The first of the three seminars that Dr Jenny Horsman presented
negative impact on people’s capacity to learn; however, given a
was held in Pretoria on 9 February 2009 and attended by 109
supportive learning environment, even people living in violent
participants. Dr Horsman began by explaining that the pipecleaners,
modelling clay and sheets of paper on the tables were there for delegates to play with and doodle on. She finds that using the sense
Experiencing violence produces anxiety in the victim, and this
of touch keeps people connected to the self and thus improves
shuts down the analytical, thinking part of the brain so essential
learning – a technique she uses in her workshops with people who
to learning. The greater the trauma, the higher the level of anxiety;
eventually, even pleasurable experiences may provoke anxiety in those who suffer violence. Trauma victims are exquisitely sensitive
Dr Horsman then introduced her website, www.learningandviolence.
to feeling observed and judged by people such as supervisors, and
net, and invited delegates to visit the site and help build it by adding
this makes them even more anxious. Eventually, in order to escape
their contributions. The aims of the interactive site are to help people
the stress, people learn to ‘tune out’ – and their motivation and
build an understanding of the scope of the problem and of different
forms of violence and their impact on learning; explore possibilities to learn differently, help themselves and others learn, and take care
The struggle to be ‘present’ in a learning situation is crucial. Often this
of themselves in the process; create change by learning about new
manifests in the workplace as a disconnection from others, attacking
initiatives in every sector of education and finding others working
or belittling them in an attempt to feel safer and more in control.
on this issue; and imagine a future by dreaming with others about a
Violence destroys trust, so learners constantly test supervisors and
world without violence and inequality.
instructors in order to avoid more betrayal. The slightest difficulty in the learning situation can make the learner feel useless, powerless
Violence is acknowledged as a historic legacy in South Africa.
and a failure. When this happens it is important to face the problem,
Dr Horsman defined violence as “any way we have of violating the
acknowledge it and name it; ignoring it makes it worse.
identity and integrity of any human being”. Violence has a marked
An instructor who is a reassuring presence in the learning situation
helps learners to feel safe and grounded. It is vital to create a learning environment where no-one is shamed or humiliated. Even
NAPTOSA is concerned with the structural and psychological
if the learners must remain in a violent life situation, the learning
violence experienced in our schools; children from threatening
situation must offer a safe space where they can lay down their
home environments can find that school is no safer. The NAPTOSA
defences for a while. It is also helpful to such learners to be guided
project ‘children for children’ is based on ubuntu training, showing
to an understanding of how violence is affecting them, and to realise
how little things make a difference and we can all do something.
they are not the only ones struggling to learn. Trainers, too, need to be aware of the impact of violence on learning.
Learning organisations need to change and to create communities
Referring to the school situation, it is important to deal with the body
of learning that recognise the legacy of each person affected by
as well as the head. What strategies do you use to do this?
violence. Dr Horsman pointed out that this approach dovetailed well with SAQA’s advocacy of lifelong learning and focusing on the whole
person, and urged everyone present to join her in exploring these issues through her website and making South Africa a centre of
The learning environment should involve movement and a range of
work on this issue, in collegiality with others all over the world.
body interactions. Sport should not be seen as a separate experience from learning, and we need much more awareness of the importance
How can one overcome barriers to training such as traditional
It would be interesting to compare the effects of violence on
workplace learning in South Africa and Canada, given that violence is more endemic in South Africa.
We cannot tell another person what to do. We can only support them, try to offer them techniques they can use to keep safe and
I agree it would be interesting. There is no such thing as a non-
provide an environment that is safe and non-judgemental.
violent society (including Canada) – though societies differ in the degree of violence they experience. The challenge is to design a learning environment that will work for everyone. The experience of good can offset the effects of violence, and a feeling of solidarity with other ‘victims’ is important.
We conducted a pilot study on integrating Western business culture into indigenous South African systems. It revealed the importance of grounding learners and teaching them how to create a safe environment. There is a close correlation between your points and our findings.
This is very interesting, and is the sort of material that should be on the Learning and Violence website.
Some of the delegates who attended the seminar
Dr Horsman related that her ongoing research on women and literacy has led her to believe that in the presence and the aftermath
With these strong words the vice-chancellor of DUT, Prof. Roy
of violence, many people struggle to learn new ideas and skills.
du Pré, opened Dr Jenny Horsman’s seminar on Women, Work and Learning, hosted by DUT’S Cooperative Education programme in
“Violence shapes us. It can make us stronger as learners or teachers,
collaboration with SAQA, INSETA and UWC on 10 February 2009.
but it can also make it hard to trust ourselves and others and even more difficult to learn. We need to find fruitful ways to make it easier
Tellingly, Prof. Du Pré related to the tragic and violent death of a
to learn or teach when violence marks our lives and or the lives of
young DUT lecturer early this year. He also spoke about the “extreme
those we work with,” said Dr Horsman.
violence” experienced by the institution during student protests recently.
