Chapter 14



14.5.1Legislative and Policy Framework


  • The South African Schools Act, No. 84 of 1996 [SASA]
  • The Employment of Educators Act (No. 76 of 1998) [EEA]



  • National Policy on HIV/AIDS for Learners and Educators, Government Gazette No. 20372 of 10 August 1999 [20372/1999]



  • Regulations on Disaster Management Act 2002 Government Gazette 43107 dd 18 March 2020 [NR DMA]
  • Disaster Management Act (57/2002): Covid-19 Occupational Health and Safety Measures in Workplaces Covid-19(C19 OHS), 2020 [NR DMA C-19]



  • A message to schools on identifying and supporting learners at risk of depression and suicide [NG SUICIDE]
  • Guidelines for Schools on Maintaining Hygiene during the COVID-19 Pandemic 8 May 2020 [NG HYGIENE C19]



  • WCED Online: HIV/Aids Life Skills Programme  [Reference B9 WCED HIV]



  • Circular 0005 of 2017 Management of School Safe [Reference B9 0005/2017]

14.5.2Framework for the Development of School Policy on Promoting Healthy Schools

This chapter outlines how schools can assist learners who are facing problems that affect their performance at school and sometimes even threaten their life.

Many young South African are exposed to learning environments that are potentially damaging to their physical, mental, social and emotional well-being. Because learners spend so much time at school it is crucial that these schools are transformed into places that not only promote intellectual development, but physical and emotional health and well-being.

The World Health Organisation defines a health-promoting school as follows:

The health-promoting school aims at achieving healthy lifestyles for the total school population by developing supportive environments conducive to the promotion of health. It offers opportunities for, and requires commitments to, the provision of a safe and health-enhancing social and physical environment’.

This unit will focus on two areas that, if left unattended, are likely to contribute to an unhealthy school environment, and, if properly addressed, can make a real difference to the physical and emotional health and wellbeing of learners and educators.  These areas are particularly relevant in South Africa today: HIV/AIDS and suicide. The fourth area of focus in this section looks at healthy alternatives – activities that young people can get involved in at school that will enhance their physical health and emotional, mental and social development.

    • How does knowledge of HIV/AIDS build a healthy school and child?
      There are two main issues to consider when dealing with AIDS at school. Firstly steps need to be taken to educate people about the virus and ways of staying healthy. Secondly learners must be educated so that the school community supports and nurtures those who are HIV positive rather than making them feel unwanted and alone.
      It was estimated in 2002, that 16 million people in South Africa were infected with HIV/AIDS. This means that every school will be affected by the epidemic. Children as a group are particularly vulnerable to the effects of HIV/AIDS – by the year 2010 there will be at least 2 million children orphaned by AIDS.
    • What is HIV/AIDS?
      HIV is a virus that gets into the body and flows through the bloodstream. AIDS is the disease that is caused by HIV. When a person is diagnosed HIV positive they do not automatically have AIDS but AIDS will develop over time. Poverty and a poor diet hasten death.

      • HIV is spread by the direct contact of body fluids from an infected person to another. The blood of the infected person contaminates the uninfected person. There are four ways in which HIV is spread from one person to another:
        • Through sexual contact with a person who is infected. This can include sexual intercourse, oral or anal sex (including rape and unsafe sex);
        • The sharing of intravenous needles that still contain infected blood;
        • Through contact with blood injuries;
        • From mother to child before or during birth, as well as through breast milk after birth.
      • HIV cannot be spread through saliva, mosquitoes or tears. HIV cannot penetrate the skin, so the blood of an HIV infected person is only a risk to you if you have cuts on your skin that come into contact with the blood.
      • At the moment there is no cure for HIV/AIDS although scientists are trying to develop a cure for it. Drugs (such as AZT) can prolong the life of an HIV infected person, but these are extremely expensive and not widely available in South Africa. There are three possible ways to a cure for AIDS:
        • To develop a drug that will kill HIV when it enters the blood;
        • To develop a vaccine that will prevent people contracting the disease;
        • To educate people worldwide about the dangers of AIDS and how infection can be prevented.
      • Schools have an important role to play in ensuring that infected and affected learners are not faced with prejudices, and that they receive the care and comfort that they need. Learners who are HIV positive also need to learn that having HIV is NOT a life sentence, if drugs and treatment are available.
      • In addition, young people between the ages of 15 and 24 years are the group most likely to be infected with HIV. They need to be educated about how the disease is spread and how safer sexual practices can prevent infection. They also need to be aware of the difficulty of being diagnosed HIV positive, and be empowered to offer support and care to their friends who are infected and affected.
    • What are the basic steps to addressing HIV/AIDS in a school?
      Step one: Brainstorm what kinds of programme the school could run to address two priorities: education about the virus and safe practices, AND education which instils in the school community empathy and support for those who are HIV positive.

