Teachers are mainly to blame for violence among pupils in South African schools, a report released by Unisa indicates.
The failure of schools to address issues of bullying and sexual harassment, to recognise pupils as individuals and create a safe and caring environment for them at school are all contributing factors, Unisa’s honorary professor of education Clive Harber said on Thursday.
He described the report on the dynamics of violence in South Africa as “grim” and said he was shocked to see so many incidents of violence at schools reported in newspapers on a daily basis.
Recently three pupils, one in Mossel Bay, one in Umhlanga and another in Pretoria, were killed at their schools.
They were all stabbed to death by fellow pupils following arguments.
Another four youngsters were seriously injured earlier this week after stabbing each other during a lunch break at a school in Mitchells Plain, Cape Town.
The report, based on extensive interviews with pupils, principals and teachers in six province, including Gauteng, Limpopo and the Western Cape, was presented to a small group of teachers, principals and academics.
It was found that 55 percent of pupils interviewed had been victims of violence in schools and although socio-economic factors played a role, the main reason for acts of violence were factors at the schools like bullying, sexual harassment, verbal abuse and corporal punishment from teachers and fellow pupils.
“Children need to feel safe at school, and it is the responsibility of teachers to fulfil that basic need,” Harber said.
He added that safety was a great concern to pupils. A young girl in the Western Cape mentioned in her interview that she was unable to concentrate as the school had no fencing, and all she could think about was when gangsters would come and open fire on them.
“Schools are not necessarily helpless victims of a wider violent society. A well-organised, inclusive and well-run school can do much to reduce the incidents and impact of external violence because [pupils] and teachers are part of a community with a sense of purpose.”
Harber explained that South Africa was home to a sub-culture where violence, crime and abuse were acceptable, especially in poverty-stricken areas.
Harber said a study conducted in 2007 by the South African government on the nature of crime and violence, indicated that violence was seen as a necessary and justified means of resolving conflicts.
Other factors included the vulnerability of young people linked to inadequate child rearing and poor youth socialisation.
“As a result of poverty, unstable living arrangements and being brought up with inconsistent and uncaring parenting, some children are exposed to risk factors which enhance their chances of becoming involved in violent acts and crime,” he said.
The vice-principal of Hoërskool FH Odendaal, Dawie Groenewald, who attended the presentation, said he had noticed that the vast difference in ages in certain grades also caused conflict.
He said the ages of, for example Grade 9 pupils, varied from 16 to 18.