School can become a nightmare, rather than an opportunity for children who are victims of violence, Micaela Marques de Sousa, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Representative in Namibia, said during the recent launch of “Start Caring”, an anti-bullying campaign that forms part of a social accountability and school governance initiative.
“The promise and potential of education and the excitement of discovery and learning are undermined by pain, trauma and fear. In some cases, children’s academic performance suffers, their health and well-being is affected, and their capacity to operate as confident individuals, capable of developing open and trusting relations with others, is compromised,” she says.
De Sousa adds that school violence is the main concern of the newly launched national anti-bullying campaign.
The Ministry of Education has come to realise that violence in schools is a major problem throughout the country and thuis has been confirmed through a number of research studies that have been carried out over the years.
According to the Global School-based Student Health Survey (GSHS) of 2013, 44.6% of the learners, who participated in the study, were bullied during the previous 30 days.
An emerging form of bullying in Namibia is cyber-bullying, using social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Any form of violence in school has social, psychological, emotional and physical impacts on both the learners’ and the educator. Violence occurring in schools creates a hostile environment that disrupts teaching and learning through absenteeism, fear and intimidation, not only for those that are directly involved, but also bystanders to acts of violence.
This is one of the main reasons the ministry decided to initiate action against violence at school, focussing particularly on bullying. The campaign is aimed at creating a culture of caring between learners, educators and the community.
The Minister of Education, Arts and Culture, Katrina Hanse-Himarwa, agrees that violence and bullying have negative effects on learners’ academic performance.
“When learners have feelings of fear associated with school, they are not able to fulfil their academic potential and we want all learners to feel happy in the school environment, because this is where your minds are supposed to be nurtured to become the future leaders of our country.”
She urges Learners Representative Councils (LRCs) to adopt a zero-tolerance approach to bullying and to use their positions to make a difference in the attitude of fellow learners.
“When the LRC uses their position for own personal gratification and not to support and care for other learners, by using their position to make the learners feel uncomfortable or scared – that is also bullying.
“They should be assertive and openly opposed to any forms of bullying. It is particularly important that all cases of bullying be treated equally, that as the LRC, you do not tolerate it among your friends. The LRC can provide support for the victims of bullying,” she says.
The Ministry is positive that the national anti-bullying campaign will improve awareness about bullying and violence and will be a big step towards improving access to quality education.