By dr. Nic de Jager
Not nearly enough academic research has yet been done on the psychological side effects that load shedding exerts on South African primary and high school students.
SADAG (The South African Depression and Anxiety Group) recently conducted a study which does draw attention to the connection between load shedding and increasing cases of depression, underperformance and even thoughts of suicide among our young people. Earlier, researchers such as Matsheta and Sefoka and MCCain also appealed to teachers to assist the youth emotionally in this time of power poverty.
Then there is the jumble of statistical surveys, government reports and other official documents that attempt to interpret and quantify the increased frequency of power outages (Stats SA; Presidency RSA; Western Cape Government). However, the latter does not point out much, if we accept that now the time is to listen to the plea of millions of children who have to do their homework, projects, exam preparation and so on in the dark or by candlelight.
A recent article by BusinessTech shows that 523 companies have had to close their doors since January 2023 due to rising diesel prices to keep their generators running. Power is also linked to increasing behavioral disorders and crime, with a spike in road rage and home burglaries across demographic groups, according to an article on Business Live.
The question that now arises is: If stress can do this to us as adults, what can it do to the child do in his formative years? Although the 2022 matric pass rate has improved by 3.7% compared to the previous year, teachers are witnessing more and more chronic absenteeism among their learners, discipline problems, tardiness, unfinished homework, failing tests and exams, planned learning experiences that cannot materialize at all, and generally a sense of hopelessness in the classroom.
Such phenomena can largely be attributed to the current “power crisis”, according to a recent study. There is still an expectation that it is the child’s responsibility to keep his head above water when there is no facility ‒ that is electricity ‒ is not to read, write, type or draw. That said, it’s often in the late afternoon hours when most of these curricular tasks need to be done, and as the sun goes down it becomes even more difficult.
Solar panels, diesel generators, the so-called inverters (inverters), and more “green” or “eco-friendly” sources of electricity are buzzwords that have, as it were, become part of our zeitgeist. For the privileged it may provide relief, but these innovations remain unaffordable for the majority of the local population, according to an article in the Daily Maverick.
The mere phenomenon of load shedding, as it currently stands, is a complicated issue with numerous socio-economic and political ramifications, and one that will not be resolved overnight. There is no miracle cure for this challenge that we are currently facing.
However, the onus rests on us ‒ the parents, the teachers, the trainers ‒ to use alternative technologies as sensibly and sustainably as possible, and to offer the necessary emotional support so that they do not lose heart in these times of darkness. Whether it’s a candle, mobile phone flash or rechargeable lamp, there will always be a light at the end of the tunnel, and this is a hopeful thought that we should cherish in every child.
- Nic de Jager is a lecturer in education at Akademia.