Behaviour issues: Bad boys give elite schools a bad name

Rivalry: Epic day in Cape Town at the picturesque Piley Rees field as Bishops Diocesan College takes on old rivals Rondebosch Boys' High School. Picture: Facebook/Premier Interschools

Rivalry: Epic day in Cape Town at the picturesque Piley Rees field as Bishops Diocesan College takes on old rivals Rondebosch Boys' High School. Picture: Facebook/Premier Interschools

Published Jun 22, 2024


Cape Town - Is it a superiority complex, money or selfishness that leads pupils at elite schools to behave badly, often resulting in bloody fights?

This, in light of the damages lawsuit involving Bingo Ivanisevic who, while a pupil at Bishops Diocesan College, had punched Ross Stone, from Rondebosch Boys High, in the face during a water polo match. The R645 000 damages claim is currently before the Western Cape High Court.

Professor Kobus Maree of the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Pretoria (UP) said such behaviour can be triggered by psychological factors or stem from it.

He said these conflicts frequently highlight issues like a strong feeling of group identification, peer pressure, rivalry, and sometimes even inferiority.

“Moreover, frustration, stress, lack of effective coping mechanisms at home and school can of course exacerbate these kinds of behaviour,” he said.

“Being at an elite school might even make these dynamics worse.”

However, UCT Professor Joanne Hardman said this isn't a psychological issue in the pure sense. “What this is, it seems to me, is an example of hyper-competitive, strong young men, filled with testosterone and not yet cognitively fully developed.

“Their dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is still developing, meaning they are unable to inhibit their actions as well as a fully developed person can.

“Faced with losing face by not winning the game, the young men lash out at each other.”

Hardman said being at an elite school does play some kind of role because the stakes are so high and the competition is very fierce in an elite school as they strive to be the “best”.

“The competition to succeed academically and in the sporting realm is higher, I would argue, at elite schools whose very identities are premised on being ‘better' than other schools.”

How do school authorities address incidents that become ugly?

Dr Juané van der Merwe, of the Federation of South African Schools (Fedsas), said these incidents underscore the vital importance of instilling core values within schools.

“When conflicts arise, the school governing body (SGB) must act promptly and decisively to uphold these values,” she said.

This entails putting a halt to disruptive behaviour at once, removing people who refuse to stop acting in this way, and preventing repeat offenders from attending events in the future.

“The unwavering commitment to a safe, orderly environment is reflected in proactive measures taken to prevent and manage conflicts,” she said.

Meanwhile, the SGB's role is to ensure that all school activities are conducted in a manner that promotes the school's values and the well-being of its learners.

The Independent Schools Association of Southern Africa (Isasa) also condemns violence of any kind, especially in a school context. Isasa said it should be noted that racialised altercations can carry additional legal consequences before the Equality Court.

The sporting relationship between Rondebosch and Paarl Boys' High schools is also in jeopardy after alleged incidents of racism. This follows two alleged incidents of racial abuse that took place during derby matches at the Paarl school last month.

Monkey gestures were reportedly aimed at Rondebosch hockey players at a Friday match, while a black rugby player is believed to have been the target of monkey gestures the next day.

Clinical psychologist Bernice du Plessis says racism is not confined to elite schools and can occur in schools in any income bracket.

Vanessa le Roux, founder of Parents for Equal Education SA (Peesa), said: “We can ask what type of culture they still embrace at these so-called elite schools, that these children so badly portray this behaviour in public.

“Until the board of school sports bans them, fines them, and makes a perfect example of them, this type of behaviour will continue. The contradiction in it all is that these children believe, like their parents, certain sports codes belong to them.”

Parents contributed to this behaviour, said Du Plessis. They see their child's inclusion in the first team of a popular sport as a status symbol.

“Not all wealthy parents view it this way. However, through my work as a therapist, I've heard from patients how ‘embarrassing' it is if their child is benched or gets dropped from the first team,” she said.