Regional Consultation for the UN Study on Violence Against Children
. 5 - 7 July 2005 Ljubljana, Slovenia  
Europe and Central Asia






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Citizens are schools' natural protectors
Violence at school is a major educational problem, according to Professor Eric Debarbieux, President of the European Observatory on violence in schools.

This interview is co

Question: Eric Debarbieux, you are general rapporteur for the Conference on Local Partnerships for Preventing and Combating Violence at School, organised by the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe, and held at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg from 2 to 4 December. You are also professor of educational science at Bordeaux University in France, and President of the European Observatory on Violence in Schools. Before considering the question of violence in the school environment, could you tell us about your Observatory?

Eric Debarbieux: The Observatory is a scientific tool, set up at my initiative five years ago. It has since become the largest international network on this topic. It was initially limited to about a dozen European countries, but now extends to Canada and Brazil, to give two examples. In March 2001, we organised the first international conference on this problem at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris. The second international conference is due to be held in May 2003 in Quebec, and the third is already scheduled for 2005, in Rio de Janeiro.

Question: Staying in Europe, do you think that the phenomenon of violence in schools is genuinely increasing? Isn’t there also a growing public awareness with regard to violent incidents in schools?

Eric Debarbieux: Both comments are equally valid. Violence at school has been a major educational problem for the past decade, and has received extensive coverage in the media. Politicians and education ministers are regularly asked to speak about it. However, there are grounds for considering that violence in schools has also suffered from an element of exaggeration, in the same way as any topic that touches on public safety. Nonetheless, we must not deny the scale of the problem. The difficulty lies in the fact that official statistics can never tell the full story, since information-gathering methods and political motivations change over the years. However, there are scientific methods that make it possible to assess the extent of the problem, such as victimisation surveys, which involve asking school pupils about their personal experience and what they might have gone through. Thus, over the past 10 years, we have questioned 35,000 pupils in France. It emerges that violence in the school environment has increased sharply, but in extremely limited areas. It affects 5-10% of schools, located for the most part in areas where factors tending towards a marginalised population, such as unemployment or difficulties in the integration of foreigners, are greatest. However, the surveys do not allow us to generalise. There are also schools which succeed in these areas. Inevitability or social determinism are not involved.

Question: Isn’t there also a cultural dimension? Europe hears about bloody events in schools, such as the recent fatal shootings in a German school, or the hostage-taking in Spain, to mention the most recent, yet these are acts that it had come to associate with the north American model and its arms culture?

Eric Debarbieux: No. This question must really be put into perspective. We must recognize acts of pathological violence, which remain very unusual. In France, for example, the number of murders committed by minors has not increased for 25 years. In the school environment, this means 0 to 5 victims, depending on the year. This figure is always too high, but shouldn’t be seen as an increase in the most brutal violence. This would be a false picture, although it is important to discuss the subject so as to point out the most basic prohibitions, murder and bloodshed. Violence at school is primarily the series of minor acts of violence that build up and make life impossible in certain schools and classes. Researchers are almost universally in agreement regarding these wearisome and exhausting acts of violence which gradually build up to more serious violence.

Question: What is the solution? Some people suggest segregating schools, using walls, fences, and control points at entrances.

Eric Debarbieux: The idea of schools as fortresses, cut off from the neighbouring community, is dangerous. Closing off public areas and schools is likely to make these places an even greater target. In this respect, the idea of fencing is counter-productive. It also gives credence to the idea that the sources of violence are outside the school environment. Investigations in France show that intrusions account for only 1% of violent incidents. Internationally, they account of 8% of incidents. This clearly demonstrates that the vast majority of acts of violence arise primarily from within schools themselves. Cutting schools off from their neighbourhoods by erecting walls means cutting them off from citizens, their natural protectors.

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Interview ( 03.12.2002)


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