It is distressing to see what many of our schools have become. They are places where students are preyed upon by other students, causing fear and intense emotional distress.
The new academic term began last week, and already a video has surfaced showing a female student being beaten and bullied by others in a classroom. The video itself is made up of several clips showing that one student being targeted. We were heartened, just a little, to see a male student intervene and stop one of the bullies from slapping and cuffing the child. It shows that some students are willing to stand up for what is right.
At the same time, there’s the realization that this is what this child has to go through every day at school – a place where she is supposed to be learning and making friends. It should be noted that the date of the video could not be verified, but is most certainly recent and representative of what happens at some schools. And the worrying thing is, there seems to be no adult presence, whether in the form of teachers or security. So it seems students have free reign to act however they please.
We have made calls before and we will make them again: official policy needs to be put in place to deal with bullying and student delinquents. This problem is not a new one. And even if it is just becoming more visible due to technology, as the Education Minister likes to point out, the fact remains that it is still happening.
Where then are the official penalties and programmes to help address the issue? We cannot continue to rely on the discretion of schools to handle these issues, because oftentimes there’s just a suspension, if that. In Australia, government schools have anti-bullying prevention policies, and parents are often given advice on how to deal with this issue, whether their child is the victim or the perpetrator. In the UK, the Education and Inspections Act provides for an anti-bullying policy for all state schools to be made available to parents.
We too need to be more proactive. Measures should target not just children, but those close to them as well. Studies published in the Journal of Educational Psychology found that bullying programs set up in schools have been shown to reduce incidents of bullying. Bullying is also a lot less likely when students themselves understand and disapprove of it. No one is saying that it will be an easy task. But for sure, we need to go beyond the typical messages that we currently try to teach regarding this very important issue. And the message itself should be reinforced throughout their time in school.
No student should have to be afraid to go to school. We need to fix this.