Gauteng Education MEC Barbara Creecy’s opening address at the Colloquium on Bullying at Turffontein Racecourse
21 Aug 2012“Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral.” ― Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed: 30th Anniversary Edition
This requires all of us with the position and capacity to influence decisions to side with the weak against the strong. On behalf of the Gauteng Department of Education, I would like to welcome each of you to this Colloquium on Bullying. And, I would like to thank you for making the time to join us as part of your commitment to find solutions to the problem of bullying in Gauteng.
The Colloquium theme, Working Together to End Bullying, speaks directly to our hope and outcome for our colloquium. We gather to be strengthened with new knowledge, research and practices which will inspire, invigorate, challenge and renew our collective courage to act collaboratively to stop bullying. We will hear from outstanding experts who will provide research, strategies and solutions for schools and communities in bullying prevention and intervention.
1. Context of the discussion
The issue of bullying is not a new phenomenon in Gauteng schools. It includes antisocial behaviours that we deal with on a daily basis in society which manifest itself in the form of disciplinary problems in our schools. These behaviours include harassment, assault, physical harm, racial abuse, homophobic actions, repeatedly demeaning speech and efforts to ostracise or belittle another person. What is new is the use ofcellphone and internet technology in bullying, a phenomenon known as cyber-bullying.
2. Forms of bullying
During 2011/12 financial year, a number of incidences related to both traditional bullying and cyber bullying has been reported in Gauteng province involving learners in schools. Therefore the development of these recent incidences requires a comprehensive analysis of traditional bullying as well as new trends of cyber bullying. One such case that caught the media reported recently by the Pretoria News (2012/02/09) is that of a teenage girl who was named and intimidated via Facebook and Blackberry’s BBM chat with a series of threats, name-calling and making nasty comments.
Other incidents range from:
A poll conducted in 24 countries by the global research company Ipsos for Reuters News, the results of which were published in January 2012 found the following:
- Teasing and threats, making fun and belittling
- Physical assault and grievous bodily harm
- Sexual assault
- Initiation practices resulting in humiliation and physical har· Cyber-bullying, or bullying through technology such as social networking sites, instant messages, or text messaging, presents a new challenge for broader bullying prevention considerations. Unlike traditional forms, cyber-bullying can occur 24/7 to a wide audience and gives those who engage in the behaviour a false sense of anonymity. Because cyber-bullying can happen anywhere, at anytime, this breakout will focus on the additional challenges to addressing this behaviour.
These finding are backed up by similar studies into cyberbullying by well-known research agencies.
- One in ten parents online (12%) around the world say their child has experienced cyber bullying
- One in four (24%) of those parents say they know a child in their community who has experienced cyber bullying and of those, 60% say the children experienced the harassing behaviour on social networking sites like Facebook.
3. Impact of bullying on learning
For the victim, the consequences of bullying can be long lasting and severe. Often these are linked to serious psychological trauma, from low self-esteem and depression to the inability to concentrate at school due to the stress of worrying about one’s next ‘assault’. The most worrying consequence of bullying is the perpetuation of the bullying cycle. Some of learners withdrawn to the point of committing suicide, change in sleeping patterns, suffer from night terrors; often comes home with bruises, reluctance to go to school which result with dropout.
At least two learners in Gauteng have committed suicide and others are afraid.
The consequences of bullying directly affects the victim and often extends to the family that find themselves powerless to deal with the issues. These manifests in:· Anxiety
Research also shows that a tolerance or lack of response to incidents of bullying not only reinforces bullying but that a tolerant environment creates even more bullies.
- Inability to concentrate on schoolwork
- Physical injuries
- Long-term psychological damage including low self-esteem, depression and anti-social behaviour
- Disability; and
4. What the GDE is already doing to improve learning?
School Safety Policies and Plans
The department has formulated a Schools Safety Strategy that guides schools to develop a comprehensive plan to deal with all forms of safety issues facing the school and more importantly the learners. In support of this strategy, high-risk schools have benefitted from training on the formulation of a school safety plan. The department is in the process of providing all schools with a pro-forma School Policy to guide their planning.
The policy will help school management, educators, parents, and even learners on what to do with regards to bullying. It will cover code of conduct for parents, learners, educators and role of other significant stakeholders. Copies of this policy will be given to school managers, educators, parents, and learners. Schools will be encouraged to periodically review policy to ensure appropriateness, effectiveness, and completeness in order to maintain its usefulness over time. In this way, we hope the policy will be respected and enforced as the department has adopted a collaborative approach.
The incorporation of violence prevention in the curriculum has been identified as a key element in empowering learners to deal with peer pressure and bullying. Learners are imparted with skills particularly related to non-violent living skills, conflict resolution and anger management.
The department has also developed a multi-disciplinary team to provide psychosocial support in the event of an incident involving bullying and violence amongst learners. Lay counsellors have been appointed to provide support to schools. Some counsellors hold violence prevention classes or workshops for learners, and some schools provide special programmes on preventing violence and gang activity for high-risk learners.
The department has introduced school patrollers to provide 24-hour security in schools and to assist with learner supervision in and around schools, before and after schools and during breaks. In some schools, we are implementing security cameras, metal detectors at the school's entrance, security guards, and uniforms for the learners. These strategies are in place to catch learners with weapons and to prevent unauthorised persons from entering the school.
Main duties/ responsibilities of school patrollers
5. Key Challenges that need to be addressed by Colloquium
- To control access to the premises and safeguard GDE premises;
- To monitor the scholar transport facilities – arrival time, departure time and state of cleanliness of the buses;
- Write and report all incidents that are threatening safety of learners and employees
- Patrol the premises; and
- Conduct escort duties.
There is a high rate of under-reporting of incidents of bullying. While the true extent of bullying is not known and will not be known because in most instances we find that learners or their parents do not report the incidents of bullying out of fear of unknown consequences and/or further victimisation; or the way in which schools manage these incidents to contain the problem or conceal to maintain the “perfect” record of a schools. There are questions that we need to pose and deliberate on during this colloquium:
As a department and the broader community, we need to focus on a number of levers:
- How widespread is this challenge in schools?
- What form does it take?
- Is there a particular risk profile for victims or perpetrators; and
- How does an understanding of this help us tackle the problem?
Establishing clear and consistent policies in schools is key to establishing a climate in which it is clear that no bullying, regardless of form, type or severity, will be tolerated in school. Effective policies rely not only on carefully crafted policies but also on consistent implementation and messaging about the policies. This breakout will focus on the need for policies, their key components, and the tools for implementation.
Preventive education and supportive school structures are important elements in reducing bullying in schools. Yet, few evidence-based programmes have proven effective at reducing bullying in some schools and those that have are cost-prohibitive for many schools. This breakout will focus on how schools can achieve the support necessary to implement effective bullying prevention strategies.
Community based programmes
Bullying does not just occur at schools and its effects can be felt throughout a community. Schools and communities must work together to help identify bullying, implement prevention strategies, and communicate a consistent message that bullying is not okay. This breakout will focus on how all stakeholders in a community can work together to prevent bullying.
6. Concluding remarks
An African Proverb says “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
May we heed these words and collaboratively have the commitment to act and Work Together to End Bullying.
I would like to wish the speakers and all the participants well in their deliberation.
For more information contact:
Gauteng Department of Education’s Head of Communication, Charles Phahlane
Tel: 011 355 1530
Cell: 071 860 4496
Issued by: Gauteng Education
21 Aug 2012
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