Substance use has a detrimental effect on the health and prosperity of all nations including South Africa, and is well recognised as a significant barrier to both teaching and learning. It has been associated with a host of high risk behaviours including unprotected sex and violence, as well as crime, traffic accidents, and mental and physical health problems.
South Africa joins the global community in commemorating International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking on 26 June every year. The theme for this year’s commemoration is “Global action for healthy communities without drugs”.
The National Department of Social Development in collaboration with the Free State Provincial Department of Social Development, the Free State Department of Education and other important stakeholders in the field of substance abuse commemorated International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking on June 26 in Fezile Dabi District Municipality, Sasolburg, Free State Province. Free State Province was chosen for the national commemoration event because of the high prevalence rate of substance abuse in the province.
The commemoration aimed at sensitizing the public about substance abuse and its devastating impact on individuals, families and communities. Another aim was to mobilise communities and stakeholders in combating substance abuse. The national commemoration on the 26th June 2011 was preceded by a series of events in the Free State including community summits, door-to-door campaigns, youth dialogues, distribution of pamphlets and information sessions in identified hotspot areas. Activities are set to continue beyond 26 June 2011.
Substance use poses a significant challenge to the schooling system both in terms of health and educational outcomes. It has been linked to academic difficulties, absenteeism, and drop-out from schooling. According to the 2008 Youth Risk Behaviour Survey conducted among grade 8-11 learners, about 50% of learners have used alcohol in their lifetime, with 29% engaging in binge-drinking (5 or more drinks in one sitting) during the past month. The study also showed that while 13% of learners have used cannabis (dagga) in their lifetime, 12% have taken a drug such as heroin, mandrax, or “tik” (methamphetamine) in their lifetime.
The Department of Basic Education joined hands with the Department of Social Development (DSD) and other key stakeholders to mark International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking on 26 June 2011 to show their full support for and active participation in implementing the Programme of Action in this regard as guided by the inter-Ministerial Committee.
The active participation of learners, educators, school support staff, officials and parents is required to implement evidence-based interventions that prevent substance use in schools and also to offer the necessary treatment, care and support to those within our schools that abuse substances. Schools have a critical role to play in improving knowledge levels and the skills of learners to make informed decisions about substance use. This we must achieve through curricular and co-curricular means.
In support of this year’s commemoration, all schools are called upon to dedicate teaching time and/or hold events to highlight drug and substance use during the next term of school (schools were closed for the winter vacation on 26 June).