UFH Education Prof’s new book offers empirical insights and practical solutions to the scourge of violence in schools

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Prof Vusumzi Mncube, University of Fort Hare Dean of Education recently launched his latest book which offers empirical insights and practical solutions to the global phenomenon of violence in schools.

Titled, Violence in Schools: SA in an international context, the book co-authored with Emeritus Professor Clive Harber from the University of Birmingham and Honorary Professor at University of South Africa, covers both the social bases of school violence and the role many schools play in breeding violent behaviour.

The book launch was held on the 31st of March at the University’s East London campus main building.

This is the second edition; the first edition was published in 2017 following a research project conducted by the two professors in 2012 on violence in six South African provinces which was published in a ring binder form. Both books are published under the UNISA Press and the first edition won the prestigious Hiddingh-Currie award from UNISA Press, an annual award to recognise UNISA Press books viewed to be of the highest academic merit and original scholarship.

This book is vital as concerns over violence on school grounds continue to grow, daily.  Internationally, violence occurs in schools on a regular basis and in some contexts, it is particularly serious and widespread. Most recently, a mass shooting occurred at The Covenant School, in Nashville America where six people were killed.

In South Africa, on an almost daily basis, newspapers carry reports of one or other aspects of school violence.

In November 2022, the South African Police Services (SAPS) released crime stats that showed that 19 murders had been committed at educational facilities across the country – this raised the alarm over the increase of violence in schools.

According to the publishers, while several academic studies have delineated the extent and nature of such violence, and made recommendations on possible solutions to the problem, there has, until now, been no single book bringing together theory and research on the causes of violence, and on its reduction and prevention.

“Because the book understands violence in schools and elsewhere as an essentially social phenomenon, rather than, say, genetic or biological, this means that it is possible to both understand its causes and to do something about them,” explained Prof Mncube.

The authors go on to argue that school-generated violence is potentially much more amenable to positive intervention.  “Solutions can be developed at the local level, by schools themselves, and in response to the specific circumstances generated in individual schools.”

The book is divided into two main sections – examining and explaining violence in schools on the one hand and reducing violence in South African schools on the other.

Some of the conclusions made in the first section are as follows:

  1. Violence is a global phenomenon but is widespread in South African society.
  2. Violence is harmful to both individuals and societies and can act as a barrier to learning.
  3. Most violence has social causes.
  4. Key social causes of violence globally and in South Africa are social and economic inequality, dominant interpretations of masculinity and negative forms of socialisation.
  5. Schools can be part of these social causes of violence through their role in socio-economic reproduction, their reproduction of – or failure to combat – models of masculinity based on violence and their role in both authoritarian socialisation and in providing a dysfunctional and disorganised educational arena.
  6. The sources of violence in schools can be external, internal and indirect (by omission) or internal direct.
  7. It is crucial to try to understand where violence in a school is coming from and why it occurs in order to begin to reduce or eliminate it.

In the second section, chapters six to nine, the authors examine ways in which violence might be reduced in schools.

“We begin with a bridging chapter which is an analytical exercise based on two case studies from KwaZulu Natal. The reader is encouraged to analyse what might be causing, or helping to cause, violence in both schools. Understanding the causes of violence in schools is the beginning of finding a solution.”

Chapter seven and eight discuss the important role of the management and culture of schooling in reducing school violence as well as the need for teacher education to play a part and looks at specific strategies and techniques, both preventative and punitive, that a school might use to help to reduce violence. Chapter nine puts a spotlight on the curriculum implications for reducing violence both in the school and in the wider society.

Some of the possible solutions to the problems mentioned in the final chapter include the following:

  1. Schools do not necessarily have to be helpless victims of a violent society.
  2. A significant reduction in violence in schools does not necessarily involve major injections of resources or complex reforms – much could be achieved by doing the basics well.
  3. There needs to be a much greater emphasis on the achievement of teacher professionalism in South Africa.
  4. Schools need to be both effective and democratic institutions.
  5. Violence prevention in schools through better organised and more purposeful schooling is more effective than control, surveillance and punishment.
  6. If punishment is unavoidable, then it should be proportionate to the offence, understood by the offender and help to restore the damage that has been done.
  7. There are many practical steps that a properly organised school can take to begin to reduce violence both internally and in relationships with the school community.
  8. Schools need to teach about violence and its causes in the classroom, but this again has implications for teacher training and teaching skills and methods.

Overtly, based on the value of democratic values in seeking solutions, the book provides very useful resources for a whole range of educational endeavours and is of considerable interest to government educational departments, non-governmental organizations, teacher-education institutions, staff and governing bodies in schools.