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An academic, a researcher and writer.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Bullying in educational institutions: A serious issue

Bullying is a serious problem. Bullying in schools is very a serious problem. It is an unfortunate fact that like many other problems faced by a great many students (and teachers) in our schools, this problem does not get adequate attention either in our educational research milieu (which in either case is almost non-existent in our educational institutions) or in our electronic or press media. This very serious problem is treated trivially by most educational stake holders i.e. teachers, educational managers, policy makers and parents. What bullying is all about and why it should be treated as a very serious problem are questions that need attention from all these stakeholders. Let us first try to understand an initial definition of the term. One very comprehensive definition of the term has been provided in a policy document of the Department of Education and Training, Western Australia, called ‘Making the difference: behaviour management in schools’ (1998), as reported by Forlin & Chambers (2003). Bullying according to this document is defined as ‘A wilful, conscious desire to hurt, threaten or frighten. It can be physical and/or verbal in nature and can include racial, religious and sexual harassment, rude gestures, intimidation, social isolation and extortion. It must be recognised that bullying is ongoing in nature and that bullies are reinforced by another’s pain, fear and humiliation.’ It has been observed that bullying of the physical kind though not exclusively but for the most part occurs in single-sex boys’ schools or in co-educational institutions. Boys are more prone to this kind of bullying both as perpetrators as well as victims. In the co-education set up besides boys, girls too, though less frequently, could become victims of physical bullying by boys. In exceptional cases the vice versa can happen when girls could put boys to physical bullying. This happens when older girl students put younger boys to bullying. As far as the exclusively girl schools are concerned usually bullying occurs in its verbal form but this does not mean a total ruling out of the physical form of bullying there. Bullying is a serious problem because it could be like a nightmare to students who are victims of bullying of one kind or another. It can cause immense life-long damage to the self-confidence and steady development of the personality of victims. Though not well researched in the Pakistani educational culture and an unduly neglected phenomenon, the effects of bullying are extremely harmful. Student are at risk of serious harm to their self esteem and to the balanced growth of their personalities besides physical ailments such as serious heart problems and ailments of the digestive, nervous and respiratory systems due to consistent stress caused by long-term subjection to bullying. Continuous subjection to mental and psychological torture as a result of bullying of one or the other form, can lead victims to nurture an acute sense of helplessness, desolation and even to suicidal thoughts. Though not much systematic research on the issue is available in the Pakistani context, it has been commonly observed that quite a number of dropout cases and truancy as well as failures and lack of interest in studies and other school activities are due to the acts of bullying that take place there. One very serious form of bullying in schools is ‘gang bullying’. This is a situation when bullies form gangs. This is particularly very dangerous as this union (of the bullies) enhances their strength both physically and psychologically. Gangs are also very dangerous as they can easily overpower individual victims. Such gangs are even difficult for the school administration and teachers to deal with. Gangs of bullies are usually formed by students from higher classes or by students who fail more than once, repeat classes and thus get older and stronger as compared to other younger classmates. Such students are particularly dangerous on two counts: one, they are older and stronger than the rest of their classmates and two, they are usually of the un-academic type who do not take much interest in their studies, and are more prone to such unhealthy activities. Usually in our secondary schools (schools from class sixth to tenth), students in the age group of fourteen to eighteen and beyond (students who fail more than once in their school life, can remain in the school up-to the age of twenty years) and who consequently get physically and mentally (in terms of experience in school situation) stronger than the younger ones i.e. age group of ten to fourteen are more prone to becoming bullies. Their mental and physical strength give them the edge over their victims. Such students, who repeatedly fail and still remain at school, are even difficult for teachers to keep under control. At times even teachers could fall victim to their bullying tactics. In that case it becomes very difficult for teachers to come to the rescue of student victims of bullying. Another type of students who are prone to becoming bullies are those who have broken families or those families where the parents find little time or inclination to provide for the socio-psychological needs of their wards. Lack of attention at home creates in them a sense of irresponsibility, carelessness and revolt, which can turn them into bullies. Sometimes parents play a direct role in turning their children into bullies by actively encouraging them to be aggressive (which is taken for being brave!) The act of bullying can have a number of motives behind it. Bullies can resort to it for simple psychological pleasure that they feel when they see their victim at their mercy. Bullying also provides the bully with a sense of power and recognition which he otherwise finds hard to come by both at home and at school through legitimate means such as good academic performance. It can also have material and sexual favours as motives. In most boys’ schools bullies in the upper teen age group( when as young adults they become sexually extremely active) put younger children to various bullying tactics for sexual favours and in many cases the ones’ being bullied end up falling victim to their sexual demands. This is a very serious situation as this can result in life-long psychological scars for the victims. Sometimes a simple feeling of jealousy against the higher achievement of the victim can result in his being put to bullying just to keep him stressed and to draw his attention away from studies. Snatching, stealing and damaging of books, notebooks and other such material may also be means to such an end. Factors that contribute to the phenomenon of bullying include the following: lack of awareness or interest on the part of parents, teachers and school administration about the severity of the problem and its very harmful long term consequences both for the bully and the bullied. Intentional or unintentional endorsement of the phenomenon by parents and teachers is also one of the causes. In some very unfortunate cases, it has been observed that teachers are involved in the act of bullying directly or indirectly for their own nefarious designs which can range from material benefit to sexual favours either from the bully (in return for allowing him the freedom to bully other students) or the victim (by compelling him through the bully to approach him for help). This may seem too far fetched but sadly is true, though it may be infrequent. Another factor that can contribute to the phenomenon of bullying is the act of silent suffering on the part of the victim. This can be due to a number of reasons but the most important among them is the socio-psychological distance between the child and parents or teachers. In many cases there is lack of communication and trust between the child and the parents specially fathers. This leads to a lack of confidence on the part of the victim to openly discuss his problems with parents. Same is true in case of teacher-student relationship. The result is silent suffering on the part of the victim and reinforcement for the perpetrator, who finds such a victim (being without support) an easy prey to his bullying tactics. School-home disconnection and lack of communication among teachers and parents can also play its role in adding to the problem of bullying. As an aside it should be taken not of that bullying of various kinds mentioned above is not confined to schools, it happens in homes and in the neighbourhood in various forms. So in order to deal with this highly harmful phenomenon, awareness must be created among all the stakeholders mentioned above regarding the nature and severity of the problem and steps taken to deal with the various factors which support the occurrence of bullying. Dr Muhammad Ilyas Khan is an academic and researcher at Hazara University.Dr Khan holds a PhD in Education at the University of Leicester, UK. Email: ilyasisa@yahoo.com