No child should be afraid to go to school. But with one in three children bullied at school at least once in the last month, our education systems are failing students. The consequences are severe and far-reaching for individual students and for societies as a whole. To address this issue, UNESCO member states have designated the first Thursday in November of each year the International Day against Violence and Bullying at School Including Cyberbullying. November 5th, 2020 is the first time the world marks this important International Day.
Any form of school-related violence infringes on the right to education, to health and to well-being. Despite increased levels of awareness and public debate around bullying in recent years, the issue is still prevalent around the world and affects the lives and futures of millions of children and teenagers. A 2019 UNESCO report reveals that almost one in three students (32%) have been bullied by their peers at least once in the last month. Over 36% of students have been in a fight with another student and nearly 32.4% have been physically attacked in the last year. One in ten students has been the victim of cyberbullying, a phenomenon that is bound to increase with the constant rise in social media usage.
Boys and girls experience school violence and bullying in different ways. Boys are more likely to become involved in physical fighting and to be physically attacked than girls. Among girls, psychological bullying is more common. Although bullying diminishes between children as they mature, older students tend to be more at risk of cyberbullying than younger students.
Other factors also intersect with gender and make some children more vulnerable than others to bullying. These include physical appearance, race, nationality, and skin colour. Children from poor families, migrant children, and children seen as gender non-conforming, including those who are or are perceived as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT), are more at risk of school violence and bullying than those who fit into traditional gender norms.
The consequences of bullying and school-related violence cannot be ignored. Research shows that children who are frequently bullied are three times more likely to feel like outsiders in their school and twice as likely to skip class compared to their peers who are not subjected to bullying. They are also more likely to be unable to sleep at night and to have considered suicide. Bullying also affects students’ educational outcomes and makes them more likely to leave formal education after secondary school.
Quality education cannot take place in an atmosphere of anxiety, fear and insecurity. Countries will not achieve Sustainable Development Goal 4 – particularly target 4.a.2 on safe, non-violent, inclusive, and effective learning environments for all - and its promise of quality education for all unless they address the issue of bullying and school-related violence.
While the problem is pervasive, it is not insurmountable. As UNESCO member states rightly recognise, the only way to overcome bullying and ensure all students feel safe at school is by building partnerships within the school community and across societies. We need to work together to address the root causes of school-related violence and foster a culture of respect for students’ rights and a zero-tolerance policy for violence. This year’s inaugural theme – Together against Bullying in School – aptly underlines the need for us all to join forces to eradicate bullying.
More needs to be done to accelerate the pace of change. School communities and the entire education sector must come together to develop evidence-based strategies and implement solutions. From robust policy frameworks and new curricula that foster a caring school climate, to teacher training and providing support for affected students – a whole-education approach is critical.
Educators will continue to do their part so that all students can enjoy safe and supportive school environments, free from bullying and violence.
Click here to read about education unions’ work to end school-related gender-based violence in seven countries in Africa.