Are we dealing with bullying in TT effectively? Today bullying/cyberbullying — via social media, e-mail, text messaging etc — is a growing trend and a major challenge for TT’s schools/society. Bullying can take many forms.
In March 2017, Pope Francis expressed his concern about bullying, which he called “an ugly phenomenon in education these days.” In May 2016, he called for an end to “aggression and bullying. Bullying is an aggression that conceals profound cruelty,” he said. On January 9, he stated that “bullying is the devil’s work.”
Sandrine Rattan stated in her recent article in the Newsday, “Social inclusion is a must”: “Bullying both at schools and other public spaces comes from a place of exclusion, as such victims are forced to think that they don’t deserve a place in that particular space. Not being socially included, a person becomes extremely introverted as he/she sometimes has no alternative except to accept their condition as a new normal, which is indeed unfortunate.”
We must never capitulate and allow this social ill to be viewed as “a new normal.” Schools must strive to provide safe environments for all students, in keeping with the inherent, inalienable, and inviolable dignity of each person made in the image and likeness of God.
The internet is replete with examples of anti-bullying policies and procedures on which our educational institutions can draw. However, schools must move beyond paper policies if any intervention programme is to succeed.
I recall being invited to address 1,200 children at a Catholic secondary school in East London. The students had displayed wonderful friezes demonstrating how they should live as Christians. The caption on one frieze read: “Down from the Cross, out of the grave, and into our lives.” I asked them to share with me ways in which they were living their lives as followers of Christ.
Their responses were positive. Yet, many of them had been reported to the principal for “beating up” Bangladeshi children in the neighbourhood. It had become the “fun thing” to do because the Bangladeshi children were seen as “other,” “alien,” “different.” It was only through a planned intervention programme that we succeeded in turning the school around.
The programme involved training for all staff, school governors, parents, and students; community involvement; cross-curricular activities, eg seeking to foster empathy and respect; systems for recording and reporting bullying incidents and strategies for dealing with such incidents.
These included support for victims and strategies for dealing with perpetrators in an appropriate way since bullying harms both the victim and the perpetrator. Monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness of the written policy that was produced as part of a consultative process was an essential component of the programme.
We must play our part to build communities of peace and harmony in TT. Our various faith communities must do more to help strengthen family life and to nurture conscience formation among their followers. I urge principals to be vigilant; to take action to foster safety and harmony in their educational institutions.
Whole-school policies on discipline must include strategies that involve all staff, parents and community. Too often our institutions, including the Ministry of Education, wait until things get out of hand before intervening. A proactive approach is essential, one that includes multiple stakeholders. School supervisors have a key role to play in supporting schools in addressing this issue.
Unless dealt with effectively, the impact of bullying can continue into adulthood, with victims suffering from depression etc and bullies wreaking havoc in communities. Together, we can eliminate this evil in order to create an ethos in which genuine communities can develop and prosper — one which reflects the kind of values that will take our beloved country forward.
Leela Ramdeen is the chair of the Catholic Commission for Social Justice