Bullies have free rein at private schools

Learners at private schools are reportedly not protected against bullying under the Education Act.

28 August 2019 | Education

CATHERINE SASMAN

The ministry of education, arts and culture has been accused of having done nothing to make a statutory code of conduct applicable to private schools.

This accusation was made after an alleged assault at the Walvis Bay Private High School (WBPHS) in October 2017.

Lawyer Eben de Klerk of ISG Namibia, who investigated and compiled a report on the incident at the request of the alleged victim’s father, says he suspects the ministry’s failure in this incident extends to most – if not all – other private schools in Namibia.

“Learners at state schools enjoy clear and well-formulated rights when they fall prey to bullies, when they are victims of racism, or when they are assaulted. Together with these rights, state schools and their management and teachers have clear and well-formulated duties to protect children under these circumstances,” De Klerk says.

Not so for private schools, where learners do not seem to enjoy such protection.

De Klerk observes that private-school learners are at the mercy of school boards and teachers who employ “substandard” disciplinary codes.

“Should a school favour a bully, for whatever reason, above the victim of bullying, or refuse to act in cases of alleged racism, they are free to do so without having to fear ministerial oversight in terms of the Education Act. This should be a matter of grave concern for all parents who have children in private schools in Namibia,” the lawyer comments.

The WBPHS ‘incident’

According to De Klerk’s report on the incident at Walvis Bay Private High School, a learner of Portuguese extraction was assaulted by one learner while eight others – including four school prefects – hurled racist taunts at him.

The learner, then 14 and in Grade 7, suffered several injuries, including a bruised hip, facial and head bruises and cuts, and a bloody nose. A subsequent psychological report concluded that he suffered from acute stress disorder as a result of the attack.

De Klerk reports that the school management treated the matter as a mere “playground fight” and told the victim’s parents a day after the incident that “discipline was taken accordingly”. However, the parents dug in their heels and insisted on a full disciplinary process.

After much toing and froing, a disciplinary hearing was held on 1 December 2017.

The alleged victim and his alleged assailant were both charged with assault because, as school principal Estelle Eigelaar put it, “it was unclear who had thrown the first punch”.

Before the hearing, De Klerk notes in his report, the school had advised the alleged victim’s parents to remove him and his sibling from the school. The school’s legal practitioner also advised that it would be “far better” to remove the children.

Eigelaar insisted that the school had “attempted to make all proceedings as friendly and informal as possible”, and concluded that the school had gone “above and beyond what is expected of it (or all other schools for that matter) in terms of the Education Act and its own disciplinary code”.

De Klerk disagrees.

“[It] is difficult to imagine a more draconian and hostile environment in which this matter could have been handled,” he comments, adding that the school provided “no protection” to the victim who had to “endure such trampling on his rights while he was the one being bullied”.

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