Wednesday,18 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1241, (9-15 April 2015)
Wednesday,18 October, 2017
Issue 1241, (9-15 April 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Dealing with school violence

New measures are to be introduced to deal with the wave of violence hitting Egypt’s schools, writes Reem Leila

Dealing with school violence
Dealing with school violence
Al-Ahram Weekly

Deaths, injuries, rapes and attacks by students on teachers have all taken place in Egypt’s schools in recent weeks, giving rise to sensational newspaper headlines.

Despite being rushed to hospital for treatment, one pupil at an elementary school in Helwan lost his eyesight after his teacher hit him because he was talking during class. The teacher has been suspended pending investigation.

 Twelve-year-old Islam Sherif died at his school in Al-Sayeda Zeinab in Cairo after a teacher beat him on the head with a stick, causing a brain hemorrhage. The teacher has been suspended by the Education Ministry and referred to the general prosecution for investigation.

Another teacher was suspended and transferred to administrative work at the Education Ministry after an investigation showed she had shaved the head of a fifth-grade female pupil for not wearing the hijab.

An eight-year-old pupil was allegedly raped by a teacher at her school. Another pupil at the Talaat Mustafa School in Alexandria was expelled for poking out the eye of a teacher who had intervened to stop a fight. The pupil has been arrested.

In the Mediterranean city of Damietta, the governors of the Al-Nasr Elementary School suspended the headmaster for four days for severely beating a pupil.

 A study conducted by the National Centre for Sociological and Criminological Research (NCSCR) has revealed that children are among the most vulnerable groups in society when it comes to exposure to violence.

According to the study, which was carried out in 2010 and looked at 5,000 pupils across the country, 119 died due to violence or negligence, 206 had been sexually harassed by teachers or employees, 336 had been injured by teachers, and 253 had been hurt as a result of unsafe school surroundings.

 The NCSCR’s Salwa Al-Amri said the study was presented to the authorities concerned. The centre demanded that legislative provisions designed to protect children be enforced in schools. She said that a copy of the report was sent to the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood (NCCM) in order that measures might be taken to protect children against all forms of violence.

Article 4 of the current law’s executive regulations gives all children the right to have access to various preventive measures, as well as protection from all kinds of violence, including physical, moral and sexual, and from negligence, and any other form of abuse or exploitation.

Al-Amri said the media has a role to play in combating violence against schoolchildren, as well as against children more generally. “There is violence everywhere against children, in the streets, at home and at school. The media should focus on the means of ending this violence instead of on reporting incidents of terrorism,” she said.

“Vulnerable groups, including children, are usually the first victims of violence, and the government is not taking enough steps to end violence against children.”

Azza Al-Ashmawi, secretary-general of the NCCM, said that last year a council study revealed that attacks on children increased by 55 per cent between January and October compared with the previous three years. Fifty per cent of the incidents of violence occurred in schools, she said.

She demanded the immediate implementation of procedures to protect children from violence. Al-Ashmawi called on the Ministry of Education “to put children’s safety inside schools and protecting them from all kinds of violence while they are at school at the top of its agenda.”

She called for all violent acts against students to be immediately investigated. “The incidents we have heard about fall under the categories of negligence, corruption and violence,” Al-Ashmawi said, adding that there is a need for a concerted plan to protect children from the potential dangers they may be exposed to.

Khalaf Al-Zanati, head of the Teachers Syndicate, said that the use of corporal punishment is discouraged in Egypt, though it is sometimes seen as a way to enforce discipline.

“All teachers convicted of using violence against students have been expelled by the ministry and from the educational profession,” Al-Zanati said.

However, the use of corporal punishment is believed to be widespread, especially in state schools where the children of poorer families receive free education. In 1998, a ministerial decree banned the physical punishment of students.

In the years since, awareness-raising material has been distributed throughout the school system. But, while almost all teachers know they are not allowed to hit students, this form of punishment is still widely practiced, Al-Zanati said.

He said that physical punishment is more common in state schools than in private or international schools. “The number of students in some public schools sometimes exceeds 70 per class. The teachers are not well paid, and there is a general lack of supervision. The teachers are also not always well trained in the best means of dealing with children, especially when there is a need to punish them,” Al-Zanati said.

