Almost four in ten pupils have identified gangsterism as the leading cause of violence in their Eastern Cape schools.
This is according to a study in which 80 pupils, 20 teachers and five principals in four schools in the province were interviewed.
Bullying is the most common form of violence, followed by corporal punishment, vandalism, gangsterism and sexual harassment.
The research, conducted by Vusumzi Ncontsa and Almon Shumba of the University of Fort Hare and the Central University of Technology respectively, was published in the SA Journal of Education.
The aim of the research was to identify the most prevalent forms of violence, the causes thereof and its effects on pupils and teachers.
About 83% of all the participants said bullying was the most common form of violence in schools.
A teacher from one of the schools said of bullying: “The bullies take money from other kids, eat their lunch and when the learners don’t have money or lunch they are beaten and harassed.”
About 60% of respondents said corporal punishment was the most common form of violence.
One of the teachers interviewed said teachers administered corporal punishment in exceptional cases only.
“Corporal punishment is used by educators in exceptional cases, but I have done my best to stop it because it is unlawful.”
The escalation of violence in South African schools has led the two researchers to conclude that schools are rapidly and increasingly becoming arenas for violence, not only between pupils but also between teachers and pupils, between schools and gangs.
Participants listed violence and crime in their communities, ill-discipline, intolerance, easy access to school premises, poverty and overcrowding as the major causes of violence.
About 91% of the respondents said crime and violence in their communities translated into violence in schools. About 90% said ill-discipline was the second-leading cause of school violence.
About 80% of the respondents said violence in schools led to chaos and lost time. Other respondents listed depression, poor academic performance, loss of concentration and bunking classes as side-effects associated with school violence.
The researchers said: “Respondents reported that when there is a fight in one class, almost all the learners go to witness what is going on. In most cases, the intention by the onlookers would be to cheer those learners involved in the fight. The situation at the school becomes chaotic and educators have to stop the fighting, leading to unnecessary loss of learning and tuition time.”
One of the pupils polled told researchers that “I get worried all the time and I cannot concentrate (on) my studies. This affects my performance in class and sometimes I feel like not coming to school. I am scared of the bullies.”
Teachers said no effective teaching takes place when learners are uncontrollable, ill-disciplined, and unmanageable. Moreover, their morale becomes very low and they are completely demotivated, the researchers found.
“Sometimes, when they go to class, they find the class empty because learners leave school during tuition time. The educators find it difficult to complete the syllabus because of poor attendance by learners and the fact that time is wasted on resolving problems emanating from school violence.
“School violence disturbs school programmes and the goals and aspirations of the school end up not being achieved.”
The findings of the study are also consistent with a report by City Press in July which found that violence was one of the main problems causing pupils to drop out of school.
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