Helping the most vulnerable

Issued by North West University
Johannesburg, Oct 4, 2019

Academics at the North-West University (NWU) are not only passionate about teaching and learning, but also about engaging with communities about important issues.

Dr Lynn Preston and Dr Wanda van der Merwe from the Faculty of Education are going the extra mile to try and protect South Africa's most precious citizens, children.

They came up with a practical initiative to educate school teachers on how to determine if their learners are victims of abuse, and the procedures to follow when reporting abuse within an educational environment.

According to Dr Van der Merwe, the current alarming rates of crimes committed against children pointed out the need to educate and inform school teachers on the correct reporting procedures if a child is being abused or neglected.

They also realised that a number of their students did not know how to address this issue should they be confronted with it.

Book of wisdom

Last year, Dr Van der Merwe and Dr Preston, together with Dr Deon Vos and Dr Louw de Beer from the Faculty of Education, published the book "Helping Hands - A teacher's guide to reporting abuse".

This book is available to all school teachers and has step-by-step information on what teachers should do when they suspect that a learner is experiencing some type of abuse.

"When a child is being abused, teachers are legally obliged to report it," says Dr Preston.

"With this book, we attempt to not only protect the children, but also their teachers."

She explains that, should a teacher be found guilty of knowing that a child is being abused and not reporting the matter, they can be held liable. "This book does not only create awareness, but also helps teachers to identify victims of abuse and gives them the necessary know-how on how to report the abuse.

Awareness, identify and report

These two academics, together with a social worker and a member of the South African Police Services, are currently assisting teachers at Resolofetse Secondary School in Ikageng to identify and report cases of child abuse.

They also present this initiative to teaching students during their orientation programme at the beginning of their first year, and again during their fourth year of studies.

The two academics also started visiting schools. In the beginning of the year, they visited Laerskool Stilfontein, where, with the assistance of their students, they educated teachers on identifying and reporting abuse. They also addressed learners by presenting a puppet show.

Dr Van der Merwe and Dr Preston hope to work with the Department of Basic Education in future to reach more schools.

"Helping Hands - A teacher's guide to reporting abuse" is available from Van Schaiks bookstores.