As they left the seminar, delegates were each given a blank puzzle piece to take away with them. As Dr Horsman told them, “You are
“This is a subject that needs to be continually researched in order for
now part of the puzzle that will make the change.”
us to move forward. We need to put our heads together and resolve to do something immediately, because at the end of the day nothing justifies any form of violence,” he told delegates.
About 130 delegates from tertiary institutions, industry and community-based organisations fighting against violence of women and children attended the seminar.
It is estimated that one out of six women in South Africa are in abusive relationships. One is killed by her partner every six days. A woman is raped every 26 seconds and a shocking 80 per cent of rural women are victims of domestic violence. These realities impact on family and work life and have a detrimental effect on the youth.
Thereafter, participants were invited to reflect on and complete a small task:
“Write about what you have seen, heard, noticed … of how violence affects participation in workplace learning and training (or in education more broadly).”
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The seminar, the fourth in the series, was held at the University of the Western Cape on 13 February 2009. Prof. Shirley Walters
Helping ourselves learn and helping others
introduced Dr Horsman and pointed out that the focus on women’s learning, in particular, is both a political and a pedagogical decision.
In South Africa, women’s leadership is needed at a range of levels, and seminars like these are a way to create focus on these issues.
Participants noted that there are simple things that can be done to facilitate learning:
The following words of encouragement and inspiration stood out from Dr Horsman’s introductory remarks:
“Everybody has her or his own brilliance.”
you are settled and more open to learning.
“Believe in the value of practitioner research.”
“Use the opportunity this morning to be reflective so as to understand
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what helps and hinders your own learning.”
“By violence I mean any way we inviolate the integrity and identity
“All countries experience violence. …It’s big. …It’s in our
“Violence does not only affect learning, it affects teaching.”
Dr Horsman delivered her paper by means of frequent interactive
Participants were invited to consider taking up the issue of their own
references to her website, and participants were urged to bookmark
optimal learning by reflecting on the following questions:
the site, http://www.learningandviolence.net/, with the view to using their voices in fora that felt right for them. As a start, participants
“Who will you encourage to join with you to think further about
were encouraged to visit the site and join the forum.
Delegates respond to one of Dr Horsman’s challenges
What is the one step that you can take to begin to address the issue
Participants enquired what mechanisms were available both locally
and overseas to support trainers and help them be ready to go into the classroom.
One contributor raised a concern about the future of youth in South Africa, and asked for advice from the presenter and the audience
Participants felt that the presentation was highly relevant and yielded
on how to identify policy makers to interact with in order to make
valuable insights. Much, if not all, of the proceedings could be put
conditions promising for young South Africans.
to good use by participants in a multiplicity of ways.
The impact of bullying bosses on the learning potential of workers
Participants from a cross-section of workplaces, including Northlink
was identified as an important matter for further probing.
College, the University of Cape Town, government, an e-learning solutions company, UWC’s Gender Equity Unit, and the University of
How women treat other women in the working environment is an
the Free State, made contributions. Some notable comments were:
area of critical importance, and optimal relations were unlikely if the structure of the working environment remained unchanged and
It would be useful to explore the extent to which violence may have
male-dominated. As long as there is no critical mass of women in
in some circumstances because
of workplace learning.
strategic workplace roles, it is unrealistic to expect things to improve
This contributor knew of instances where participation in workplace
learning had in fact adversely affected the learning of the people concerned.
A participant who was receiving voluntary counselling after the murder of a relative shared an insight with participants, something
One participant agreed that Jenny’s insights were not intended to
that helped to keep her on the straight and narrow: “In searching
mark the ‘other’ but she nevertheless felt that much of the presentation
for the monster, don’t become the monster. Don’t poison your own
could be ascribed to the violence often prevalent between men and
women. She added that it would be helpful if women could be pointed to ‘spaces and places’ that could be dedicated to women
One contributor summed up the feelings of the packed-to-capacity
who are healing from abuse, and who may have difficulty in naming
venue when she said: “I did well coming here. Thank you!”
their own abusive tendencies with loved ones or colleagues.
Dr Horsman thanked participants for an inspiring interaction, and
Another participant reflected that there is significant research on
invited all to “focus on the hope” and to have confidence in the power
victims of abuse enacting revenge fantasies, and very high levels
of “baby steps” towards meaningful, and non-violent learning.
of aggression and violence can be stored in these people. This participant also enquired whether victims of violence and trauma experience the effects in similar ways.
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