      Step two: Gather as much information about these two areas of concern. Local libraries may have information otherwise the nearest AIDS Training and Information Centre (ATIC) can provide the necessary information.

      Step three: Set up a health advisory committee of concerned people who will work towards the goals of educating the school community about AIDS and creating a supportive environment. They can be responsible for drafting school policy about HIV/AIDS. This committee may include health care workers from clinics, parents and learner representatives, and the school governing body.Step four: Identify community organisations and resources and let the school community know how these resources can be accessed. Some of these are listed below.


    • What do community-based initiatives offer?
      • Community-based organisations (CBO’s) offer many services. These include:
        • Information for educators and learners on HIV transmission and prevention;
        • Counselling and support for those infected or affected;
        • Confidential testing for HIV. No test can be done without the consent of the individual;
        • Workshops that help people who have negative attitudes towards those that are HIV positive, to be more accepting and supportive.
      • A community approach to addressing HIV in schools is essential for many reasons.
        • Belonging to social networks has a positive impact on health. Social support for HIV positive people has been shown to prolong their life;
        • Interventions designed will be appropriate for the community;
        • Government does not have the resources to address HIV/AIDS alone.
          First aid kit in schools should include:

          Rubber gloves, mouth to mouth cover, various bandages, disinfectant, cotton wool, blanket, clean water, bucket, sponge.

    • Helpful National Contact Numbers
  2. Dealing with stress and suicide
    • How can awareness of suicide build healthy schools?
      Information on suicide equips educators to identify learners at risk of committing suicide and to intervene to help those learners. It is important to remember that suicide is a symptom of problems in young people’s lives and that the problems (rather than the suicide) should, in the long run, be the focus of interventions. This means that although it is necessary, at the time when a child threatens suicide, to intervene to prevent their death, in the long run it is important to address the reasons why the child wanted to die.
      Good mental health and emotional well-being is essential if young people are to be successful in their academic and social lives. Learners who are emotionally healthy take part in school activities and are productive; they are an asset to the school. Educators do not need to address suicide on their own, as there are a number of places that can provide assistance and professional services to young people (see the end of this section).
    • What are the basic steps to addressing suicide?
      Step one: Brainstorm why it is important to address suicide in your school.

      Step two: Find out what initiatives to prevent suicide are available locally in your area.

      Step three: Set up a committee of concerned parents, educators and learners who are willing to work as school representatives on community-based suicide prevention initiatives

      Step four: Let the school community know how they can access these community initiatives to address suicide.

    • Information on suicide
      Suicide is increasingly common among young people in South Africa. However, most young people who attempt or commit suicide have communicated their desire to commit suicide to another person before they carry it out. This suggests that it is possible to prevent suicide if learners, educators and caregivers are aware of the signs of suicide. These include:

      • Decreased academic performance and skipping classes.
      • Death or suicide themes in artistic or creative work.
      • Withdrawal from friends and activities.
      • Depression, mood changes, sleeplessness or inattention.
      • Recent loss of loved one, or break-up with girlfriend/boyfriendMany myths exist about suicide. For example, it is sometimes believed that young people who talk about suicide will not actually commit suicide. It is important that learners and educators realise that all suicidal threats are serious and are often a plea for help from the young person. Few suicides happen without warning although people often do not recognise the intention. If the intention to commit suicide has been recognised, any person can intervene although the services of a professional counsellor may also be required.
    • What do community-based suicide initiatives offer?
      People working on suicide prevention initiatives can be contacted by the person who is threatening suicide, or by a concerned party. Although these initiatives vary from place to place, in general they will offer:

      • Counselling for the person who is considering, or has attempted, suicide, and their loved ones.
      • Information and advice to educators and caregivers about how to cope with suicide, or suicide threats and attempts.
      • Information on how to intervene when a young person is at risk of committing suicide.
      • Training on how to help teenagers who are suicidal.
    • Helpful National Contact Numbers
      • ChildLine can provide counselling for young people contemplating suicide.
        Tel: 0800055555
      • SAPS
        Tel: 10111
  3. Substance abuse
    Educators at schools need to be able to assist learners who abuse drugs and alcohol.

