The reported case of bullying at Nairobi School that has left a Form Two student in need of surgery is heart-wrenching.
What is happening in our schools may be an indicator of what is wrong in our society. Many other students in Kenyan secondary schools experience some sort of bullying, which hurts individual performance and self-esteem.
Some of those who are bullied later become bullies themselves, increasing prevalence of the incidences in schools. Some later suffer other challenges in life, ranging from violent behaviour to substance abuse.
In fact, in some instances, some of the students (mostly in Form One and Two) have their belongings taken away by the bullies from their classes or senior classes.
Parents of Form One students would tell you that the books they buy for their sons and daughters “disappear” in their first three weeks in school.
Besides physical bullying, the students are also verbally abused. Students who experience issues at home such as abuse and neglect or whose parents have divorced can become bullies due to despair, anger or jealousy.
Social bullying happens when students gossip or spread rumors to hurt the reputation of one of them. This, again, is common in our schools.
What is certain is that students in forms One and Two suffer the highest rates of direct bullying compared to those in senior classes.
This bullying takes place in dormitories, playgrounds, corridors on their way to and from school, away from adults or teacher’s supervision.
What is worrying is that parents or teachers only get to know about the problem when it has already gotten out of hand or when they notice weird behaviour in a child.
What is certain, however, is that bullying during formative school years can have long-lasting effects. Students who are bullied may have poor academic performance as their interests and participation in school decreases.
To ensure our schools become safer for our children, some steps need to be taken.
First, there is need to develop school bullying prevention policies. School administrators should improve the learning environment by empowering the students through conflict resolution, peer-support strategies, peer counseling and assertive training.
Secondly, students need to be mentored immediately they join school. When students are able to approach ideas and problems from multiple perspectives, they’re less likely to bully others. From the earliest ages, students should participate in activities that boost social-emotional learning.
They should also be helped to understand and appreciate their identities.
Fostering a sense of community in schools can lower bullying incidents and facilitate healing for bullied students.
This is particularly important because researchers have found that some behaviours can signal the onset of bullying, which is often missed by teachers, who already have a lot on their plates.
As teachers are always under significant pressure to improve academic performance, they usually neglect the social and emotional side of learning.
Thirdly, teachers should work with students to come up with ways of assisting bullying victims as well as creating an climate where bullying is not tolerated.
Anti-bullying programmes that involve individualised interventions with bullies and victims, and increases some form of supervisions during lunch or games times should be used to eliminate or minimise incidences of bullying.
Using drama, literature, the visual arts and games as a vehicle for conversation, teachers can help students understand the negative impact of bullying.
At the same time, this will also help to focus energies on cultivating a learning environment built on positivity, openness, and support.
Safe and friendly
Fourth, at the larger level, comprehensive anti-bullying programmes involving parents, students, community members and teachers should be put in place to ensure the learning environment is safe and friendly.
Vibrant anti-bullying policy and anti-bullying programmes are needed and should be communicated to the whole school community. The school personnel should have directed to take reports of bullying seriously and to ensure that parents are involved more and more.
Ultimately, this is a problem which cannot be wished away. Bullying is all about power. Technology accelerates bullying.
Social media makes it easy for bullies to enlist large, often anonymous groups to carry out relentless attacks with messages and compromising photos of the victim.
Prof Mogambi, a communication and social change expert, teaches at University of Nairobi. [email protected]