Bullying in school is once again in the spotlight following a growing number of often violent incidents involving children. In one of the worst cases, a group of learners were recently captured on video beating and kicking another pupil at Crystal Park High School in Benoni, Ekurhuleni, while she tried to protect her head.

In another incident, a Mondeor High learners was stabbed to death, allegedly by three teenagers while walking from home to school. Education experts and other stakeholders have called for swift action to prevent the scourge from spiralling out of control. Senior lecturer at Wits School of Education, Dr Siphiwe Mthiyane pointed out multiple factors as being the causes of violence and indiscipline at schools.

“South Africa is a post-conflict turbulent society and thus the violence engulfing schools should be understood in that context,” said Mthiyane, adding that the collapse of the family structure, negative role models and poor leadership and management skills among some school principals are also contributors.

“Crime and violence in many communities have become a way of life. Unfortunately, schools are not innocent in this violence cycle; the violence observed in society is reproduced and further perpetrated in and by schools in the manner they socialise boy and girl learners.

“Boys are taught to be strong and violent to qualify for true manhood (masculinity). In some cases, the deliberate failure of schools to manage. To us, the violence that is being displayed in our schools is not because of bullying; it’s because of external forces and factors that spill into our schools. The behaviour of our own community members ends up escalating into schools.

“We believe that we should engage community members and leaders such as councillors, churches and other organisations so that we can conscientise our communities on how to raise our children in a responsible way”.

Meanwhile, ChildLine SA national executive Dumisile Nala said bullying was a complex problem that demanded a multi-pronged approach. “Schools do have anti-bullying policies in place but in most cases it’s not the lack of systems and policies, but how are we implementing them. The issues of bullying are quite challenging because previously it was face to face and it was happening within a particular setting.

“What we see now is that in some instances bullying may not (always) start within the school environment. It may start anywhere else, like online, outside the school. Issues seem to play themselves out mainly within the school environment because children find themselves spending more time in that space,” said Nala.

According to Nala, these incidents present as peer on peer bullying, learners bullying educator and educator bullying learners, and do not only affect teens but also younger children. “There is definitely a need for psychosocial support in schools and we do not have enough capacity. I know that some provinces are better than others in terms of having school-based social workers. Some provinces are trying to give a social worker for a number of schools but that is not sufficient. We need to emphasise call centres like Childline, where they will get assistance.”

National Association of School Governing Bodies’ general secretary, Matakanya Matakanye echoed Nala’s sentiments on the complexity of the problem. “We really need to have psychologists and social workers in schools because these social ills don’t come from schools; they come from communities.

“We need to penetrate the community so that we minimise these incidents,” said Matakanye.