As pupils and teachers brace themselves to return to their physical classrooms following their closure due to the pandemic, we can expect an uptick in school violence as we have always witnessed after school holidays.
Bullying, stabbing, drug and alcohol abuse and fights are a daily occurrence. This terrifies and frustrates teachers and school administrators alike.
Ideal schooling is associated with the safe learning and development of children. But in our country, there is ample data, scientific and anecdotal research, to show that the gap between our well-articulated dream of building safer schools and the crime rate is widening violently.
Undoubtedly, if we are to beat this menace of school violence, we need to go back to our vision, co-ordinate our efforts and prioritise the safety of our children.
The numbers do not lie. A study called Birth to Twenty Plus by the National Research Foundation collected information on 2 000 children and their families in Soweto-Johannesburg for more than 27 years.
Researchers found the following disturbing facts:
- 99% of all children have witnessed or have been victims of violence in their home, school and/or community, with 36% reporting that they had been victims of all categories of violence studied.
- 66% of school-going-age children reported having been exposed to community violence such as hearing gunshots or seeing someone attacked, with the number going up in adolescence and young adulthood years.
- Boys in the 7-17 years age group reported higher rates of sexual abuse than girls.
We know that the situation is dire when the nation’s first citizen readily acknowledges it to be.
But what are we to do as a society, the police, parents and teachers?
There are no easy answers. The crime statistics for 2020 showed that there were 52 murders at educational facilities, comprising universities, colleges, schools and day- care centres.
More concerning was that nine murders and 19 attempted murders were due to bullying at schools.
When you add 345 cases of assault with the intent to cause grievous bodily harm and 546 cases of common assault, then you realise that we have a serious problem in our hands.
Within the context of growing concerns in society about gender-based violence, educational facilities were not spared. There were 380 rape cases reported.
It has been said by academics and activists that there are many more sexual offences cases that go unreported.
So, we can only imagine how prevalent the problem is.
Given this grim picture, it is encouraging that more and more NGOs are coming forward to assist in whatever way they can.
The SA Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu), with 250 000 members, has launched an “I am a school fan” campaign aimed at making schools safe havens, free from any form of violence against pupils and teachers.
At Safer South Africa Foundation, we align ourselves with efforts such as Sadtu’s.
We believe that it will go a long way to addressing the scourge.
Credit: Riah Phiyega