School violence is prevalent in all countries and includes physical, psychological and sexual violence, and bullying. The root causes include gender and social norms and wider structural and contextual factors such as inequality in income, deprivation, marginalization and conflict. If our country aims to achieve the Education for All goal, due attention must be given to violence in learning contexts.
Forms of Violence in Schools
Numerous factors like cultural understanding of violence, socio-economic factors, a student’s home life and the external environment of the school, can take the form of violence in schools. Researchers have found that there can be great disparities between cultures and societies in defining what constitutes a violent act or environment. Regardless of the cultural or socioeconomic context of the school, violence occurs in both physical and psychological forms. Given below are the main forms of violence as identified by the World Report on Violence against Children.
- External Violence: Effects of gangs, Conflict situation,weapons and fighting
- Physical Violence e.g., corporal punishment, hitting, kicking, smacking, etc.
- Psychological Violence e.g., passing belittling and humiliating comments, ridiculing students, threatening them, etc.
- Bullying e.g. , calling names, hurtful remarks, teasing, social exclusion, physical harm, etc.
- Sexual and Gender-based violence e.g. , acts reinforcing gender inequalities.
Consequences of different forms of school violence
- Physical or corporal punishment may have serious consequences on a student’s mental and physical health. Physical violence in schools has been linked to slow development of social skills, depression, anxiety; aggressive behaviour and a lack of empathy or caring for others. Corporal punishment breeds resentment and hostility and hampers the quality of teacher-student and student-student relationships. It makes a teacher’s work harder, less rewarding and immensely frustrating. Furthermore, it prevents children from learning how to think critically, make sound moral decisions, cultivate inner control, and respond to various circumstances and frustrations that may exist in life in a non-violent way. Corporal punishment instead teaches students that the use of force— be it verbal, physical or emotional—is acceptable, especially when it is directed at younger, weaker individuals. This lesson leads to increased incidents of bullying and an overall culture of violence in schools.
- For both the bully and the student who is bullied, the cycle of violence and intimidation results in greater interpersonal difficulties and poor performance in school. Students who are bullied are more likely than their peers to be depressed, lonely, or anxious and have low self-esteem. Bullies often act aggressively out of frustration, humiliation, anger and in response to social ridicule.
- Sexual assault and other forms of gender-based violence in schools are significant factors in low enrolment and drop-out rates for girls. Gender-based violence not only acts to discourage girls from going to school but may also cause parents to prohibit their daughters from attending school for fear that they too will be victimized. Sexual violence against boys in school can cause particular shame as it is often considered a taboo subject. Sexual and gender-based violence puts students at risk of sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancy, low self-esteem and diminished performance at school. It also has repercussions on the family and the community.
- When students are involved with gangs or live-in communities where gangs and drugs are part of the culture, this can directly lead to fighting, weapons and drug-related violence within the school. Conflict situations can impair a student’s ability to learn and attend school. Conflicts may also impact school infrastructure, availability of qualified teachers, and distribution of and access to learning materials. Reports from countries in conflict have found that the situation exposes students to violence, increasing their risk of being victimized both in and out of school.
Actions to Stop Violence in Schools
The teachers can begin with implementing basic actions in the classroom, while, other actions require greater levels of involvement from school staff and the community, such as implementing school safety mechanisms.
- Advocate a holistic approach involving students, school staff, parents and the community
Talk to the school principal, guidance counsellor, colleagues, students, parents and community leaders to achieve a common understanding of the problem of violence in your school. Teachers cannot prevent violence in schools alone. The entire school community must come together to agree on a strong and clear message that violence, sexual harassment, bullying and intolerance are unacceptable in the school environment. When everyone is aware of the different ways that violence occurs, the people it affects and its impact, finding solutions will be much easier.
- Develop a plan of action in collaboration with those mentioned above as well as health care professionals, law enforcement officers, and other key community groups. Violence prevention plans developed in broad consultation and cooperation are more likely to succeed than those prepared by a single group of professionals acting alone.
- Find ways to reduce risk factors, for example, by ensuring a well-lit physical environment, or by teaching students non-violent conflict resolution skills. Reducing opportunities for violence and giving students the tools to prevent it are both crucial in creating a safe school.
- In-Class Activity: Ask students to talk with one another, their teacher and guidance counsellor about school violence. Who is affected and how? Who within the school and the community could you reach out to for assistance? Make a list of people and organizations that could support them in preventing school violence and discuss ways to reach out to them.
