Ten researchers at the College of Education (CEDU) are researching the dynamics of violence in schools. The project was undertaken in six provinces of South Africa. The investigation explored types of violence, the underlying reasons for violence in schools and initiatives for the prevention of violence. The overarching motivation is to assist in violence reduction in schools and society through a better quality education.
The team under the leadership of Professor Vusi Mncube is still completing the report which will be launched later in the year. Findings suggest that violence is a serious problem in many South African schools. The academics spoke to a range of different educational stakeholders (educators, parents, general workers and learners) and by means of a variety of research methods; they found that different types of violence exist in schools in the six South African provinces studied. The study has also found evidence of consequences of violence for learners. Prof Mncube indicates: “Some types of violence affecting schools, i.e. gangsterism, clearly originate outside the school as do the use of illegal drugs which facilitate violence. However, well-run schools can do much to reduce the incidents and impact of external violence because learners and teachers are then part of a community with a sense of belonging and purpose –caring for their school which is worth protecting. This leads to loyalty and commitment which reduces internal collaboration with potentially violent external individuals”.
Secondly some ‘external’ threats are also partly internal. Some student respondents reported that the failure of the school to recognise them as individuals or provide self-esteem promotes their use of drugs. Schools are failing to deal with cases of bullying or sexual harassment even when they are reported to teachers. This is a case of violence by omission where schools know there is a problem of violence and little is done to try to prevent it. One teacher even noted that the wider education system itself was partly to blame as many bullies were those that the system failed. As the report shows, these forms of violence in schools can have serious educational, medical, social and economic consequences for learners.
However, the most disturbing part of the report is the evidence of direct forms of violence that originate within the school itself. From this study it is clear that a proportion of teachers are verbally, physically and psychologically violent towards learners, including using corporal punishment which is illegal. Such direct forms of violent behaviour by teachers demonstrate a serious problem of lack of professionalism, compounded by evidence in this report of teacher behaviour which also indirectly contributes to violence – teacher absenteeism and lateness. There is also some evidence in the report of schools’ failure to take into account the individual needs of young people by trying to control them in a ‘one size fits all’ manner which in itself can result in violent rebelliousness. However, ultimately it is the school management – the Principal and SGB – that is responsible for the day to day prevention of violence in schools and there is considerable evidence in the report that many schools are not being managed sufficiently well to reduce violence. A key question that policy makers and educationalists have to ask themselves in terms of reducing violence in schools is, do they want to continue to go down a path which emphasises punishment, control and surveillance of learners (and staff) or a path of increasing the effectiveness of school organisation and culture?