Dimensions, coping strategies and management of school-based violence
Janse van Rensburg, Andries Petrus
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School represents a critical phase of an individual’s life. Apart from educational gain, learners are socialised to become productive members of society. Violence in the school environment holds a range of adverse consequences for learners and educators alike. Efforts have been launched across the globe to determine, manage and prevent the complexities of school-based violence. South African institutions have added to this literature, although several aspects of school-based violence remain outside the academic spotlight. Even though the nature and extent of school-based violence has received substantial attention in recent years, studies are marked by methodological differences which make comparisons difficult. Research on coping strategies used by adolescents is still in its infancy. This also pertains to the lack of evidence on factors influencing the use of different strategies, in particular from a gender perspective. Democratic change necessitated changes in the education system, which inevitably had an impact on the manner in which school administrators manage and prevent school-based violence. However, little is known about the disciplinary methods and violence prevention strategies applied by educators, along with challenges they may face in this regard. In order to address these shortfalls, an investigation was launched to ascertain how schools deal with violence, with particular focus on learners’ coping and school administrators’ management strategies. Subsequently, the dissertation set out to describe and explore the nature, extent, coping strategies and management of school-based violence in two schools in Moakeng, Kroonstad, Free State province. The study stems from a partnership between the Centre for Health Systems Research and Development (CHSR&D) and the Department of Criminology (both from University of the Free State), and the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP). In order to accommodate different target groups (learners and educators) and different sources of information, a mixed methods approach was utilised. The research design was a partially mixed sequential dominant status design that consisted of a survey and personal interviews. The self-administered survey was conducted among 710 learners with a structured questionnaire, while six educators took part in semi-structured personal interviews. Mixed methods research inherently guarantees a level of triangulation, which promoted the validity and reliability of the data. The results confirm the presence of violence in the selected schools. Higher levels of violence were recorded among the learners when compared to other South African studies. Different types of violence were identified, both between learners and between learners and educators. The causes of violence featured across all six levels of the ecological systems theory model. The study identified numerous long-term consequences for learners who are victimised by school-based violence. Learners applied different coping strategies, although it appears that problem-focused coping was used more often. Little differences were found between male and female victims’ use of coping strategies, with the exception of emotion-focused strategies. In light of the high levels of violence, the results suggest that learners have little confidence in their schools’ administrators to effectively manage and prevent violence. An overall lack of learner supervision in the schools was reported, along with a lack of physical security measures. Educators were found to follow official guidelines relating to disciplinary methods, even though corporal punishment was widely used in the schools. Finally, the schools did not have strong relationships with stakeholders such as the local police and governmental structures at the district and provincial levels. It was concluded that the schools under scrutiny were marked by different types, causes, effects and reactions to violence. Seen broadly, it was identified that 1) learners apply a range of different coping strategies to deal with victimisation in school, which can be perceived as mostly positive, and 2) that educators lacked skills in managing and preventing the violent behaviour of learners. The findings lay a foundation to further explore aspects of school-based violence, ultimately to inform policy and to ensure an environment conducive to learning.
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