Citizen Reporter
Reporter
3 minute read
4 May 2017
7:01 am

Make our schools safe spaces

Citizen Reporter

Not only do children drop out of school but in one case, the retaliation against bullying led to a student fatally attacking another.

An empty classroom. File photo

A parent lays a charge against a school bully after the school fails to react; a young girl in boarding school is beaten repeatedly around the head while another films the assault; a group of boys launches a coordinated attack against another.

Every time we hear about these heinous acts of bullying on school grounds, there is a new outcry or outrage. But we must do more than simply be shocked, we must demand action and we must support such action by school authorities.

Schools must create an environment conducive to learning by tackling violence and the threat of violence in a holistic manner.

We should act long before the first warning signs emerge, long before children become reluctant to attend class, or avoid certain routes, or come home with tell-tale signs; long before the story goes viral on video, long before it results in a visit to the emergency room.

We know that even if the bullying is psychological, the trauma lasts long after it is stopped. How, then, do we talk about violence in school? Especially when that violence is also prevalent in the community? How do we teach our boys and girls to deal with violence?

To solve it, we have to recognise that the problem exists and we need to know how the problem manifests in our schools.

The Gauteng department of education has recognised that bullying is “highly prevalent inside and outside schools” and not confined to any particular gender.

Bullying relies on deliberate intimidation of those who are weaker and it can be verbal, nonverbal, physical, sexual and racial. It can happen in real or virtual spaces.

Indeed, the department identifies four types of bullying: physical bullying, verbal bullying, psychological bullying and cyber bullying.

Authors Annelie Laas and Trynie Boezaart, in their article The Legislative Framework regarding Bullying in South African Schools, written in 2014, note that bullying is a global phenomenon that has the potential of impacting on children physically and psychologically.

Many South Africans have seen the extreme impact it can have: not only do children drop out of school but in one case, the retaliation against bullying led to a student fatally attacking another.

Yet the victims are the most vulnerable, children who should be protected by a range of laws including the Protection from Harassment Act 71 of 2011, the Child Justice Act 75 of 2008, the Children’s Act 38 of 2005 and the South African Schools Act 84 of 1996.

Laas and Boezaart’s research notes that in 2012, a study conducted by Unisa established that out of a research sample of 3 371 pupils, 1 158 (34.4%) had been victims of bullying.

Emotional bullying is more prevalent, with 55.3% of pupils falling victim to such bullying, 38.4% being physically victimised, 16.9% being tormented via social media and 2.8% being the victims of verbal bullying.

This study also shows that 29.3% of bullying incidents take place at school after class. If we are serious about tackling bullying, schools, parents and pupils must take a zero tolerance approach all forms of harassment, physical abuse and disrespect to pupils.

We must do so actively by exposing known bullies and taking action against any cases, even as we support the victims of their action.

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– Matokgo Makutoane is the advocacy manager at Soul City Institute Of Social Justice

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