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Factors Influencing Conflicts in Schools




Organizational psychologists start with the view that there is ,or can be, a genuine conflict between a human being and his or her job of work, between the satisfaction of the needs of the individual worker, and the needs of the employing organization. However, some common ground between them is that: people have needs and, consequently, motives for doing things. These needs and motives, therefore, do affect peoples behavior, and their behavior c an be explained,(Chris, A.).

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There can be conflict between the goals of the organizations and the goals of people working for those organizations. The way to avoid such conflicts in practice is not by offering bribes and sweeteners to the workers, nor is it by offering them massive welfare programs, but is by changing the very structure and goals of the organization to accommodate peoples personal goals,(Chris, A., in Kooontz ,H. and C. O’Donnel,1976).

While other thinkers suggest that, the best type of organization is one which succeeds best in achieving the accommodation of peoples  personal goals by promoting worker participation in decision making, enabling workers to fulfill themselves and use a wide variety of talents, management by objectives rather than by authority, and finally, good communication and expressive supervision.

Schools as organizations are said to be influenced by a combination of factors and have their own organizational culture of change and development,(Mbiti, D.M.,1974).In most cases, school development implies the management of planned change. These changes may at times be consistent or not consistent with the organizational culture.Unplanned changes are no more than accidents.

An attempt to redesign a school organizational culture in the way that will adapt to the changes within and in the external environment or to effectively achieve the goals sometimes result into conflicts, Mosha, H.(1994).This may be caused by shifts in  the interest and perceptions of the organization members, fear of change ,self interest, perception of the organization goals strategies by teachers or long for ‘good old days’.

The school management has to overcome these factors if it is to accomplish the planned change.


Schools have traditionally been expected to teach children academic skills. The school has the responsibility to develop in each child a favourable attitude towards learning.Schools are also places where students interact with one another, their teachers and educational administrators. Many educators believe that student behaviour affects academic achievement (Boothe,Bradley,Flick,Keough, and Kirk,1993).

Traditional disciplinary  practices include various forms of punishment based on the assumption that if negative behaviours are eliminated, the classroom climate will be conducive for learning,(Canter & Canter, 1992). Critics of traditional disciplinary practices believe that the emphasis on punishment “thwarts development of student responsibility, leadership, independence and interdependence”(Dreyfuss,1990, in Mahduri Pendharkar,1995).

Tanzania like any other developing countries is at the forefront to make socio economic transformations to achieve some laid down principles in the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs). Some major transformations have been directed towards improving the management and performance of educational institutions including more enrolment in both primary and secondary schools, and prioritizing girls education,(TDREG 1989).The period between 2000 t0 2005 have showed an increased school enrolment. This has also impacted on recruitment of more teachers and increased government expenditure in education,(BEST 2005).

While improved  performance in education is expected, training for management is frequently neglected. The impact has reflected on frequently and repeated conflicts in schools manifesting in boycott, riot, drop outs, as well as breakdown of managerial capacities and accountability in some schools. Whereas, conflict resolution skills for teachers or students in most schools is not emphasized.

In most schools in Tanzania there are discipline masters, Patrons and Matrons whose traditional role is to suppress negative behaviours of students. Some of them were appointed on the basis of certain personal attributes rather than the required skills. Most of them lack conflict management skills. As a result students hate them. This is impacted by lack of conflict resolution skills in schools. The emphasis is on rigid rules and discipline.

Lyons and Hathering (1992) pointed out that, organization health is characterized by high levels of trust, low conflict and friction, respect for differences, personal freedom and individual autonomy in patterns of supervision and control. Conflict in schools need to be properly managed in order to  create a healthy organizational climate that is so important for effective learning and performance of responsibilities. Mosha, H.J.(1994) stressed that, some conflicts in higher learning institutions occur due to lack of proper diagnosis leading to crisis. Conflicts in schools are either not understood or not managed properly.

Burton (1969) suggested for conflict management which include deterrence strategies aimed at avoiding escalation of conflict while maintaining control without giving way. Burton further suggested that if conflict builds towards crisis successful management should be able to turn the conflicting forces towards a constructive rather than a destructive direction.

However, teachers training programs in Tanzania have not provided for greater flexibility for teachers to manage conflicts other than becoming disciplinarians.

Mismanagement of conflicts in schools has resulted into increased government intervention leading to closure of schools and increased expenditure. Meanwhile, effective teaching and learning programs are always impaired leading to further crisis in schools and the government in general. The situation also creates burn out to some teachers to change their career.


The purpose of this study is to investigate on the factors influencing conflicts in schools in Tanzania. Several conflicts have been reported to have devastating impacts. There are frequently and repeated conflicts in most schools in Tanzania. The scientific explanation about the nature of these conflicts is not well established neither documented. It has also been reported that those conflicts involve school administrators and teachers, teachers and students, students and the school administration, as well as students themselves. At some levels conflicts escalate to involve  the external school environment.

The impacts of these conflicts have resulted into loss of lives of some students, demolished school buildings, riots, boycott and increased hostilities in the workplace, lack of conducive teaching learning environment, dismissal and suspension of students, administrators and teachers.

