, I truly do… but in the South African school system – most are. I shared some of my frustrations on InstaStories and the response was overwhelming. We are not a unique situation, not even close. With Mikayla’s IQ, we knew she would thrive in a mainstream school environment… if she found a teacher that was willing to nurture her abilities. The likeliness of that happening was slim, so I had her put on a waiting list of a local private Montessori school that was willing to work with Mikayla at her pace.

Unfortunately, that meant that Mikayla would need to stick it out at her current school until a space opened up for her. It also meant that we needed to find an extra R3000 a month for her school fees. That is a lot of money, and we have had to reprioritise our lives drastically.

At least we understood what she was going through, and we were better equipped to help her – even without the school’s support. The next blow came during the third term. And this is the one that sent me over the edge.

Let me me make it clear, this did not just start out of the blue, it was happening the whole year – it just got more violent. I picked Mikayla up from school, she looked at me and burst into tears. Something was very, very wrong….

I sat her down, tried to calm her so that she could tell me what happened. When your child cries like that, your mind goes to the worst places.

Eventually she managed to tell me that a group of 5 boys grabbed her and her two friends and beat them. Mikayla was thrown on the floor, kicked repeatedly in the chest and stomach while her friends tried to get the boys off her. The one girl got her face smashed into the fence, while the other got kicked in the back. She showed me the marks on her body. I went to go find her friend and the stories matched up… In that moment, I could have murdered someone. I was shaking, I was so unbelievably angry.

I tried to find the principle, but was unsuccesful. I called the other two girls’ moms and they felt the same. We took it up with the school… the response?

“They were just playing.”

“They are just boys.”

“You know how boys are.”

“We spoke to them”

I asked where the teachers were, why weren’t the kids being supervised?

“They can’t possibly see everything that happens on the school grounds.”

The event was violent enough that it attracted the attention of the grade 2 classes, yet – no teacher noticed. They have a no tolerance againast bullying in the school rules, yet it does not specify what would happen to bullies – and according to them, they cannot actually do anything about it.

They promised me that they would increase school ground supervision and that they would listen to the kids should they come report incidents.

Things were a bit better after a while, and then towards the end of the 4th term my daughter was pushed to the ground by two boys and her dress pulled up. Just writing this makes me so angry that I am struggling to type.

This time my husband got involved and spoke to the principle… once again. “So sorry… what do you want us to do?”. Same old bullshit.

This particular school has a massive bullying problem and they are not willing to address it. Needless to say we immediately removed Mikayla and she did not finish the last few weeks of the 4th term. We will never set foot on those school grounds again, but I do feel they should be held accountable.

Every single time I see someone recommending this horrid place on Facebook, I die a little inside.

I realise that this post is a little all over the place… and that I am highlighting more than one issue – but I do feel that both issues are bred from a lack of care within the South African school system. A lack of passion for the institution, a lack of love for children and absolute laziness from the teachers.

It is not okay that kids are being medicated in order for teachers to be able to “handle them”. It is not okay that our kids are feeling like being different is wrong. It is not okay that they are not being guided, nurtured and loved. It is not okay that we are trusting that they are being kept safe at a place of education… only for them to be more unsafe there than anywhere else. I do not need to tell you the effects bullying can have on a child.

I will show you the scars on my wrists if you really don’t get it.

A teacher can make or break a child. Some teachers have absolutely no business being in this profession, and the schoolsthat allow them to practise their profession the way they do have no business working with children.

My biggest mistake of 2018 was placing Mikayla in a school that did not feel quite right from the beginning.

So… what would you do if you were me? Do you have a similar story? I really would love to hear from you.

Today Mikayla started at a private Montessori. She is so excited, and so am I! And I feel at peace knowing that the teachers truly love their jobs and that my baby would be looked after. My son has been there for a year and he is absolutely thriving.

But what about the mothers that cannot afford to move their kids… What about the people who have limited options? What about the kids that are too afraid to speak up….

Caffiene and FairydustMaz is a mother of three wonderful kids. She is married to her best friend and the love of her life and live in Cape Town, South Africa with their three dogs and three cats. She runs her own digital agency offering web design and social media management, and works on her blog full-time. This is more than just a passion project for her. She always hopes that her commitment to her blog, readers and the brands that trust her with their stories is evident in the work she does.

You can find Maz over on Caffiene & Fairy Dust


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