- Make your students your partners in preventing violence
- Include human rights and peace education in the school curriculum. Teach students about their human rights as well as the rights of their peers, teachers, family members and members of their community. Schools can teach about human and children’s rights using stories, debates, role-playing, games and current events, all of which engage students in analysing and applying their knowledge of human rights to the reality of their own school and community-setting.
- Use student-friendly versions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child available and translate it into a child’s language. Both documents express everyone’s right to education and everyone’s right to grow and learn in a safe, environment. Discuss these documents with your students and try establishing ways that everyone’s human rights can be understood, protected and respected in your classroom.
- Enlist your students in setting the rules and responsibilities of the classroom. Ask your class to write out a code of conduct with you. What actions are ok, what actions would hurt others or disrupt the class, and what actions are essential so that you can teach and your students can learn in a peaceful environment. Writing a code of conduct together makes everyone’s rights and responsibilities clear and furthers student participation.
- In-Class Activity : Ask students to discuss with the teacher and one another what is violent and what is not. What specific rights are disrespected in acts of violence? Suggest ways to raise awareness of human rights in school and promote respect and appreciation for differences, for example, through debates, field trips, games, role playing, and story-telling.
- Use constructive discipline techniques and methods
- Keep classroom rules positive, instructive and brief : When classroom rules are developed, the list should include no more than five or six rules. Keep the list simple and to the point. Rules should be stated positively, rather than in a negative way, to clearly guide students as to how to behave instead of how not to behave. Make sure they do not contradict school-wide policies.
- Use positive reinforcement : Reinforce constructive behaviour through eye contact, a nod, or a smile. Extra credit points or an extra five minutes of play time at the end of the day may also be awarded. Acknowledgement of success in front of the class can be particularly rewarding for students. You may also wish to nominate ‘the best behaved group every week and display the group’s name in a noticeable area of the classroom. When such recognition is used, they should always be immediate and small yet gratifying.
- Use disciplinary measures that are educative, not punitive : Make sure that when you discipline a student, measures focus on the student’s misbehaviour and its impact—not on the student himself or herself. Depending upon the nature of the ill conduct, some disciplinary methods could be as follows:
- Set aside time after school or during break periods to discuss the misbehaviour— why it arose, and what should be done to correct it;
- Request the student to apologize;
- Change seating placement;
- Send notes to parent(s) or make home visits;
- Analyse the seriousness of the situation, and decide to send the student to the Principal’s office depending on the situation.
- In-Class Activity: Propose to students to create a student club against violence. You can help them organize activities to promote a peace campaign and a safe campus for everybody.
- Be an active and effective force to stop bullying
- Work to develop a common definition of bullying among teachers, student representatives, school staff and community members so people may enforce the same expectations consistently.
- Consistently enforce consequences for verbal and physical aggression.
- Encourage school counsellors or staff to provide counselling for bullies alongside the enforcement of consequences.
- Support students targeted by bullies. Encourage them to talk to teachers and school counsellors while also working with parents, students and staff to protect them from repeated victimization.
- Empower and educate bystanders to tell adults, support those targeted and discourage bullying. One way to achieve this could be through peer mediation and conflict resolution programmes which train students to support each other, report acts of bullying and learn strategies to resolve conflicts.
- Recognize and acknowledge the action of students who support each other to stop bullying. Equally important is ensuring that those who report are protected from retaliation.
- In-Class Activity: Ask students to discuss with you and one another what is violent and what is not. What specific rights are disrespected in acts of violence? Suggest ways to raise awareness on human rights in school and promote respect and appreciation for differences, for example, through debates, field trips, games, role playing, and story-telling.
- Build students' resilience and help them to respond to life's challenges constructively
- Build students’ resilience and their ability to cope with everyday challenges, stress and adversity successfully by helping them build positive relationships with others. Increased resilience reduces the likelihood of a student reacting with violence or falling prey to it. Teachers who demonstrate pro-social, constructive behaviour, provide guidance and offer protection increase their students’ resilience by showing a positive, alternative way of responding to life’s challenges. Such teachers serve as role models for positive, caring relationships.
- Involve your school in a peace education programme to build conflict resolution skills. Peace education programmes allow students to understand how violence occurs, develop capacities to respond constructively to violence and learn about alternatives to violence.
- Encourage your school to establish a school counselling programme. Counsellors can support students in dealing with difficulties in their lives and intervene in a preventive manner. They can support teachers, school staff and students in preventing and addressing violence by:
- Acting as mediators in situations that seem to be regressing towards violence;
- Assisting in reaching a peaceful resolution before a situation escalates into physical violence; working with both victims and perpetrators of violence and provide psycho-social support;
- By promoting proactive programmes designed to address issues such as bullying, drug abuse and gang activity.
