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  • Writer's pictureDr Brenda Matthews

Intervention and Prevention

In the five months from January to May 2021 (during a time of supposed compulsory social distancing) media reports of school violence and physical bullying have continued unabated across the country.

These include a 50-year-old Limpopo male teacher raping a school pupil; a Limpopo pupil, Lafuno Mavhunga, committing suicide after being bullied at school; cyber-bullying outrage at a school in Gqebergha; a KZN teen sentenced to a year of community service because of bullying in school. A headline read: 'Bullied Cape Town girl now scared of going to school after prank goes wrong.'

They came on top of previous statistics, that between April 2019 and March 2020, police recorded nine murders and nineteen attempted murders – this as a result of bullying in schools. In the years before that, the record was similar. Which tells us that not even a national disaster, when physical contact is forbidden by law, can curb the incidence of bullying in our schools. It is deeply entrenched.

National and provincial school education department administrators, educators and parents are vastly concerned about bullying behaviours in school settings. As they should be. But it cannot be emphasised strongly enough that the issue of bullying has to be addressed primarily, and effectively, by those very same school staff members, parents and communities.

I fully agree with educator Michael Workman, writing in the Daily Maverick (May 13, 2021), that it's essential for the good culture of a school to firmly guide the way teaching is delivered, and that the role of the teacher should include setting real-life examples of good manners and behaviour. In this regard, then, successfully showing children how to care for each other, by being friendly and kind, could be the way to ensure that good values will be adopted throughout the school. Creating a culture of kindness, in fact.

Furthermore, Workman highlights the work of Norwegian bullying preventionist and widely acknowledged pioneer researcher into the subject, Dr Dan Olweus. My own PhD dissertation sought to test the efficacy of the implementation of Olweus' intervention programme, specifically in schools in the Western Cape. The recommendations that emerged were:

  1. The principal's support for the process is vital.

  2. The staff as a whole, should commit to the vision and principle of their school's commitment to the prevention of bullying. It should set the standard for an anti-bullying culture. And it should strive to ensure a measure of community upliftment as a result.

  3. A detailed bullying prevention policy should be developed and form part of the learners' Code of Conduct. And specific sanctions should be imposed on anyone who transgresses.

  4. Accountability should be the core of the school's culture.

  5. In addition, systems should exist to support and protect victims of bullying.

It should also be essential for teacher colleges and universities to offer guidelines of the OBPP as a part of the students' curriculum requirements. Priorities for prevention with regard to victims of bullying and those who bully others should be included in life skills education, with a specific focus on violence and safety issues.

All drivers of transport used by learners, should, as a priority, be skilled in dealing with bullying during transportation. In addition, substitute teachers - those parents who come in to 'class-sit' - should be trained in the schools' bullying policies.

School-based counsellors and school psychologists who are uniquely qualified, must collaborate with bullying interventionists to enhance culture-specific interventions for bullies in schools. This will assist with on-going data collection.

An anti-bullying strategy is essential for the School Development Team (SDT), to be included in the school's action plan and regularly revised..

During pre-Covid, in 2019, I assessed eight domains of bullying behaviour in 10 Western Cape schools. These included: Learners' school satisfaction; types of bullying behaviour; characteristics of the bully; locations of bullying incidents at school and at home; disclosure of the bullying; peer social support and reactions and attitudes. In addition, questions were asked about the learners' living conditions.

Findings, following data-analysis, yielded results such as the most common types of bullying being repetitive nasty name-calling, exclusion, social media bullying, spreading rumours and physical bullying.

The experiences were equally distributed between boys and girls. Evidence also suggests that most victims of bullying are in households where between two to seven people live with them.

Furthermore, it was found that victims are often bullied within their own social groups; mostly, perpetrators were in the victim's own class, in addition to learners reporting that they were 'sometimes' bullied by their teachers and also by their parents.

For the questions that dealt with 'location of bullying' the most common locations reported were the playground, the corridors, the route to and from school and the school toilets, while many learners also said that they were bullied at home.

With regard to 'disclosure,' certain of the respondents said they were bullied but did not tell anyone. However, the most common response was that they would inform family members and boy/girlfriends.

A further concerning finding was that approximately one third of the respondents indicated that they would participate in the bullying should they not like the learner who was being bullied. There generally, seems to be an uncertainty about how to help a learner who was being bullied.

Considering the evidence of my most recent findings in terms of the most common types of bullying experienced, one should remember that one victim may experience all of those types of bullying at the same time. On the other hand, the perpetrator and or syndicate of perpetrators bully others to see just how many 'likes' they will achieve on social media. With regard to social media bullying, in my opinion, cellphones should be banned from schools or handed in at the start of the day.

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