WEDNESDAY’S anti-bullying conference at the Southern Academy for the Performing Arts (SAPA), San Fernando, was an inspiring and much-needed exercise. The conference put on by the organisation known as Caribbean Color Splash, was attended by nearly 500 students and showcased a dazzling array of activities and advocacy related to this troubling problem.
All the student participants should be singled out for praise. But particularly noteworthy were Chaguanas East Secondary students who unveiled a new app designed to make the reporting and recording of instances of bullying more secure. In a video presentation, they demonstrated how the app can be used to help fellow students report bullying while remaining anonymous.
Dramatised contributions were also delivered by pupils from Fyzabad Anglican School, St Stephen’s College, and Penal Secondary School. We roundly congratulate all for devoting their time, energy and talent to shining a spotlight on this issue which is endemic in our culture.
According to the 2016 Trinidad and Tobago School Climate Report — which was released in March this year by the Silver Lining Foundation — 73 per cent of students indicated that they had been teased or harassed, 24 per cent of students indicated that they had been pushed or hit, and 37 per cent of respondents indicated they were the victim of cyberbullying.
The report was compiled by the Foundation, with the approval of the Ministry of Education and in collaboration with UNESCO, after a baseline survey between May and July 2016. The survey involved 20 secondary schools with a sample of 651 students.
The report also found LGBT students experience bullying at higher rates than non-LGBT students and also showed a higher propensity for engaging in bullying. Meanwhile, heterosexual students were more likely to discuss or share their bullying experiences with someone. “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,” notes Newsday columnist Sandrine Rattan. “Not being socially included, a person becomes extremely introverted as he/she sometimes has no alternative except to accept their condition.”
Some might regard school bullying as an ordinary part of life, especially given its prevalence. But the serious psychological effects of bullying tell us otherwise. And just because the behaviour is common does not make it right. Activities like Wednesday’s conference, which has already been endorsed by a range of stakeholders including the US Embassy, provide an important forum for raising awareness about these issues. As noted by Deputy Chief of Mission at the US Embassy Monica Morse, bullying continues into adulthood unless victims find a way to break the cycle. That cycle, and not just our culture, may well be the reason for the high prevalence of bullying in our schools in the first place.