An investigation into the phenomena of bullying and violence in secondary schools in Durban (Umlazi and Merebank)
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A surge of interest on bullying and violence has emerged as precursors for aggression become ominously present on a global level. There is growing evidence of these phenomena among school children· and anecdotal proof of their consequences. Despite frequent reporting of the same in the popular media little empirical research is available in the South African context. More specifically in the discipline of social work, the issue remains largely neglected. Social workers are considered to be well placed in their capacity-building, therapeutic and facilitative roles. If they are to provide holistic and inter-related services to learners both within and outside of the school, it is vital that they become familiar with the dynamics of this public health scourge. The thrust of this effort was to examine the nature and extent of bullying and violence in Durban South high schools, to glean childrens' lived experiences in this regard and to investigate the structural/procedural impediments to systematic, mandatory, school wide responses. A survey was conducted with 251 grade 8 and 9 learners, where quantitative data was obtained on a range of issues relating to the nature and extent of school bullying. Additionally, four key informants were interviewed and two focus groups were conducted with an average of 10 members in each group. Interviews and group sessions allowed for a more spontaneous, meaningful and in-depth account from educators and group members. In this way, contextually and culturally rich information was obtained. Focus groups were deemed to be valuable as learners possessed 'insider' knowledge of the school and shared emotions in a less threatening environment among their peers. The reporting of bullying and violence was concluded to be problematic as current school procedures are ad hoc. The frequency with which bullying occurred was reported as alarmingly high. There was overwhelming support for curriculum changes, the services of a social worker/counsellor and for more stringent punitive measures for bullies. Educators confirmed the need for social services and indicated that the school ethos has deteriorated considerably, with general disregard by learners for authority. Recommendations include the development of an anti-bullying school policy as well as comprehensive schooVcommunity efforts that monitor and address bullying and violence systematically. This study also recommends the integration of social and academic services in promoting learner well being. The recommendations are aimed toward extinguishing any notion that predatory or aggressive behaviour is normal, in the minds of youth.