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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