 Moreover, the teachers in many Egyptian schools are graduates of higher institutes not related to education. “Half the number of teachers working in Egypt may not be suitable for their jobs,” Al-Zanati said, adding that many of them may not have received the necessary pedagogical training.

The syndicate condemned the use of corporal punishment, he said. However, teachers often have to work in difficult conditions that prevent them from doing their jobs properly. Classes are overcrowded and schools are understaffed. The salaries of teachers in many state schools do not exceed LE900 per month.

“Teachers struggle to bring order to the classrooms under difficult conditions. Many of them resort to giving private lessons in order to increase their monthly incomes. Some teachers may feel overwhelmed, explaining the occasional resort to violence,” Al-Zanati said.

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), it is impossible to accurately measure child abuse worldwide due to a lack of data, and many incidents are never reported. UNICEF estimates that 500 million to 1.5 billion children globally are subjected to violence every year inside their schools.

In Egypt, Minister of Education Moheb Al-Rafei denied allegations that the physical punishment of students in schools is on the rise. He told the press that the ministry regularly sends guides to schools to advise teachers on how to appropriately deal with students.

In addition to their normal teaching mission, teachers are supposed to provide emotional support to their students, he said. “Schools, teachers and parents all have roles to play in bringing up the nation’s children who are Egypt’s future leaders,” Al-Rafei said.

Amany Dergham, an official spokesperson for the Ministry of Education, said that the ministry will soon announce new disciplinary regulations. “These will regulate the relationship between the teacher and the student,” she said.

“Under the new regulations, not only will an individual teacher be penalised for using violence against students, but the headmaster, the head of the department to which the school is affiliated, and the manager of the educational directorate will be penalised as well,” Dergham said.

She said that a few cases have been reported since September 2014, the beginning of the academic year. But she also highlighted the fact that the ministry deals with more than two million students and teachers. “The number of cases of violence is tiny when compared to the large population in the education sector,” she said.

 Dergham added that many of the cases reported have already been resolved. “Some of the incidents are minor, and the ministry has repeatedly said that hitting students in schools is totally prohibited. The guilty parties, whether teachers or students, have already been punished. Total support has been given to the victims of violence,” she said.

However, some parents do not seem to mind if their children are disciplined in school with using physical punishments. Reham Fadali, the mother of two primary-stage boys, says minimal physical punishments could have a place in schools.

“Boys in particular can get out of control if physical punishments are not used,” she said. “They are not obedient and they have to be put on the right track, otherwise they may get totally out of hand.”

 But she stressed that teachers should not be allowed to physically harm the students. “Teachers are allowed to hit students when they do not obey them. But that is all. Students must fear and respect their teachers. Physical punishment can accomplish this,” Fadali said.

Another parent, Reem Al-Serougi, agreed with Fadali, adding, “Boys are difficult and not obedient. The only way to discipline them is through corporal punishment. Obviously, this is not the case for girls, who are obedient, polite and clever.”

Some experts believe that the escalating wave of violence in Egypt’s schools is due to the unstable conditions the country has experienced over the past four years. Eman Dewidar, a psychologist specialising in children and adolescents, said that children have witnessed violent acts around them and that teachers, in some cases unqualified, have also witnessed this violence.

 Parents should be in regular contact with teachers in order to follow up on their child’s education, she said. Teachers must be aware of how to treat children properly, and this should be promoted by the mass media, she added.

“In Egypt, we have individual efforts combating violence against children amid a general lack of awareness of proper standards or rules,” Dewidar said.

She pointed out that in many cases physical punishment is considered the easiest way for parents and teachers to discipline children. The pressures of daily life can act as a catalyst, with neither parents nor teachers being capable of dealing with children in a healthy way.

“Teachers in schools or parents at home may take their anger or stress out on children. As a result, school teachers should undergo tests to identify whether they are psychologically fit to deal with children or not. They should all receive the necessary training in how to deal with students,” Dewidar said.

“But at the moment this does not happen. I regularly give lectures to teachers on child psychology and know that some of them are anything but capable of dealing with children properly. Some teachers abide by the rules, while others don’t. I believe that with proper training the problem of school violence could gradually come to an end,” Dewidar said.

 “Children need to be carefully rewarded and punished. Physical punishment loses its effect after a while, but careful guidance never loses its impact.”

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