Like a series of time bombs set to go off in sequence, several cases of schoolyard bullying have been exposed, finally coming to the attention of the public and the educational authorities. But is schoolyard bullying really anything new? A study by the Ministry of Education shows that 2 percent of junior high school students have been bullied. Since there are 950,000 junior high school students in Taiwan, that means between 10,000 to 20,000 students have been victims of bullying.
The ministry is informed only of a few dozen cases every year. This implies that schoolyard bullying is handled with a head-in-the-sand attitude, either with the responsible party purposely covering up such incidents or ignoring them altogether. Such behavior runs counter to the fundamental purposes of education.
With the issue now in the spotlight, the ministry has said that it is to implement a program to prevent schoolyard bullying immediately. If school presidents do not handle such incidents, they will not be able to receive an A (甲) assessment, the highest grading, in their performance review, and subsidies will be deducted from the local government supervising their school. These measures may go some way toward preventing schools from covering up and not reporting bullying.
A careful look at how schools handle bullying shows that they are either explained away as isolated incidents or as boisterous games that have gone too far. Victims of bullying will only feel confident in turning to the school for help if the issue is seen to be receiving serious attention.
It is important to concede that schoolyard bullying shows schools are failing to foster diversity and mutual respect. I would like to suggest some ways in which schools should deal with the problem, in terms of creating the proper school environment and staff attitude. I hope these will go some way to building an amicable school system free of bullying.
In terms of the school environment, the most important thing is to reduce the number of blind spots on the school premises and to set up alarms throughout the schoolyard so that bullying can be revealed the moment an incident occurs. Furthermore, schools should use weekly assemblies and activities to show their determination to deal with bullying, to let the perpetrators know that such behavior is not tolerated, to let victims know that there will be no retaliation for those brave enough to speak up and to let the other students know that reporting bullying incidents is a display of civil courage.
This could serve to build a mini civil society and if each student and teacher could learn a feeling of empathy for others, they would be able to respect and protect other people. This would create an atmosphere conducive to a friendly schoolyard.
In terms of staff attitudes, the school president should make teachers aware of their duty to intervene in bullying. There are mainly two reasons teachers ignore bullying: They might not be up to handling the issue by themselves, in which case the school and maybe even the educational authorities should provide the necessary assistance. The other reason is that they themselves are the sources of bullying.
Most often, this takes the form of verbal bullying, in which the teacher uses language, such as ridicule, to increase divisions within the class, giving some students a reason for bullying another student by saying that “the teacher doesn’t like you anyway.”