Moscow's Education Department has recently chosen to install video cameras in all of the Capital City's public schools. Nikolai Yurenko, Deputy Director of the Department of Education, declared in a press conference in Moscow on January 17, that this system will; “... allow the students to study peacefully and reassure the parents”. Six thousand cameras will therefore be deployed, meaning that each school will be equipped with around eight devices, working 24/7 to prevent violent incidents and facilitate a response when they do occur.
Physical violence is not a new issue for Russia, indeed, beyond terrorist attacks, such as the Beslan hostage crisis in 2004, which are quite exceptional, school fights are frequent. They involve
School violence however is a sad fact in many countries and not exclusively a Russian concern. In the US, for example, Kristen Varjas, Associate Professor at the College of Education at Georgia State University, stated in an interview with the ‘Voice of Russia’ that “about 30% of the school population is involved in bullying as a bully or as a target, or as a bully AND a target.” Similar numbers are true in France where one student in ten suffers from some kind of harassment. Eric Debarbieux, Delegate of the French Ministry of Education for the Fight Against Violence at School, explained to us: “Violence in school is not just physical violence, but also constant moral pressure. It is precisely this daily violence that needs to be managed, not only terrorist attacks on schools.”
Aggressive behavior in Schools usually manifests itself as mainly emotional and verbal forms of bullying; harassment, teasing, and name-calling. According to Pedro Noguera, Professor of Education at New York University, violence has to be seen as a continuum. He explained further in his interview with the Voice of Russia: “violence starts with bullying and harassment; but then these minor incidents can escalate. Children might then take a weapon to school to protect themselves.”
On the types and consequences of this "moral" violence, Mr. Debarbieux added: “the most frequent violent incidents are things that have always existed such as nasty nicknames, but which are associated with the phenomenon of ostracism, which can lead to school-leaving, absenteeism, depression, and suicide. One child (who is) over four doesn’t go to school anymore, because he’s scared of being harassed. These students are called chronic truants. Moreover, a harassed child will be four times more prone to suicide than other kids, in his teenage years. This predisposition to suicide is also higher for adults, even thirty years after being harassed".
Several foreign experiences have shown just how useless video surveillance systems can be in solving the problem. The first drawback is that it doesn’t actually prevent violent incidents. As Pedro Noguera told us: “ Video cameras can only tell you what happens, after it's happened, so it could be helpful if you want to prosecute someone.” Eric Debarbieux made a similar observation: “Research shows that a video surveillance system does decrease crime in schools by 7%; but that only concerns vandalism, that is to say material damage in the buildings and parking lots. But it does not work on interpersonal violence.”
Moreover, in many schools, which may have up to 1500 students, it is almost impossible to achieve effective surveillance of every building. Christine Sené, representative of a French association against
Only responsible and aware education staff can manage and resolve the issue of school violence. In Noguera’s opinion:“The most important is adopting supervision. You need adults around who are paying attention to what is happening to children. They don’t have to be armed; they just have to be aware. They need to be prepared and ready to intervene when they see signs of trouble.”
Although video cameras do tend to reassure the children's parents, as explained by the representative of Moscow City Hall; in fact they really serve, first and foremost, to protect buildings and equipment. The benefits of such a system are therefore more material than educational and will surely do little to prevent fights flaring up amongst those students who are determined to start them.