By Mmabatho Maboya, CEO, Cyril Ramaphosa Foundation
The vulnerabilities of school children in South Africa demand urgent attention.
Violence at schools and at home, abuse, bullying, gangsterism, alcohol and substance abuse, and teenage pregnancy are among just some of the ills that plague many school communities, impacting learning outcomes and the well-being of children.
It was found in 2019 that intimidation, bullying, verbal abuse of teachers, vandalism, robberies, violent attacks and drugs were rife in playgrounds and classrooms, far exceeding the norm for the 38 countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
Social service interventions – like counselling and mental health services, community outreach programmes, after-school programmes, and social worker support – are some initiatives that are being implemented in partnership with the Department of Basic Education by a range of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and corporate social responsibility programmes, and are seen to be making a meaningful difference.
The Minister of Basic Education adopted a Care and Support for Teaching and Learning (CSTL) framework in 2008 to guide and coordinate the implementation of Psychosocial Support (PSS) that is facilitated by government departments, NGOs, and private partners at schools across the country.
However, the support measures in place need to be scaled-up to reach many more schools and children countrywide.
The Department of Social Development has recently motivated that every school should have a social worker on site to address bullying and other social ills and has called on business to help meet the cost of this.
Cyril Ramaphosa Foundation is an independent public benefit organisation that mobilises private sector and philanthropic support for its education and small business development programmes. It develops and implements innovative pilot projects, and on the basis of their proven effectiveness, seeks to take these to scale to effect systemic change.
The Foundation’s school-based Thari Programme, which is implemented by its partner entity, Adopt-a-School, supports vulnerable children and families in communities that are poverty-stricken, and plagued by high rates of unemployment, crime, and violence. Thari is a Setswana word for a baby carrier, like a sling or blanket, and evokes the intent of care and support of the programme.
The programme’s goal is to strengthen school communities by creating safe and empowering environments that are free from violence, academically effective, inclusive and gender sensitive, and that promotes health and well-being. Thari provides psycho-social support services to vulnerable children and their families through nine Child and Youth Care Workers (CYCWs); Safe Parks that ensure a secure and therapeutic space for children, specifically children lacking in after-school care; and multisectoral local community forums to address the social issues.
The programme was piloted for five years up to 2022 in Botshabelo in the Free State, before being continued as an evidence-based model. Since 2019, over a thousand children have registered with the Thari programme in eight schools. It has additionally reached over 2 000 learners through the Safe Parks and involved more than 13 000 children and family members in awareness campaigns.
An evaluation of the programme by Prof RP Reyneke of the University of the Free State found that in the short period that the programme has been available to the community of Botshabelo, it had to a large extent achieved its goal.
Prof Reyneke found that some of the main problems learners experience are poverty, learning difficulties, a lack of care by parents or caregivers, poor living environments, child-headed households, substance abuse, bullying and gangsterism. Educators made extensive use of the programme’s CYCWs to intervene in behavioural problems and absenteeism, with many learners referred for counselling, and reported an improvement in learner behaviour. Professor Reyneke found the programme supported learners with psychosocial problems, which had a positive impact on educational outcomes, and improved school safety.
Notably, Thari was found to provide services that enhanced the psychosocial well-being and resilience of children and facilitated safer schools by drastic reductions in gangsterism and school violence. The evaluation concluded that the programme strengthened school communities and protected children against violence and exploitation. Reneke emphasised that social services in schools help realise children’s right to education and called for the extension of the programme to other schools.
As a proven model, the Thari programme is primed for replication and scalability. This would avoid a reinvention of the wheel, and ensure the wise use of limited resources. Economies of scale may be achieved, contributing to sustainability and a basis for ongoing support and long-term impact.
Our children in the most disadvantaged schools across the country deserve the same proven child protection solutions as the children of Botshabelo, strengthening families and empowering communities.
Cyril Ramaphosa Foundation joins the call for up-scaling of social service interventions to schools across the country to promote safer schools and the psychosocial well-being of children.