    • Signs of abuse
      Here are some signs to look out for that may indicate a learner abuses drugs and alcohol:

      • drop in scholastic achievements;
      • sudden mood swings e.g. from sullen and moody to happy and alert;
      • unusual aggression or apathy;
      • change of friends;
      • loss of interest in hobbies, sport and school;
      • becoming secretive, exhibiting furtive behaviour and lying;
      • tiredness and bouts of drowsiness;
      • unexplained loss of possessions and money;
      • unusual smells of stains on the body and clothes;
      • change in appearance, less interest in personal hygiene, weight loss or gain;
      • drug related paraphernalia such as clothes and jewelleryPlease remember that some of these symptoms could be confused with those of normal adolescence. So don’t over-react but don’t allow your reality to be challenged either. Look for general patterns of changes.
    • Why do young people take drugs?
      There is no easy answer to this question; any number of reasons could include:

      • it feels good to get “stoned”;
      • it’s the fashionable thing to do;
      • boredom;
      • curiosity, some people just want to try a new experience;
      • pressure from friends;
      • the thrill of doing something different;
      • an escape from problems at home or at school;
      • a way to acquire confidence and self-esteem;
      • parental disapproval;
      • it’s there so why not try it? Drugs are usually bought from friends, in clubs and on the street;
      • it’s illegal and therefore may seem exciting;
      • everyone does it!It does not really help to map out the causes and effects of the problem as we did in the other sections. The important thing is to have a procedure and protocol for managing situations so that individual educators are not handling these situations on their own.
    • Possible partners
      • You should identify partners locally: social workers, school clinics, the South African National Council of Alcohol and Drug Dependence (SANCA) and other NGOs as well as the SAPS. The only problem with involving the police is that immediately it becomes a legal issue, and often the police are seen as “the enemy”, so its important to look at appropriate interventions.
      • School governing bodies and parents: schools cannot enforce a “no drugs” programme if parents allow drug taking at home, or do not realise the extent of the problem. Parents may need information on how to deal with drugs in the home in order for any intervention to be successful.
      • Community and business leaders: They may be important role models for young people and can help to motivate learners to become successful.
    • Practical and realistic interventions
      It is very difficult to identify the cause of the problem. The cause is generally very complicated and is basically a societal cause. It is therefore far better to look at individual interventions that work.
      Interventions that worked:

      The Problem Successful Interventions Useful Resources
      Educators are aware that learners are taking drugs but feel helpless to intervene. Schools that deal successfully with drug abuse train educators with specific skills in how to detect drug abuse, how to treat and help learners, how to involve the parents and how to best design a structured intervention with the learner. Educators willing to be trained, an NGO or social worker that can offer the training.
      Educators and learners are unsure of what to expect when a drug problem is identified. A crucial part of successfully tackling drug abuse is the development and implementation of a drug policy at school.
      This policy helps educators to follow a certain course of action that has proved to be successful.
      The school governing body, educators, learner representatives and someone who is experienced in the field could run a workshop to develop a school policy on drugs.
      Once a learner is taking drugs, it seems very difficult to intervene and offer alternatives. It has been proved that high impact education programmes on an ongoing basis in the school, have very positive results. These education programmes should not be didactic or punitive but should engage learners in a manner that they can relate to. Educators to be committed to ongoing education programmes, experts in the field to constantly update methodology and approach.
    • Common obstacles or problems
      Common Problems Solutions That May Help
      Learners are unlikely to tell educators about drug use because of the severe consequences. Educators need to be trained to look out for signs of drug use.

      This training should also involve how to intervene successfully in a way that does not alienate the learner but actually assists in his or her recovery. It is very, very important that educators do not promise to treat the matter confidentially; by keeping secrets and not taking any action, an educator may be giving tacit approval of the behaviour and become an enabler instead of actually helping with the problem. Educators need training as far as boundaries etc are concerned.

      Learners who are worried about their friends taking drugs do not tell educators for fear of betraying them. Some schools use an “anonymous box” where learners can anonymously post information about substance abuse in the school. However, these anonymous boxes can have a negative impact if the information posted in them is taken as FACT. The information must be investigated correctly. The section in the school policy dealing with “rumours” should explain the procedure for investigating information.
    • Measuring the success of the intervention
      • Interestingly enough if a school programme is successful there may be more learners presenting with problems rather than less. A successful programme identifies and assists learners with coming to terms with their own abuse. Therefore, a successful programme may result in more learners asking for help. To measure the success of the programme therefore, it is no good measuring if the number of learners involved in drug abuse has decreased; rather ask questions of educators about the success of the programme.
      • Work out a set of questions, for example:
        How well did educators manage substance abuse situations? Are they more confident? Are they more able to identify a learner with problems? Have structured interventions been successful? Have learners who have been through a treatment programme been successfully reintegrated into the school system and stayed clean?
    • Helpful National Contact Numbers
      • South African Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (SANCA)
        National organisation offering prevention and treatment (in- and outpatient) of alcohol and other drug abuse.
        Tel: 086 14 72622 / 011 892 3829
        Web site:
      • ChildLine
        Taking drugs is often a sign that a child is experiencing personal or family problems and lacks self-esteem and confidence.
        ChildLine offers counselling and advice to these young people.
        Tel: 08000 555 55
        Web site:
      • Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) offers help to people suffering from alcohol abuse.
        Tel:0861 435 722
        Web site:


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