Violence and psychological well-being of school learners in South Africa

Title of research summary

The effects of the exposure to violence in schools on the psychological well-being of learners in the Sarah Baartman District Municipality, Eastern Cape.

Full citation of the research

Hendricks, E. A. (2019). The effects of the exposure to violence in schools on the psychological well-being of learners in the Sarah Baartman District Municipality, Eastern Cape. African Journal of Social Work, 9(2), 1-9.

Affiliation of researcher/s and country of the researcher/s

University of Fort Hare, South Africa.


The study was conducted in the Sarah Baartman District Municipality in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa.

Evidence generated by this research

The first theme was ‘violence affects academic performance and psychological progress of learners’ and under this theme, findings highlight the massive negative impact that school violence has on the academic progress of learners. Many participants shared that absenteeism is one of the consequences of school violence- when the safety of learners is threatened, the natural response is to stay away from school which causes under-performance. It was revealed that in the Sarah Baartman District Municipality, the level of school dropouts is very high due to fear of attack by peers at school and gangs in the area. The numbers of school drop outs have greatly escalated forcing educators to visit the homes of the learners to beg them to return to school and to write exams. It was also noted that low concentration and withdrawal are some of the outcomes of violence-learners who fear for their safety have trouble paying attention in class which consequently affects their school performance. Similar to other findings, it was found that school violence is also linked with substance abuse, sexual violence and the consequent unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections.

In violent school settings, the repercussions are dire. The second theme was ‘effects of violence on learners: Suicide and fear.’ Findings show the link between school violence and suicide with participants sharing that they have lost loved ones due to suicide. Similar to other studies, this study found that there is a connection between personal and environmental factors and suicide. Personal factors including bullying, low-self-worth and stress were some of the causes; while environmental factors like exposure to negative surroundings, lack of school counsellors/support structures, racial segregation, bullying, jealousy and sexual violence were cited.  Findings also show the dire effects that violence has on learners’ cognition and emotion which lead to depression, fear and anxiety. Self-destruction and severe behavioural patterns were also recorded among students in the Sarah Baartman District Municipality. It was also found that many mentally challenged, suicidal and depressed learners are in government schools, an indication of a lack of fundamental human resources to enable schools to meet the needs of learners. Findings also show that schools in the Sarah Baartman District Municipality ‘tolerate’ abuse and do not have adequate disciplinary measures in place-as a result, learners shared their need for support structures.


According to the study, social workers are major role players at all levels of mediation and their exclusive focus is the client and not the environment. In the Eastern Cape Province, there are very few schools with school based social workers which makes it difficult for social workers to embrace the school environment with all its substructures. Some of the major challenges faced by social workers in violence prevention are 1) high caseloads that prevent them from efficiently attending to cases and clients 2) inadequate human services for effective service provision 3) non-referrals of vulnerable learners and victims for counselling 4) lack of community participation in community projects including violence prevention programmes and campaigns. It is therefore very important for schools to ensure the presence of social workers in schools in order to provide services and intervene in school social problems. Additionally, there is a need for social workers to visit learners at home and to facilitate community projects to ensure that learners understand the vital and intricate interconnection between school, home and the community.

Sumarised by G. Nokukhanya Ndhlovu