19 August 2008

Surviving the playground

A matric pupil killed a 16-year-old and stabbed two gardeners in a Krugersdorp school on Monday morning. Why are South African schools so rife with violence?

A matric pupil, camouflaged with black face paint, a black balaclava, and armed with a ninja sword killed a 16-year-old and stabbed two gardeners at a Krugersdorp High School on Monday morning. School is clearly becoming an increasingly dangerous place to be.

The reasons for the attack are unclear, but allegations have been made that he was involved with Satanism and that he was high on drugs. Whether this is the case or not, it seems that meaningless school violence is hitting the headlines with increasing regularity.

Why are South African schools rife with violence? Health24 investigates.

Schools mirror society
Gone are the days when the local bully pinching you was the only threat at school. Violence exists in all communities. This could range from gang violence through to domestic violence. Schools are a reflection of the communities in which they exist. Violence in a school reflects the character of the larger communities.

"In communities where there are higher rates of violence, schools will naturally be affected. It is of of great concern when learners are not in a safe environment, and when educators do not feel safe, education and social skills development are likely to be affected,” according to the Trauma Centre in Cape Town.”

If we are unable to manage violence in a school environment we are in fact setting up further cycles of victimhood and aggression – undermining the education process entirely, says the Trauma Centre.

In the classroom
Traditional beliefs about gender roles influence the types and incidents of violence displayed by learners. Socialisation of boys often rewards and encourages aggression as a way of handling conflict and asserting themselves. The female role is associated with attributes such as forgiveness, compassion and compliance.

“Violence in schools often reflects this socialisation process, with boys being more physically expressive during confrontations, whereas girls will tend to express their anger more subtly using verbal abuse, social exclusion, or gossiping. These are gender stereotypes and even though they do not apply to everyone, they do remain pervasive," the Trauma Centre commented.

Learner-on-learner violence seems prevalent in most schools. Learner-on-teacher violence also occurs, and will often take the form of passive-aggressive behaviour, such as disruptive behaviour, taunting and defiance.

However, occasionally with certain individuals this behaviour will escalate into physical violence against the teacher, she said. This was demonstrated by an incident in KwaZulu-Natal earlier this year in which a junior teacher was stabbed to death by a learner from the school.

History of violence
South Africa has a particularly violent history and this has remained deeply embedded in our society.

“Apartheid as a form on institutionalised violence has resulted in the ‘normalisation’ of violent behaviour as a means of accessing power and resources,” according to the Trauma Centre. “We cannot reflect on school violence without taking into consideration the impact of socio-economic and socio-political realities that exist in most communites in South Africa as a result of the apartheid legacy.”

However, this does not absolve parents from their responsibilities. Ineffective parenting can result in low self-esteem and inadequate coping abilities in children, which could lead to violent behaviour, drug and alcohol abuse and gangsterism.

The presence of negative male role models within in some communities may contribute to violence being romanticised and glamorized.

“In addition, the role of the mass media cannot be underestimated in promoting violence and, to a certain extent, condoning it. Children are constantly exposed to violent material and this desensitises them."

(Leandra Engelbrecht, Health24, updated August 2008)

Source: The Trauma Centre for the Survivors of Violence and Torture


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