The age old problem of bullying in schools is now a topical issue as in recent weeks incidents have made the news.
Earlier this month, to the worry of his family, a 13-year-old boy failed to return home from school and spent the night out allegedly because he did not want to go to school to face more bullying. Then a viral video surfaced showing a confrontation between a parent and a female student on the compound of the secondary school in St George’s where the parent ‘boxed’ the child. The parent was subsequently charged with the offence of Causing Harm to a Minor. It was reported that the parent’s child was being bullied by students.
Bullying in schools is not new, but social media has broadened our awareness about the frequency of its occurrence through viral videos and posts. And, it doesn’t just involve student to student, but also teachers bullying students and parents bullying teachers.
Focusing on the student to student occurrences, it is not uncommon in schools to have students of higher forms intimidate the form one students, taking their break/lunch/money, “rapping” them, calling them names and ordering them around on a daily basis. There have been instances where the bullying acts get physical, resulting in fights during and after school hours, on or off school compounds.
More so, in the era of technology, another form of bullying or harassment has emerged using electronic means. Cyber bullying includes sending mean or hurtful texts, hacking someone’s device and using sensitive information to blackmail and spreading secrets or rumours of someone of online platforms. This method of bullying however, poses a greater challenge in that tracing the bully culprit in cyberspace can be difficult. We know of instances in a particular secondary school in St George where students take the picture of other students, edit it, add demeaning words and circulate it among the school’s population.
Teachers, parents and principals continue to battle this issue. In many cases, students who are bullied do not speak up or immediately report, and some schools keep the issue under wraps. Some parents on the other hand, do not follow the protocol of reporting and letting issues be handled amicably by schools and with all parties. However, out of anger and frustration from repeated occurrences, parents have been known to take matters into their own hands, only to compound the problem.
So, what is the instruction the Ministry of Education has passed on to schools on how to deal with bullying? What does the Education Act say on how to address bullying? What psychosocial and other help is there for the identified bullies and victims?
During a televised programme this week where this issue was discussed, the official from the Ministry of Education admitted that limited staffing within the Student Support Services department and an Education Act that does not specifically speak to bullying, hinders the Ministry from comprehensively addressing the issue. He shared that the Act speaks to an outsider entering the compound to perform acts of violence, assault or offensive language and will be liable to legal action.
Nonetheless, we are glad that the Ministry recognises the shortcoming of the Act and according to the official, efforts are being made to update the legislation to address bullying and other issues that have become prevalent since its last review in 2002.
We trust that schools will continue their education on the topic, as often times, children don’t understand the ripple effect of their actions, see bullying as innocent or as a way to appear “tough.”
More so, parents are urged to “not take matters into their own hands,” but know that the Ministry is open to hear concerns of any situation they believe was not addressed adequately at schools via calling the help desk or making an appointment to see the chief education officer.
Students who are being bullied are advised to report it to a teacher, principal or their parent. They can also speak to guidance counsellors present at or assigned to secondary schools.
Signs that a child is being bullied include withdrawal, not wanting to attend school, low self-esteem and a sudden change in behavior.
We encourage parents to closely monitor their children’s online presence and in cases where parents are not technologically savvy, make it your responsibility to learn or get a trusted technologically savvy person to help.
We agree with the Education official that parents must take responsibility and know that they are growing future adults who they should want be law abiding citizens. Therefore, admitting that bullying is a learned behavior, they too must be careful in how they address issues as they arise. Its wise to teach children to follow protocol, be kind, respect others and their belongings, speak up when wronged and that there are consequences for every action.
On the programme it was shared that bullies are often attention seekers and their behaviour is symptomatic to an issue in the home. They are usually punished with a suspension or expulsion from school after all prior interventions have failed.
Moreover, if they are not helped in school through counselling, they become a problem within the wider
society where their actions can result in criminal offences. There is a notion that to curb bullying in
schools, the leaders in Grenada must first seek to stem this act within the society. That is, bullying in
workplaces, parliament, churches, at homes, virtually everywhere. In so doing, when adults learn how to
amicably co-exist, respect each other’s boundaries/rights/decisions and maturely resolve conflict, only
then will that learned skill be passed on to young ones from a tender age.