Avalanche Of Aggression: How To Save Pupils From Bullying In Pakistani Schools

Avalanche Of Aggression: How To Save Pupils From Bullying In Pakistani Schools
Psychological research has established that bullying, as a form of unwarranted aggressive behaviour, undermines students’ cognitive skills and negatively impacts their life, academic engagement and mental health. Despite this, it continues to be a prevalent problem in Pakistani schools and in so many other countries.

Dr. Dan Olweus, a Swedish-Norwegian psychologist and a research professor of psychology at the University of Bergen, Norway, is widely recognized as a pioneer of research on bullying. In his book Bullying at School: What We Know and What We Can Do he has defined bullying as “an intentional, recurring exposure to negative actions, performed by an individual or a group, perceived to be more powerful and stronger than the victim.” According to Dr. Olweus' research,  bullying behaviour revolves around oppression and intimidation by using a range of both direct and indirect forms of aggression.

A direct form of aggression is physical – that includes slapping, shoving, pushing, beating, snatching and damaging a victim's property. The other form is verbal and involves name-calling, shouting, abusing and insulting acts of violence.  There is also an indirect form involving gossiping, rumour-mongering and socially rejecting the targeted individual.

Why do students bully others? We find that:
1. Students who bully have a strong need for power (and a desire for dominance (negative)
2. Students who bully find satisfaction in causing injury and suffering to other students
3. Students who bully are often rewarded in some way for their behaviour with material or psychological rewards

The research-based root causes behind “bullying behaviour” are based on  race, religion, social class,  sexual positioning, appearance, physical or mental strength, size or aptitude, social conducts, gender, body type, character and in many cases social reputation.

The bullies display anger, criminality and aggression whereas those bullied develop depression, anxiety, fear, social withdrawal, suicidal ideation, absenteeism or downright drop-out.

Keeping trends in bullying and emotional and behavioural difficulties among Pakistani schoolchildren in mind, a cross-sectional survey of seven cities was conducted by a diversified group comprising consultants from both public and private sector universities as well as medical colleges, dealing with Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Maternal and Child Mental Health, Critical Care, Internal Medicine, General Surgery, Obstetrics and Gynecology, and Psychology. This cross-sectional study was conducted between September 2016 and July 2017 at seven public and private schools located in five districts in Pakistan: Lodhran, Rahim Yar Khan, Bahawalpur, Faisalabad, Multan, Thatta and Nawabshah.

A total of 2,315 schoolchildren were surveyed.

The mean age of the respondents was 14.63 years. More than half of the respondents were male. According to this survey, almost 45.3 percent of the students reported being victims of bullying, while 42.1 percent were perpetrators of bullying and 31.2 percent were both victims and perpetrators. These figures made available are consistent with earlier surveys in Pakistan. For example, a high prevalence of verbal (57 percent) and physical abuse (33.7 percent) was reported in the cities of Karachi, Lahore and Quetta. Being bullied in the past was strongly associated with becoming a perpetrator of bullying in the future.

Staggering revelations in the above-mentioned survey should be a wake -up call for all of us, the school systems, the parents, the teachers and especially the policymakers overseeing educational affairs in the country.

It is disappointing to note that Cadet colleges and boarding schools are said to be epicentres of bullying, damaging the physical and psychological well-being of those enrolled in the institutions being highlighted. In these institutions, the seniors are always given policing powers. They use violent methods – punishing, demonizing and dehumanizing tactics in order to deal with juniors. Such a dictatorial environment within the four walls of educational organizations is playing havoc  with the lives of learners in their formative phase of life. Thus,the victims intoxicated with anger and vengeance, upon their turn of becoming seniors, become perpetrators of bullying. They use the same insulting methods as a tool to discipline their juniors.

On the one hand, such educational entities are being run by colonial mindset, on the other, teachers’ transformation into taskmasters and students as job-seekers, have undermined the ultimate objective of education i.e. producing better and useful citizens. Instead, the basic purpose of getting an education is now reduced to job-achievement rather than the overall personality development of pupils.

Readers might be surprised to know that bullying is not only thriving under the nose of school authorities /management, but teachers themselves are sometimes playing the role of bullies. Below-the-belt remarks passed by teachers as well as degrading the slow learners in front of their fellow students is also a behaviour associated with the bully. A great many teachers are involved in this unacceptable, unacademic and inhuman conduct. Sometimes, a particular student is chosen and systematically mocked – thus giving a license to the class to target the student. Slow learners are more vulnerable when it comes to being victims of the bullying environment during their learning journey. Commercialism and subsequent overcrowded classrooms in the private sector, and a lack of checks and balances in public sector schools, have produced a plethora of problems for students. Bullying and corporal punishment remain unaddressed, subsequently sabotaging the conducive environment needed to grasp academic activities.

