Replacing detention with meditation: Is this possible in SA?

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By Julian Grobbler

This article is exclusive to the Online Edition 7 of VARSITY News.


Three decades ago, most South Africans would have scoffed at the notion of using meditation as a form of discipline for children. Corporal punishment was the presumed solution to behavioural problems. Parents and educators chose to hit children instead of encouraging or allowing them to find a quiet, safe space.


Meditation, which has three decades of scientific research supporting its merits, has been introduced in some American schools to replace detention. The South African education system differs in many aspects. For example, telling the majority of South African youth to meditate as “punishment”, they’d think you were joking. This is likely because they have not been taught how to meditate properly. However, I fully believe that if we were to practice mindfulness and meditation at schools, it would foster a greater appreciation for beauty in life, care more for ourselves and others, and foster general kindness.


“Mindfulness meditation” would require students to focus their attention on a specific target, notice when attention has wandered from the target and bring their attention back to the target without self-judgement. This practice encourages curiosity, logical reasoning and higher EQ. Initially, this might prove difficult, especially for children with ADD or ADHD. From personal experience, I can attest that at first, concentrating on meditation seemed like torture. Some people might also wonder how this practice would fit into an already overcrowded curriculum.


According to a Foundation Phase South African teacher, who has introduced the concept in an indirect manner, states itwas challenging to teach at the beginning but theynoted that after practicing mindfulness and meditation, the children became more respectful and considerate – not only of themselves but of their environment and those around them. Similarly, the American research has reported that students who were taught meditation showed an increase in positive emotions and stronger self-identity as well as reductions in anxiety, stress and depression.


This stance of restorative justice versus the retributive justice of the aforementioned corporal punishment system, would be beneficial in South Africa where there is a substantially high drop-out rate of school children. Because on the plus side, fewer students would be inclined to skip classes that “reward” bad behaviour with sessions centred on self-reflection which differ from traditional detention.


I suppose that the broader spectrum of debate requires input from all stakeholders – not only educators but parents and students alike.



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