Crime and violence in schools threaten the safety and well-being of our youth. A study on security in Durban schools found that schools are places where drugs, thugs, and weapons move as freely through the gates as the pupils.
Dr Rishi Budhal a psychologist attributes the growing violence in children to a change in value system. “Modernization, the influence of the media, identification with incorrect role models, a lifestyle change in dress and music have all contributed to this type of behaviour in our youth,” says Budhal. “Many poor schools have limited security due to insufficient funding and this leaves them more vulnerable to violence as opposed to affluent schools which have proper infrastructures in place,” he adds.
Meanwhile the Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention (CJCP) launched a national study into violence in South African schools on 23 April 2008. Participants from both public and private schools were used in the study. 12794 pupils, 264 principals and 521 teachers participated. According to the study, almost two million of the 12 million registered school children in South African have been victims of violent crime at school, including incidents of theft, assault, robbery and sexual assault.
The study revealed that:
-Violence in primary schools is most common in the Eastern Cape. The highest recorded rates of violence were for secondary schools in Gauteng and Limpopo.
-One in 10 pupils say it is relatively easy for them to get hold of a gun,
-Alcohol and drugs are readily available, and
-Between 83 percent and 90 percent of pupils have been exposed to some sort of sexual assault.
Patrick Burton, director of research at the centre, said “More than one in 10 (14.7 percent) secondary school learners and slightly fewer (10.5 percent ) primary school learners reported that it was easy to get alcohol at school, and a similar percentage thought it was just as easy to obtain dagga.” According to the report 31.2 percent of high school pupils said that it was easy to be in the possession of a knife at school.
Society itself has moved away from a more traditional moral basis to a place were more importance is given to acquisition of status and wealth and sensory gratification. “The inclusion of values is greatly neglected in the school curriculum. Importance is given to academic excellence. There needs to be a well balanced programme put in place,” Budhal says. Life Orientation which aims for the holistic development of the learner is a subject that has been included in the school curriculum, however it hasn’t made much of an impact on the development of learners. “A well thought out values system needs to be adapted in schools which learners can emulate.” Such a programme will equip learners with the ability to deal with conflicts in a nonviolent manner.
Reiterating his sentiments Gordan Govender, principal of Wingen Heights secondary in Chatsworth said, “There has to be an integration of human values inculcated into the disciplines of the school.” Govender is also the Public Relations Officer for the Chatsworth region of the South African Principals Association (SAPA). “The primary focus of SAPA is to recognize problems in schools, prioritize them and to find creative and innovative strategies to address them.”
Meanwhile Rasigan Naidoo, secretary of the steering committee of the Durban Youth Club says he believes that the problem lies in the degradation of morals in society by factors such as peer pressure, socialisation and capitalism. “Values that were installed previously is now lost and the moral basis in youth is lacking," says Naidoo. "The solution lies in youth educating themselves about the real world and equipping themselves with life skills. They need to understand that they have a vested interest in their future and they need to be mature, accountable and responsible for tomorrow."
Undoubtedly the impact of violence in schools is a problem that rests right at the top of that list. “The violence is initiated from very petty and often silly reasons. These relate to the carrying of fabricated tales to each other resulting in a confrontation. This gets a large group of learners together and inadvertently ends in a free for all with everyone trying to get a punch or kick in,” Govender said.
More serious issues included bullying, gang fights, threats and intimidation and the use of dangerous items, drug peddling and relationships between learners. “Very often we see relationships between male and female learners being a contributing factor to the breakout of fights where there is third party interference,” added Govender.
According to Govender there often is serious injury and the need for medical attention. “To compound the problems further, these fights or threats are taken out of school, resulting in gang fights outside school or at the homes of learners where families become embroiled in bitter fights and rivalry.”
There have been numerous incidents of learner on learner violence and learner on teacher violence which has sent shockwaves throughout the country. “This kind of behaviour is a kind of acting out by the individual. Many children who resort to violence come from dysfunctional families – in most instances there is a divorce or other family issues which have a psychological effect on the child. Very often we see that a victim of violence becomes a perpetuator of violence if they are not counsiled properly and the cycle of violence continues,” Budhal added.
To help curb the violence at schools the SAPA in Chatsworth has adopted a zero tolerance stance in about 65 schools in the area. “Any act of violence by a learner should invoke an immediate temporary suspension and a written request for the parent or guardian to call at school urgently as these violent acts infringe on the rights of other learners,” Govender said. The learner would then only be re-admitted to school when the matter has been adequately resolved by the school management or disciplinary committee. “As part of rehabilitating the learner we want to make it compulsory for him/her to engage in community service and also to attend anger management to help deal with conflict better,” Govender added. The SAPA is taking a proactive stance in preventing further violence in schools. They have called on the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) for assistance. “We are currently in the process of setting up a legal aid desk in Chatsworth to deal with rehabilitating learners.”
According to Budhal parents and teachers need to play an integral part in rectifying this problem. “Values need to be first taught at home and re-enforced at schools. Usually children display behaviour which they are exposed to at home in public.” In many instances parents turn a blind eye to the wrong doings of their child and take up the school for taking disciplinary action against their child. “It is so important to expose children to values at a young age rather then trying to impose it on them at a later stage. It is extremely important for parents and teachers to form a co-operative and understanding partnership in the overall development of the child,” he added.
Obviously an important part of the healing process is also to provide counseling and assistance to parents and families of the learners who are in transgression of school rules.