By Marcelle Thomas
Deemed a rite of passage in some cultures, bullying in local schools, particularly public schools, has not been acknowledged for the most part by parents, teachers and other educators.
However, allegations made by the parents of Kester De Agrella—the 14-year-old Charity High School student who was found hanging in the school’s bathroom—that he was bullied and that his death was possibly linked to this, saw an investigation being launched, the results of which are not yet known.
Meanwhile, interviews undertaken by this newspaper with teachers, parents and students at four senior secondary schools and three junior high schools in the city, revealed the depth of the problem. While teachers firmly believe that there were only small instances of bullying at their schools, students’ views were quite the opposite.
Ninety-two per cent of students interviewed said they were either bullied or knew of incidences of bullying in their respective schools. The bullying ranges from money being taken away from the students; their lunches and/or snacks being eaten; their pens and other school supplies and textbooks being taken and the most prevalent, the bullies not sharing recreational space.
While there are no laws mandating that schools create formal anti-bullying rules many of the principals and teachers spoken to stated that at students’ orientation and at weekly assemblies bullying is highlighted and students told of punishments that will meted out to them if they are found guilty. This, Beverly Daley, Principal of The Bishops‘ High School said, was the most effective deterrent to most bullies. “Upon entering this school, students and their parents are told of our no tolerance for bullying policy,” she said. “We do not condone such practices here. They are warned, suspended and counselled and if they continue then they have to leave,” she added firmly.
One senior teacher at Queen’s College informed this newspaper that although teachers are aware that some students are bullied the children, it seems, do not have the courage to speak up. She added that the school is looking at ways that would make it easier for children to speak about bullying. “We are aware that there are ‘pocket cases’ of bullying at our school but nothing serious. Most times it’s snacks or lunch… We try to advise our children to report all matters, but sometimes it seems they are scared. So we are now formulising ways to make it easier for them to report if they are being bullied,” she said.
Deputy Principal of the St Stanislaus College, Donette Daniels, told Stabroek News that bullying isn’t an issue at that school since teachers constantly monitor students. “We have rules here and we understand that some students will want to be daring and try to disobey those rules, but we are constantly implementing new ways to deal with them,” she said. Daniels added that while she has come to the realization that bullying will not be eliminated, she feels schools countrywide should try to be consistent when dealing with bullying and not ever think of any situation as being too small. She further stated that constant reinforcement and creating an environment where students feel comfortable talking to teachers should prove effective ways to tackle the trend.
At the North Ruimveldt Multilateral School the senior teacher responsible for discipline requested anonymity. Her approach she claims is “old school,” and as such she did not want “any problems.” She, like other heads and teachers spoken to, said that bullying was not prevalent at that school. However, when students are found guilty of the act they are given “a sound thrashing.” She went on to explain that although corporal punishment was the option chosen to deal with bullying, it was never administered outside the Ministry of Education’s guidelines regarding corporal punishment. The senior teacher also personally believes that it is the school’s corporal punishment stance on
bullying that has helped to bring the levels down, since the school once had a reputation for bullies.
She ended by saying that it was important to explain to parents more than students the effects of bullying at that school. The reason, she stated, was the fact that when children know that their parents are active parts of their lives they seem to analyse the consequences of situations before acting lest they are further punished.
The students to whom this newspaper spoke however gave a different view. Almost all of the nearly 70 students from schools across Guyana said that there was evidence of bullying at their schools. When asked why they thought their teachers would say there is little evidence of it, one student, Kestine King, said, “You can’t blame them for saying that because the truth of the matter is that the students who are bullied never complain. Teachers always say that we should complain but if we do we know that this will only anger the bully more. Will they be there to protect us when we leave school to go take the bus or buy lunch?”
Nishan Narine, a student of the St Rose‘s High school said, “there is bullying at my school. Boys seem to be bullied more than girls and sometimes it’s the girls who bully the boys because they know they will always be given the right.”
Depending on the school, the type of bullying varied. Many of the younger children in lower classes said they were bullied for areas on either a playing field or basketball court.
One student of Queen’s College, who did not want his name published for fear that he might be targeted, said, “You don’t really hear about lunches being eaten out and stuff here. However, if a Form One child is playing on the basketball court and the fifth or sixth formers want to play, they bully them off. The same goes for cricket. Sometimes a younger child might be the owner of the ball and he still won’t be able to play.”
At North Ruimveldt Multilateral a first form student said he was bullied for his stationery constantly. He said: “Of course there is bullying here every day. Mostly it is the first formers who face it but if we tell on them we get justice because they get beating… That, I feel, is a good thing. It helps.”
The responses from students of St Rose’s High School were similar. Many held firm to the belief that bullying will always be with us. Said student Delon Prowell: “As long as one pupil was bullied someone else will have to pay for that, it is sad but it is the truth. The cycle has to continue.”