Safety of pupils in school is a major requirement by the Ministry of Education. Yet the recent allegations of bullying at Nairobi School adds to many such reported cases countrywide, which may become a way of life if not arrested.
According to a report by Africa Mental Health Foundation, the practice manifests itself in physical, verbal and exclusive forms.
The latter is subtlest and involves isolating an individual from activities enjoyed by other group members. The physical one involves hitting, forced labour and having one’s belonging stolen or forcibly taken away, among other nasty things. Verbal bullying takes the form of name calling (labelling), threats, blackmail and such demeaning stunts.
The bullies are usually more powerful than their victims and, hence, take advantage of the power imbalance to put them down.
An investigation by the CNN shows the habit is common among young teens in Kenya. Reports from local researchers show it is worse in national schools. The country ranks 60-80 per cent in contrast to developed countries like the United States (15-30 per cent).
Bullying turns the oppressed into oppressors, as Paulo Friere would say, implying that the habit is likely to continue as victims seek to project their agony to newcomers.
Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha has ordered an investigation into the Nairobi School incident and unequivocally demanded to know the actual perpetrators.
But assuming the perpetrators are students, a highly likely case, what action will Prof Magoha take? It is instructive to note that these youngsters act out of ignorance, typical of teen behaviour. Most of them may not even be aware of the dire consequences of their actions.
The incidents could be communicating a deeper syndrome. Schools may either be ignorant of such teen behaviour or just unconcerned. The results are deaths, low performance, poor relations and drop-outs.
School heads ought to clearly inform new students of their right to safety and urge them to report the slightest provocation. This will reassure the learners, more so those of low esteem. There are reports that many school heads have abandoned the discipline docket to their deputies, only focusing on finances and human resource.
Importantly, class teachers have to be empowered intellectually. They should be aware of the telltale signs of troubled learners, especially the physically weak and the low-esteemed. Holding regular class meetings in relaxed environments can encourage victims to speak out.
When I was a class teacher, I made it clear that none of my students would be bullied and put in place creative mechanisms to achieve it. Big schools, by virtue of their huge numbers, should recognise the place of the class teacher and support them to protect learners.
Overall, teachers should avoid bullying learners so as to serve as models. At times, prefects take after their teachers and claim to be exercising delegated powers. This leaves the victim with no recourse.
Lastly, parents should teach their children respect for humanity. No one is in full control of the possible reactions from those affected by bullying.
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