Gauteng Department of Education launches plan to curb learner suicide rate

The suicide rate among high school learners increases every year. The Gauteng Department of Education indicates that there have been no fewer than 300 cases of learner death reported, including 40 alleged suicides, since the start of the year. The spokesperson for Gauteng Education, Steve Mabona says “bullying has been identified as a problem when looking at the suicide cases.”

In addressing the scourge of suicide and safety among learners, Gauteng Department MEC Chiloane has announced an action plan to curb learner suicide and safeguard learner wellbeing.

The spokesperson of the Gauteng Department of Education, Steve Mabona says “the department has partnered with various organizations to have a holistic approach to dealing with the scourge of suicide.” The department announced partnerships with the Department of Health, the Community Policing Forum, the Mathew Goniwe School of Leadership and Governance (MGSLG), the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), Childline, the Teddy Bear Foundation, and the National Association of Child and Youth Care Workers.

Ziphozakhe Kili, a psychologist, says students who exhibit mental health challenges find themselves in a tricky situation because the community that they go back to finds itself facing similar mental health challenges.”

Ziphozakhe further explains that some “students come from disadvantageous backgrounds; they are sent to school to pass and take the family out of poverty, which already creates a lot of pressure for the student.”

The department has embarked on several interventions: it deployed 500 Learner Support Agents (LSAs) to provide the department with an early warning mechanism and give peer counseling to support 1200 schools; an additional 120 social workers to assist with risk assessment of learners; it further deployed 500 Ke Moja coaches to assist with substance abuse awareness; and the Childline toll-free number (116) to provide counseling services free of charge for learners and educators. Steve Mabona says “the Childline toll-free number (116) will be available for 24 hours.”

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

  • Security guards will be deployed to 75 schools across Gauteng. These schools are located in areas with high crime incidents and have also experienced some form of violence or burglaries. These guards will join patrollers to safeguard the school’s personnel, property, and infrastructure. They will also search for weapons and illegal substances to prevent them from entering the school premises.
  • 245 schools across Gauteng have received hand-held detectors to help with screening for weapons. Resources permitting, all 245 schools will be provided with security guards. The 75 prioritized schools are part of the 245 schools identified as being at high risk.
  • Discipline will be enforced in all these schools to ensure punctuality and regular attendance by educators, all staff, and learners. The school governing bodies (SGBs) in these schools will be required to enforce and improve awareness of the schools’ 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 these schools. In this regard, the Adopt-a-Cop program will be reinforced to be more effective at crime prevention and detection, as well as raising awareness. This will be implemented in conjunction with the Department of Community Safety and E-Gov.
  • 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.
  • Multi-stakeholder school safety committees, under the banner of the SGBs, will be resuscitated or re-established in all schools, with priority given to the 245 schools. Some of the tasks of the committees are to conduct risk assessments, develop a school safety action plan, and develop emergency plans and disaster management. The committee will receive appropriate training to empower them to fulfill these duties.
  • Comment boxes have been deployed in schools to enable anonymous reporting of bullying and harassment. Social workers will be responsible for analyzing and responding to these reports.

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