School Orientation: Icebreakers or Abuse?

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By Suzette Apollus With the commencement of the new school year and thousands of grade eight pupils starting their secondary education at higher schools throughout the country, it is not uncommon for learners to undergo various initiations. Peculiar looking pupils with nameplates on their chests and school uniforms worn inside are but some of the common sights at some high schools. But when approached by New Era some schools denied allowing initiation practices but admitted having ‘orientation ceremonies’. According to the principal of Academia High School, initiation ceremonies in schools were mostly performed during the colonial era and inflicted both psychological and physical harm on pupils. Orientation on the other hand is simply done in the spirit of good fun and to familiarise students with their new environment. The principal, who preferred his name not to be mentioned, stressed that the orientation of students is in no way performed to inflict any form of harm and that learners are orientated in a controlled environment. However, the pupil needs a parent or guardian’s consent to undergo the orientation course. The Learner Representative Council (LRC) is solely responsible for the orientation course at the school and it is in no way linked to bullying. The principal of Augustineum Secondary School said: “Initiations should not take place at schools for the mere fact that they get out of hand, learners get injured and then principals are held responsible.” However, he admitted to having an orientation course focussed on familiarisation and fun. According to the principal of Jan Jonker Afrikaner Secondary School, orientation can be seen as an “icebreaker” whereby students are familiarised with the rules and regulations of the schools, wherein activities are mostly centred on fun and games. Orientation is exclusively carried out by the LRC and it ends with a small concert held in the presence of the principal at the school premises. Both Academia and Augustineum’s principals acknowledged to having orientation camps taking place outside Windhoek for the new grade eight learners whilst Jan Jonker Afrikaner and Concordia College prefer to have their camps on the school premises. All schools are adamant that these orientation camps are only there for the purposes of enhancing the growing and enrichment experiences of the learners. Last year the Director of Basic Education, Sport and Culture issued a statement on initiation practices, which are normally associated with malicious fun at the expense of the new scholars beginning their first term at secondary schools. ” The Ministry considers this matter to be serious and wishes to inform … that all programmes by any school to allow learners to sleep out or camp out ostensibly for initiation purposes should be stopped with immediate effect.” Past experiences have indicated that initiations are dangerously notorious for the physical and emotional abuse that sometimes prevail at these camps resulting in parents simply not wanting to take the risk of sending their kids on initiation camps. The reality of the matter is that as much as orientation ceremonies can be truly enriching when done in the correct and controlled environment, it can leave lifelong scars when coupled with the elements of abuse.