True impact of violence on our education system


School violence is sadly a growing global phenomenon. It includes violence between students, attacks on staff members by students and even attacks on students by staff members. Increasingly in South Africa, but also in other countries, knives, guns and other weapons are a part of daily school life.

Safety in our schools, latest statistics:

- 40% of children are victims of violence in SA schools

- More than a fifth of sexual assaults on South African children take place at school.

- How can global trends in campus safety and security be implemented in Africa?

The South African Human Rights Commission found that a staggering 40% of children interviewed admitted to being victims of crime at school and that more than a fifth of sexual assaults on South African children take place at school.

Says Claire O'Connell, Conference Director of African Education Week, "South Africa is not alone. In April 2009 a UK survey showed that of 1000 teachers interviewed, nearly a third of them had been the victims of physical violence by a student."

In 2009, the Education Minister for the state of Queensland in Australia admitted that 'rising levels of violence in schools are totally unacceptable'. In the 2008 academic year 55 000 students had been suspended across the state's schools and nearly a third of these were for physical misconduct.

So what is the ultimate impact of violence in schools and other educational institutions? Says O'Connell, "Children and young people who fall victim to violence may withdraw or respond by perpetuating the violence they have suffered. School work consequently suffers and many will drop out of school altogether."

Another problem rife in South African schools is gender-based violence, where girls are sexually harassed or abused by male students or teachers.

Recent studies in Africa report that between 16% and 47% of girls have reported harassment in one form or another. Whilst education authorities strive to increase access to education amongst females, violence leads to non-attendance and early school drop out.

The socio-economic consequences of low education levels are widespread, including unemployment, more violence and increased crime levels.

Other countries are being proactive in terms of employing safety measures.
Programs in Mexico, Cambodia and Nigeria aim to promote gender sensitivity and violence awareness, as well as modifying school buildings to promote safety (for example, separate toilets for boys and girls). In Tanzania, the government has introduced a guardian system in which a dedicated teacher is available for girls to report sexual harassment.

Furthermore, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) has introduced a Safe Schools Program piloted in Ghana and Malawi, which adopts a holistic approach including life skills training, violence awareness and psychological support for survivors of violence.

In the US, the University of Michigan lists initiatives used by different school districts to reduce violence in schools. These include, but are not limited to:

Suspension or expulsion
Staff training and development
Conflict resolution and mediation
Mentoring programmes
Multi-cultural sensitivity training
Parent-skill training
Support groups

Comments O'Connell, "Whatever approach is adopted in South Africa, it is clear that punishment alone will not stamp out the scourge of school violence. A holistic approach which includes punishment, sensitivity and awareness training, parent involvement and conflict resolution will need to be developed."

"We can draw on international experience and trends, but in the end a home-grown solution involving all parties is likely to provide the most satisfying outcome."

One of the themes of upcoming African Education Week is safety and security in schools. African Education Week runs from 6 to 8 July 2011 in Sandton and will feature a range of speakers tackling current issues in South African education.