The mass communication media in South Africa carry reports on violence in all its forms on an almost daily basis, while there are numerous examples of the wave of violence that is engulfing South Africa (SA) and impacting on our school culture. Research has shown that harassment (including peer and sexual harassment) is rife in our schools. The isolated incidents of extreme school violence and the more “bizarre”
exceptions of assault and sexual violence in schools receive wide media coverage, which makes it difficult to gauge the true scope of school violence. The SA National Schools Violence Study (NSVS) surveyed 245 schools country-wide and the statistics from the NSVS as well as the examples of media reportage lay bare the general feeling of malaise which is caused by the hopelessness and helplessness resulting from violence in schools. Although the issue of violence is a government priority, it is evident that the Department of Education has little or no comprehensive data on the levels of violence within schools, while there seems to be no or very little research specifically focusing on the perceptions of student teachers on school violence. The purpose of this research was therefore to determine the perceptions among teachers in the Pretoria region as well as student teachers at the University of Pretoria (UP). In this regard with a view to providing education departments with guidelines for dealing with the related challenges. The literature study on various forms of violence in schools, the student teachers’ written group reflections on the open-ended interview questions and the interviewees’ oral replies and discussions based on the same open-ended interview questions constitute the qualitative data. The research suggests that the extent of violence in some inner city schools is greater than in suburban schools, where it occurs mainly outside the school grounds. Violence in a number of inner city schools is more prevalent among girls than among boys and often involves the use of weapons, such as scissors. Learners sometimes regard violence as the only way to resolve issues and often model it on what they learn at home in this regard. Violence in schools is also, however, sometimes perpetrated by teachers who are unable to discipline learners effectively. Furthermore, school violence exacerbates feelings of insecurity and fear among learners and teachers, who sometimes stay away from or even leave their schools because of their exposure to it. The vast majority of learners and teachers appear to be in need of encouragement, assistance and support, both emotionally and spiritually, and it is therefore puzzling that very little use is made of psychologists; in fact, recent research suggests that the psychological support system in the education department has all but disappeared.
The immediate introduction of a year of compulsory community service for all graduating teachers and educational psychologists is thus strongly recommended to alleviate learners’ and teachers’ counselling and other needs and needs to be considered also by the Minister of Education. However, it is equally important to ensure that these teachers and psychologists teach and practice in rural and township schools in particular – and to provide appropriate incentives (safety, financial and otherwise), to make it attractive and inviting for them to venture into deep rural regions and township schools. Not only will such a step alleviate the current shortages in the field: it has the potential to impact significantly on relationships across the diversity divide and promote better understanding of the idiosyncratic needs of all communities.