- Engage in conflict prevention games with your students. Ask students to role-play a situation, for instance, “What would happen if you were confronted by a bully? What would you do?” By creating situations that are momentarily real, your students can practice coping with stressful, unfamiliar or complex situations. Also encourage games that place students in a new role, one that other students may be facing, in order to encourage empathy. Ask students to discuss how they felt and what solutions worked.
- Be a positive role model by speaking out against sexual and gender-based violence
- Be aware of gender biases Gender biases encourage gender discrimination. Sometimes teachers’ perception of boys are different from their perception of girls. For example, some see boys as being inherently better at Maths or ‘naturally clever’, while girls may be seen as ‘quiet, hard workers’. Break the perpetuation of stereotypes and different expectations for girls/women and boys/men. Raise awareness of gender biases in the classroom and encourage your colleagues to do the same. Boys are both perpetrators and victims of sexual violence within schools, so teachers should not focus solely on female victimization.
- Make sure that your interaction with boys is similar to your interaction with girls. A lower frequency and/or quality of teacher interaction with girls can diminish their selfesteem and self-reliance which in turn, increases their likelihood of victimization. One way to encourage girls to participate in the classroom may be to break the classroom into discussion groups so that girls form the majority of a group or groups. Girls generally feel free to express themselves when amongst one another.
- Encourage your school to establish a training programme for teachers, students and the community to understand, identify and respond to cases of sexual and gender-based violence. Training should educate about gender biases which lie at the root of genderbased violence and should recognize the link between violence against girls at school and lower the number of girls attending and remaining in school.
- Help your school and community recognize the need to protect girls and women within the school environment. In conflict and post-conflict situations, girls and women are especially vulnerable to conflict-related violence.
- Advocate to train the school staff in sexual and gender-based violence and to strengthen women’s representation in management structures. Personnel trained in the detection and support of victims of sexual and gender-based violence enhances violence prevention. Having women in the management reinforces support for victims, and encourages the reporting of sexual violence.
- Break the silence Speak out against violence and make good use of reporting mechanisms. Encourage colleagues and students to name perpetrators of violence both inside and outside schools.
- In-Class Activity: Call on students to avoid insulting or teasing each other, especially in regard to sexual differences. Everybody is different, but we are all equal!
- Provide safe and welcoming spaces for students
- Conduct mapping exercises with students to identify which places in the school are safe, which are dangerous and when students are most at risk. School staff should also be alerted about the dark corners, poorly lit areas, unsupervised stairways and toilets where students are at risk of sexual or physical abuse.
- Draw attention to the need for private and safe toilets for girls and women. One simple but significant reason that girls do not attend school is a lack of safe and clean latrines and other facilities that ensure privacy.
- Work together with other staff to make sure that school playgrounds are safe by ensuring the presence of adults to supervise students. Students need safe places to play between classes and after school.
- In-Class Activity: Suggest starting a campaign for a safe school environment by identifying places within the school campus that are unlit or unsafe.
- Learn violence prevention and conflict resolution skills and teach them to students
- Receive training on non-violent conflict resolution, human rights based approaches to classroom management, and peace education.
- Try conflict mediation techniques and teach your students how to use them to resolve their own conflicts. Teach students negotiation skills that enable them to:
- Define their conflict (“What are we arguing about? Why and how did the issue arise?”);
- Exchange positions and proposals (“I think it should be this way because …”);
- View the situation from both perspectives (through role-playing or debating, for example);
- Decide on options where both students may gain ‘win-win’ solutions (“We’ll try it your way today and my way tomorrow to see which way is better.”);
- Reach a sensible agreement.
- In-Class Activity: Help students learn how to help mediate conflicts between their classmates. Designate a class peacemaker every week so that everybody can learn and practice conflict resolution and negotiation skills.
- Recognize violence and discrimination against students with disabilities, and those from indigenous, minority and other marginalized communities.
Educators may need to explain to other students the reasons why some children behave differently, have difficulties in learning or have limitations in sports and other physical activities due to their mental, learning or physical disabilities. Emphasize that all members of the class are different in different ways and this is what makes them unique. Differences are to be appreciated. Everyone has the right to be respected for who they are. Similar work may need to be done at parent-teacher meetings.
In-Class Activity: Ask students to treat each of their classmates equally the way they would like to be treated, especially those who may be different from them, who may come from different cultures or who may have limitations in their physical or mental abilities. Reminder: Differences are to be appreciated and everybody has the right to be different.
Source : Raising Happy children and providing safe childhoods - A Reader by Ministry of Women and Child Development