Teachers' failure to focus on every student has fueled feelings of worthlessness especially among those that are slower in learning. The educational system prioritized by both the public and private sectors is catering to faster minds, leaving the slow and unwilling learners to fend for themselves.

According to UNESCO's Institute of Statistics, one-third of the globe’s youth is bullied; this ranges from as low as 7 percent in Tajikistan to 74 percent in Samoa. According to the UN body, low socioeconomic status is the main factor in youth bullying within wealthy countries. Immigrant-born youth in wealthy countries are more likely to be bullied than locally-born youth. American students are also facing bullying on a larger scale. According to the Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2019 (National Centre for Education Statistics and Bureau of Justice) and the 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) about 20 percent of students aged 12 to 18 experienced bullying nationwide. In Canada, students are also bearing the brunt of bullies. According to Rob Benn Frenette, O.N.B, a co-executive director and co-founder of Bullying Canada, 47 percent of Canadian parents report having a child who is the victim of bullying.

England is one of the worst countries for bullying among school pupils, global surveys have suggested. Ditch the Label is an international charity supporting young people aged 12 to 25 to help tackle the “root issues” around bullying. According to available facts and figures offered by Ditch the Label, a fifth of young people in the UK have been bullied in the past 12 months. Some 62 percent were bullied by a class mate and 37 percent by someone at school who they did not know. As many as 59 percent believed attitudes towards their appearance were the likely cause of bullying.

In order to move forward and eradicate this bullying, a number of measures can be taken. First and foremost, a comprehensively defined definition of bullying is imparted to students with consequences for those found guilty of subjecting their fellow students to such aggression. Once a policy of punishment is announced by the institutions, then it must be strictly followed. If a student is found guilty of bullying for the first time, he\she be issued a warning in black and white; and such information should be communicated to the parents, too. If the same student repeats the same act despite warnings , then they be expelled from the institution. And such expulsion of a certain student on charges of bullying be highlighted. This will nip the bullying in the bud. And, the same strict policy of punishment i.e. termination from service be announced for teachers if found guilty of subjecting students to bullying. Having said that, teachers’ workload and unnecessary tasks need to be ended without further delay so that educators could be well focused in teaching and be and attentive to screen out those deviating from the policies prioritized by the institutions. And, last but not the least, to help students come out of this contaminated environment, the teachers will not only have to desist from bullying but also teach students to follow in the footsteps of John Lewis. Students must be taught self-defense and reporting the intimidators to administrative authorities concerned, as well as the parents. In order to inculcate confidence in students, they should be educated that they are worthy and strong enough to cope with any such act that they are subjected to.

They should be encouraged to act against bad and bullying behaviour. “I have said to students: when you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have a moral obligation to do something, to say something” John Lewis had said.

In addition to this, Pakistan can take inspiration from the Philippines, which passed an Anti-Bullying Act as early as 2013 – one that saw a brake on bullying in the country. According to this bill, all schools shall develop intervention strategies involving all parties such as bullies, victims, bystanders, parents, school personnel, service providers and all other persons who may be affected by the bullying incident. The act is not punitive: however,it aims at initiating training programs and activities where best practices on intervention and prevention strategies are adopted, to ensure quality, relevant ,effective and efficient delivery of prevention and intervention programmes in schools. And it encourages and supports anti-bullying campaigns and capability-building activities on handling bullying cases, and review all anti-bullying policies adopted by public and private schools.

Were such a bill to be passed by the National Assembly of Pakistan, it would help end this bad behaviour that is crippling the young generation. The distinguished educationist Wilma Old Linga from Philippines, a friend of mine, disclosed that “there is zero tolerance for bullying behaviour in the country after the enactment of the act. Teachers, students and parents are sent reminders on the issue in order to stop the cruel attitude called bullying.”

But unfortunately, Pakistan is lagging behind in terms of taking concrete measures to uproot the very cruel attitude that has caused trauma to pupils, ultimately undermining their education as well as mental health.

A sustainable solution lies in both cultivating courage to confront bullies and seeking support of teachers, school authorities or parents.

Given the pervasiveness of bullying in the fabric of our society, an awareness campaign highlighting its negative impacts and assertive action is imperative.


The author is an educationist and a freelance contributor