This study therefore, is an attempt to investigate on the nature of conflicts in schools, and possibly come up with the real explanation as to why they frequently occur, as well to establish approaches that can be applied to harmonize the situation.


(a). To  identify the nature of conflicts in public secondary schools in Tanzania.

(b). To establish means to minimize conflicts in schools.

(c). To contribute and extend knowledge and skills in conflict management for schools teachers and administrators.

(d). To influence the government policy in education, conflict management is an integral part of the contemporary school environment.



This study is intended to be broad spectrum in nature. It is expected to come up with possible explanation of the sources of conflicts in schools as learning and work places in Tanzania. It will also establish possible preventive conflict management approaches that are so essential and could be applied in resolving conflicts which arise in the school environment.

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Whereas, the study is expected to contribute the generation of new insights, knowledge and skills in management in general, and form a baseline for school administrators, managers, teachers and students to reflect on during situations of problems leading to conflicts. This study is perhaps the pioneer one as far as conflict management in schools is concerned. It is expected to influence the policy of the government. Conflicts in the contemporary school environment are becoming part and parcel of the total education system. Finally, the study will impact on other broader dimensions of the social systems in Tanzania.


This section reviews and examines briefly some literature on relevant scholarly work.

Mosha, H.J.(1994) describes conflict as an interactive opposing behavior between two or more people, organizations or systems over incompatible goals, interests, scarce resources, values, belief system, power and prestige, nature of relationship as well as performance. He further states that, conflicts behaviours may range from intellectual jostling or malicious gossip all the way to use of physical force to cause destruction of property or physical injury.

Mosha,(1994) further suggests that conflicts are integral part of any social system they need to be properly managed in order to create a healthy organizational climate that is so important for effective performance of responsibilities.

Whereas, Lyons and Hatherly, (1992) comment on organizational health that is the state in institutions characterized by generally high  levels of trust, low conflict and individual autonomy in patterns of supervision and control. Lyons and Hatherly further insist that in health organizations relationships are honest, there is high degree of trust, poor performance is confronted and joint solutions sought. People feel free to signal problems and participate in finding solutions.

Murphy and Saal(1990) in Mosha,(1994) stated that conflict management is a process of becoming aware of actual or potential conflict, diagnosing its nature and scope and employing appropriate methodology to diffuse the emotional energy involved and enable disputing parties to understand and resolve their differences. While, Burton(1969) adds on conflict management that include deterrence strategies aimed at avoiding escalation of conflict while maintaining control without giving way.

According to Gray and Starke(1990) traditionalists conceived conflict as being intrinsically bad. Under this school of thought members of the organization who caused the conflict were regarded as emotionally disturbed, otherwise they should not have caused the conflict. Thus, to eliminate the conflict and thereby solve the problem it was necessary to fire or get psychiatric help for the responsible employees (Jandt and Gillettee,1985).

The modern theorists according to (Gray and Starke,1990) in Mosha,(1994) argue that organizational conflict is neither good nor bad per se, and that it is inevitable. Conflict is inevitable and not necessarily harmful. Indeed, they continue to argue that you can not have an organization, community or society that is free from conflict.

However, Mosha, H.J.(1979:169) argues that competence should be the major criterion for participation as educational problems have ramifications that require attention and specialized assistance is useful in mobilizing needed knowledge and judgment.

At another scale of looking at leadership styles, Bennis,W.G.,(1989) was of the view that the challenges confronting organizational leaders are daunting even to the most intrepid. Bennis further comments that organizational restructuring has bulldozed away much worker morale and loyalty, along with many levels of management and thousands of jobs. The loosened bonds between workers and organizations have increased worker disaffection and raised turnover.

Bennis, W.G.(1989) further commented on achieving styles, cultures, values, rewards and discontinuities that organizations have their special achieving styles, styles that their cultures, consciously or unconsciously inculcate in their members. That is, organizations characteristically reward certain kinds of achieving behavior and punish or ignore other kinds.

Organizational culture both comfort and control its members. It comforts them by generating a familiar context for organizational life and offering membership to those who conform. At the same time, organizational culture controls members by constricting the range of behaviours and attitudes that are valued and  rewarded.

Furthermore, Max Weber(1864-1920) examined the organization and came up with the opinion that the term organization meant the ordering of social relationships, the maintenance of which certain individuals took upon themselves as a special task. Weber, further maintains that the presence of a leader and an administrative staff was a characteristic of an organization, which in fact was them who preserved the organization. Hence, basic to Weber’s  ideas was the notion that human behavior is regulated by rules. The existence of a distinct set of rules was implicit in the concept of organization.

On management, Henry Fayol (1916) stated that to manage is to forecast and plan to organize, to command and to co-ordinate and to control. While G.A. Cole(1994) proposed a working definition for strategic management as a process directed by top management to determine the fundamental aims or goals of the organization and ensure a range of decisions which will allow for the achievement of those aims or goals in the long-term whilst providing for adaptive responses in the short term. The above implies that, if the management is not successful in dealing with resistances to change and if it still wishes to change and continues to implement the change program, conflict will eventually arise, Mosha,(1994). Whereas, Ekval, G.(1993) cautioned that where antagonistic groups, divisions and camps exist the work climate is bound to be poor.


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