This year will be the second annual International Day that, according to UNESCO and member states, is aimed at recognising that bullying and cyberbullying of children and adolescents is an infringement of their rights to education and to health and well-being.
The International Day against Violence and Bullying at School will be held every year on the first Thursday of November.
Bullying and violence in schools is an international problem. A 2019 report by UNESCO showed that 30% of students globally are victims of bullying, with new forms such as cyberbullying (of both students and teachers) on the rise. The recent pandemic has fuelled these types of destructive social behaviour, especially in poorer communities. This has serious and dangerous implications, warns UNESCO, and parents, communities and schools need to make greater concerted efforts to put a stop to bullying:
“The consequences are serious: students who are frequently bullied are nearly three times more likely to feel like an outsider at school and more than twice as likely to miss school as those who are not frequently bullied. They have worse educational outcomes and are also more likely to leave formal education after finishing secondary school. They are twice as likely to feel lonely, to be unable to sleep at night and to have contemplated suicide.”
Mabel Sikhakhane, Head of Department of Pre-primary and Chairperson of the School-Based Support Team (SBST) at Nokuphila Primary School, shared some insight into the types of bullying taking place. She highlights how and why this is different from more affluent areas, and how they are equipped to support and assist the victims, the bullies, and the families of each.
Sikhakhane states that the most typical form of bullying is habitual teasing of someone. Victims are often bullied based on their physical attributes (their height, their skin colour, their weight), and ethnicity and nationality (for example their accent). Essentially, learners that are seen as “different” have a higher risk of being bullied.
She also makes the distinction that although teasing amongst children is commonplace, repeated teasing is bullying and harmful. “Bullying,” says Sikhakhane, “is characterised by power imbalance, the one will hold power over the other. So, it's like victim and perpetrator.”
Bullies enjoy the power and attention that bullying provides them and the forms that bullying takes place become more sophisticated and intense as the children get older. Sikhakhane observes that although traditional bullying seems to have decreased in the older grade seven learners, the amount of cyberbullying under this peer group is growing.
Sikhakhane points out that bullying in poorer communities is more common because of these major factors:
Low involvement in children’s schooling
“Approximately 80 to 90% of our students’ parents,” according to Sikhakhane, “are not involved in their children's education.”
Parents or guardians in poorer communities are often burnt out, working, and commuting long hours, on top of which they must find time to complete their household chores and spend time with their children. Finding the time, energy, and funds to take a more active interest in their children’s schooling is a lot harder than say for a middle-class family living in the suburbs.
And then, there are also parents who just don’t care – school never interested them before, and they can’t be bothered to take an interest now. This provides learners in poorer communities with more freedom to manifest bad behaviours at school because they are confident that they won’t be reprimanded or punished at home. Parents in the suburbs, by contrast often pay huge school fees, especially for private schools, so have a vested interest in their children’s education.
High levels of adult illiteracy
Sadly, a common trait amongst the poorest members of our communities is the high levels of adult illiteracy. Even if the parent takes an interest in their child’s schooling, they often struggle to identify cyberbullying due to their own illiteracy. The same goes for the parents of the bullies, as they cannot read the letters sent home by the teachers regarding their behaviour at school.
Poorer communities statistically have more reports of abuse and violence, which means that children have a higher risk of exposure, which then translates into mimicked and violent behaviour. Even if the abuse is just verbal, the children are affected and then act out, both at school and at home.
Unwillingness of parents to cooperate with the teachers
Should parents be made aware of the fact that their child is a bully, parents often refuse to believe it and are uncooperative in trying to solve the problem. This motivates the bully to carry on bullying because they feel confident that they won’t be punished by their parents.
Sikhakhane believes that bullying is a learned behaviour and a cry for help. She believes that there’s always a bigger problem at the heart of the bullying and that by simply punishing the bully you’ll only make things worse. Through the counselling of both the bullies and the victims to address the core issues, she and her SBST team have achieved some positive results with learners and their families.
Expulsion is always treated as a final resort in extreme cases and only once all other avenues have proven unsuccessful. Sikhakhane, her team, the teachers, and 350 parents of learners at Nokuphila Schools, attended specially crafted workshops through the Valued Citizens Initiative. The aim was to provide them with the skills to help their children achieve their full potential and become valued citizens.
This training, underscores the Christian values that are embedded in the lessons at Nokuphila, geared towards providing learners with strong values, clear sense of right and wrong, and physical, emotional, spiritual, and psychological support. All of which is crucial in mending, nurturing, and cultivating the self-esteem and confidence of learners (both bullies and victims). This then translates into happier, more confident learners who perform better academically.
Parents are probably the most influential in shaping their children’s behaviour. By taking an interest in their schooling and how their behaviour and habits impact their children, parents can make a huge difference in stopping a bullying culture. By parents acknowledging that their child is a bully when informed by teachers, parents empower the teachers and provide an opportunity for their children to grow and learn to take responsibility.
Teachers can do a lot to stop bullying by addressing fights and bullying behaviour as it happens and by finding the root cause of the bullying. By acting swiftly, teachers can nip this type of destructive behaviour in the bud.
Sikhakhane wants to appeal to communities to also help in putting a stop to bullying. If a child is being bullied, don’t just walk on by. Help. The bullies will be made aware that their behaviour is unacceptable and the victim will know they’re not alone (that there’s someone looking out for them). Bullying should be dealt with at a community level as well and should be one of the hot topics along with electricity, dumping, and drug abuse in the area. It takes a village to raise a child – let’s act that way!