Violence in schools is a worldwide problem, not just a South African problem.

2013-10-26 05:21

Violence in schools generated considerable media attention in South Africa in recent years. In the past year alone, local media coverage have again fuelled public opinion that school violence in South Africa is escalating at an alarming rate and that something needs to be done about it. Most of us have seen the shocking video of a school boy assaulting a teacher and the most recent video of a school girl assaulting another girl.

According to recent media reports Grade 8 pupils at the Azara High School in Lenasia were suspended on 17 October for allegedly assaulting a teacher. A 15-year-old boy was arrested after a Pretoria schoolboy's ear was sliced off and three other pupils were badly wounded with a machete during a violent attack by a rival school gang on 11 October. On 8 October, a disciplinary hearing was held for a 14-year-old Johannesburg schoolboy, who allegedly punched his teacher at the Jim Fouché Primary School. A pupil, who assaulted a teacher, and a classmate, who took a video of the assault were suspended at Glenvista High School earlier this month.

In a study in 2012, it was found that 22.2% of high school learners in South Africa were found to have been threatened with violence or had been the victim of an assault, robbery and/or sexual assault at school in the past year. This figure amount to 1,020,597 learners who had encountered violence at school in the past year. It is to be noted that notwithstanding those figures, levels of violence in secondary schools had remained relatively constant over the past four years.

It is not only in South Africa where violence is a serious public health problem but also in the United States.  In 2010 statistics in the US showed that there were about 828 000 non-fatal victimizations at school among students 12 to 18 years of age. Approximately 7% of teachers reported that they had been threatened with injury or physically attacked by a student from their school. In 2009,  about  20% of students ages 12–18  reported that gangs were present at their school during the school year. In 2011 in a grade 9 – 12 survey it was reported that 12% of the students reported being in a physical fight on school property. 5.9%  reported that they did not go to school on one or more days because they felt unsafe at school or on their way to or from school. 5.4% reported  carrying a weapon (gun or knife) on school property on one or more days. 7.4% reported being threatened or injured with a weapon on more than one occasion. 20% reported being bullied on school property and 16% on social networks.

A recent study in the US funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that children living in chaotic families and early exposure to violence and substance abuse are the primary factors leading to violence among teenagers. Information collected from interviews with more than 2,000 students in grades 4-12 and their own experiences found that persistent negative behaviours at an early age, poor family management, family conflict and peers engaging in negative behaviours were the factors that most often lead to youth violence. According to the study, 23% of the youths said they had been involved in a violent act at age 10 or 11, and 6% said they had used drugs at the same age. About 28% of the high school students, and 17% of middle school students, said their peers were involved in a gang.

In the UK an average of 850 children are taken out of class daily for abuse or assault on fellow pupils or teachers. The Department for Education figures in the UK show that students were suspended on 166,900 occasions in 2010 for assault or abuse, with 2,460 expulsions.

Parents do play a vital role in helping to prevent violence at schools and children are in most instances a symbol of where they come from. If the parents of the children are constantly fighting with each other and are using abusive language at home then children will learn it as well. They will practice these things in schools and will trouble other students and teachers. Children tend to imitate or model their own behaviour on their parents’ at a young age, an aggressive or violent mother or father can become a dangerous role model.

Although our culture expects the parents to deal with childhood problems, modern society makes it extremely difficult for parents to meet all their children's needs.  Our current economy, for example, often demands that both parents must work, more children are raised by single parents including teenage mothers and some children are subjected by their parents to neglect or physical, sexual, and substance abuse. Many South African children are growing up in dysfunctional families. Millions of children in South Africa grow up living without one of their parents. According to a 2011 study only a third of children in South Africa are growing up living with two of their parents, 98 000 children live in child-headed households, 81% of whom have a living mother and 9 million children are growing up with absent but living fathers. According to the study, increasing numbers of fathers are absent and one may rightfully say that there is indeed a ‘crisis of men’ and a lack of role models in South Africa.

Ideally, parents nurture and reinforce positive behaviour in their children. But when parents fail to do so, children will develop negative and regularly violent behaviour patterns. In addition, neglectful or abusive family environments can hinder the development of self-esteem and communication skills. We can’t expect our schools to play multiple roles as educators, surrogate parents, social service, or law-enforcement agencies. We can't expect that our schools should right the wrongs of society. Teachers cannot become surrogate parents. If we as parents fail our parental responsibilities we fail our kids and society at large.

Compiled by:

Bertus Preller

Family Law Attorney


Twitter: @bertuspreller



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