When new students join a school, their first experience is not usually the best because they are bullied. According to education experts, bullying is unwanted, aggressive behaviour among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behaviour is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.
Types of bullying
Joyce Kirabo, a teacher at Essa Nyarugunga S.S Kicukiro district, defines bullying as the primitive treatment of new students by the older ones.
Kirabo says bullying is reflected in various forms — physical and verbal. It includes teasing, name-calling, inappropriate sexual comments, taunting, hitting, kicking, pinching, spitting, pushing, taking new learner’s things and making rude hand gestures.
Why people bully
Maliza Muna, an English teacher at E.S Kakanombe, says there is no defined reason for bullying but many are taken up by the bandwagon influence.
“It is more about preserving the culture (however backward )of the school. The bully-victims usually say to themselves, ‘because our elders bullied, so must we,’” she notes.
However, some students do it for fun or to feel popular and want to be seen as ‘tough’, ‘cool’ and in charge.
“They tend to think that once they make the life of new students difficult, their status in school will be uplifted,” Maliza explains.
Psychologists also say frustration and lack of attention from friends, parents or teachers can make a person a bully.
Kirabo, who is also a counsellor, said some children bully because of bad up-bringing at home which makes people insensitive to other people’s feelings and emotions.
“Such children feel happy to see their fellow students depressed, sad and hurt,” she says, adding that watching many violent films can also make a person try out violent things.
Maliza Muna, who experienced bullying over 10 years ago, said: “Although I enjoyed bullying, I had also been a victim before.”
She says bullying was one way of welcoming Senior One and Senior Five students to the school. She reveals that sadness and fear would be seen in the eyes of the newcomers as soon as their parents bid them farewell.
Maliza, who went to International Academy for her secondary education, said bullying was scary but sometimes entertaining.
She says when her parents dropped her at school on her first day in Senior One, tears begun to roll down her cheeks as soon as they left. But there was a ‘sympathiser’ who immediately appeared to console her.
“A Senior Five student who later became my best friend asked me why I was crying and I told him I was missing home. He called his friends and gave me an old stinking shoe and asked me to ‘call’ my dad. I did it for almost a month,”
Maliza remembers. “Whenever they needed to laugh, I was always at their service.”
She says the old students were so merciless when dealing with newcomers, most of whom were innocent.
For instance, besides beating and burning the new students with water and electronic gadgets, the bullies would spray pepper in their eyes or put pins in their mattresses. Maliza says it was a very haunting experience and whoever went through the ‘initiation process’ successfully was considered a hero.
“The victims of bullying would wait for newcomers the following year to show their pain,” she adds.
Bright Intambara, a student at Cornerstone Rwamagana, concurs with Maliza that most students bully their colleagues because they also suffered a similar experience.
But more interesting is the fresh argument he raises; that teachers sometimes perpetuate the vice.
“Some new students are very naughty and the only way teachers silence them is by using their fellow students to discipline them,” Intambara said.
Effect of bullying
Although bullying sometimes may be fun for its perpetrators, it may have serious, lasting problems on the victims.
Maliza says: “Many students’ confidence was totally crushed. They lived in fear and became slaves of their captives (the bullies). They spent a lot of time working for the bullies instead of reading or resting.”
“Some turned into thieves and lied to their parents in order to raise money to pay the big guys to protect them. Others started smoking and drinking so as to look tough and strong,” she adds.
Mutesi Lydia, a bully-victim fivewho asked not to name her former school, says she nearly dropped out of school because of terrible experience.
“My mother did a lot of convincing and counselling before I could go back to school. I wanted to either change to a day school or abandon it all-together. My parents also checked on me more often to encourage me to persevere, saying things would get better.”
Mutesi who experienced bullying five years ago, reveals that bullying affects some victims’ performance in class since they lose interest in studying.
“Many students just wanted the term to end and return home. Besides, they were being made to fetch water and wash clothes for the ‘elders’ which made school boring,” she says.
How to deal with it
Kirabo proposes continued sensitization of students about the dangers of bullying. She says if continuing students are always taught to respect and welcome new tudents, cases of bullying in schools will be minimised.
She, however, emphasizes the need to punish the culprits. “Applying stringent measures such as suspension and hard labour will definitely have a toll on the vice,” Kirabo advises.
Ray of hope
Unlike in the past where students frowned at the idea of going to school, students today are excited to join secondary school courtesy of the government’s strong stance against bullying.
Groupe Scolari ADB Nyarutarama principal Jean Marie Nzabamwisa has checked bullying and harassment of new students in his school by forming a students committee that orient the new students into the system and to encourage openness.
“With our rules and regulations,bullying has no place in school. We have a teacher-student meeting once a week and remind them about the school rules and consequences in case they break the rules. We also engage them class-by-class letting them know what their rights are,” Nzabamwisa says, adding that once students know their rights, they cannot tolerate bullying.
When contacted, Janvier Gasana, the the deputy director general in charge of Education Quality and Standard Department, said there is no more bullying in Rwanda schools.
Bullying a regional problem
However, the vice still persists in many schools in the region.
In Uganda for instance, about 60% of children reported having been bullied, according to a 2005 study by Raising Voices Uganda. The report titled Violence Against Children: The Voices of Ugandan Children and Adults, says children reported being humiliated and victimised by older children. Over 1,000 children in Uganda, aged eight to 18, participated in the study.
In Kenya, the situation is even more worrying.
Of the 1,012 students who were interviewed in 17 public secondary schools in Nairobi 2006, between 63% and 82% said they suffered one form or another of bullying.
“The high prevalence of bullying in Kenyan schools is worrying, and may be detrimental to the victims if well defined interventions are not put in place,” warned Prof. David Ndetei, the lead researcher.
What do you think of teasing?
Bullying is both good and bad. I was teased in Senior One and I could not wait to get to Senior Two to also get a chance to revenge.
Anyhow if the teasing is not violent and does not cause physical harm it is okay.
Mugizi Collins, a businesman
It is a very barbaric practise. It is actually an issue of abuse of human rights and can cause long-term effects to the victims. The perpetrators of such behaviour should be punished severely to deter such actions.
Precious Nyiraneza, a student
Bullyng depends on the school you go to. I for one do not know what bullying is because I have gone to strict schools where they don’t tolerate such kind of behaviour. I hate bullying and wouldn’t want any one to go through such torture.
Danson Niringiye, a student
Bullying demoralises weak students who cannot express themselves and end up missing/shunning school. It also kills a child’s confidence and breeds gangs in school. This can be recipe for disaster.
Faridah Nkusi, a parent
Additional reporting by Collins Mwai & Sarah Kwihangana