It was surprising for Mrs. Amjad Rehman that Amna Rehman, her daughter, was showing reluctance to go to school. It was for the second time in the week that she was avoiding school on the pretext of a headache. The mother knew it very well that she was fully fit and the headache was only a lame excuse. Amna is studying at a private “English medium” school in ninth grade in the Township area of Lahore. She was the only child among all her four siblings who had loved going to school. But during the last two weeks, she had gone through such an ordeal that going to school became really fearsome for her. Two weeks back, during the first term exams, Abida Mumtaz, one of her classmates, while sitting behind her, asked for her help to solve the physics paper. Amna flatly refused; she could not do so. It was cheating, and she did not believe in cheating in exams.
But, her refusal turned Abida against her. She threatened Amana of dire consequences during the paper, and from that day onwards, she started chasing and bullying her, along with her two other group fellows, whenever they would get a chance. In the courtyard during a free period, at the canteen, at the gate after school closing time, they would give her a shove, pull away her bag, and hurl nasty words at her while passing by. Time and again they threatened her of a “full-fledged” thrashing.
Amna is an introvert and mostly doesn’t mix up with her classmates. Being good at studies, she didn’t feel the need to join any group of students in her class, and she enjoys being lonely. But now, her habit has become a curse for her. Many of classmates noted Abida’s group bullying her, but they only “enjoyed” it instead of standing with the girl. For fear of a severe reaction from the “mean girls group”, she didn’t tell her teacher, or her mother.
However, that day, on her mother’s insistence, she related all her ordeal, but still suggested finding some other way out, instead of asking the class in-charge to help resolve the issue “as she would not accompany her all the time on campus”.
Mawara Ahsan, a senior teacher at a private school system in Lahore, is not surprised at the Amna story. She says bullying in educational institutes is common in Pakistan also, but unfortunately the issue receives little or no attention from people concerned. She says that with the increasing decline of parental involvement in school affairs, bullying in educational institutions has increased significantly in the last two decades. Quoting the findings of a survey report, published by the Academia Magazine, the teacher says Pakistan was placed at 22nd position in a list of 25 countries studied for a research on bullying.
The study says roughly one in six children aged 12 to 18 report being bullied in Pakistani schools, according to data released by the non-governmental authorities in 2018. However, that number likely fell dramatically when schools shifted to virtual learning.
An educationist, Prof. Dr. Abiodollah, regrets that a majority of parents and a large number of teachers are unaware of the bullying concept, and they don’t see bullying as an issue worth their attention. He defines bullying as “unwanted, aggressive behaviour among school-age children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behaviour is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated over time. Both children, who are bullied and who bully others, may have serious, lasting problems.”
Prof. Dr. Abiodollah, a senior teacher at Punjab University’s Institute of Education and Research (IER), says school administrations must understand the difference between bullying and harassment. The two are often used interchangeably, however, there are some uniquenesses. Bullying behaviour reaches harassment when a student is not just being bullied about being small, rather they are experiencing verbal bullying about their size as a result of a physical disability.
The educationist says parents’ involvement and parents modelling respectful and dignified behaviour is always seen as the first line of defence against bullying. He says parents should stay involved with their children, supervising and monitoring their behaviour, talking to them about classes, peers, interests and concerns, and encouraging involvement in activities that are healthy.
Prof. Abiodollah endorses Amna Rehman’s story, saying, “Children are often reluctant to tell their teachers if they are being targeted, but they are more likely to tell their parents about their ordeal. So, parents should take any report seriously, make sure the child knows it is not their fault, and ask how they would like the parents to help them.
The IER senior teacher says parents should encourage their children to make good friends. Children, who have even one close friend, are less likely to be targeted. He says one reason for Amna being bullied for weeks was not having even a single good friend in school.
It is a good omen that with the increasing use of social media, more and more people, especially parents, are becoming aware of the menace of bullying on campuses. In 2019, the UNESCO Member States declared the first Thursday of November every year International Day against Violence and Bullying at School Including Cyberbullying. In the year 2021, the day was marked on Nov 4. UNESCO Director General Audrey Azoulay said in his message: “Although this violence is not limited to school premises, the education system has an important role to play in teaching students how to navigate safely in the digital sphere.”
Punjab Education Minister Dr Murad Raas last year promised that the provincial government “would soon introduce new legislation for private schools, which would cover the issues such as harassment and bullying at schools”. However, nothing was later heard of on the issue. The minister and his party must protect the rights of schoolchildren by enacting a law at the earliest.