THE sudden death of 10-year-old Roseann Akeila Harris who was kicked to her abdomen allegedly by a classmate recently has once again brought to the fore how serious the issue of bullying is in schools.

Harris, a Grade Five pupil of St Stephen’s Primary School and of Lot 9 Public Road, La Penitence, died on April 01, more than one week after the incident.

The Post Mortem Examination (PME) revealed that she died from blunt trauma to the stomach. Prior to her death, Harris was at home, sick and had told her mother that the classmate kicked her in the stomach after she did not let him inside the classroom.  There is an ongoing police investigation into this case, and from media reports, the classmate involved is now traumatised and has refused to speak, period. So here it is, we have two families–one mourning the death of a child and the other left with a devastated youngster, who probably does not understand the consequences of his actions and has since gone into a shell.

It is no secret that bullying in schools has not been tackled frontally by parents, teachers and the Ministry of Education. We have seen videos on social media of physical fights between students with their fellow classmates cheering them on and only last month, a 14-year-old student of Lusignan Secondary School, East Coast Demerara (ECD) was stabbed in the neck by another student during a fight in close proximity of the Beterverwagting (BV) Police Station. From the report in this newspaper, these two young women had an ongoing issue and from all indications, nothing was done by the authorities to prevent it from escalating.

School bullying has probably been around since the 18th century. It is a negative human condition that has evolved along with the mind and psyche. Bullying started with children ‘picking’ on each others or parents believing that they are teaching their kids “discipline” by beating them. Adults used to believe that kids fought only to be “best friends in the end.” Bullying also resulted from conforming to prejudiced social norms like gender stereotyping of men and women. The idea of “boys will be boys” and “girls are catty” has given way to accepting unacceptable negative social behaviour. However, with awareness and strategies, bullying in school can be controlled.

Last year, the Guyana Responsible Parenthood Association (GRPA) hosted a street fair to increase awareness on the subject, in recognition of its National Bullying Prevention Month. What has happened since is anyone’s guess.

According to a report in one of the daily newspapers, in May of 2012, a call was made by lecturer attached to the University of Guyana’s Tain Campus, Maureen Bynoe, for the Ministry of Education to adapt a national anti-bullying strategy to target students of all ages.  The report stated that Bynoe’s proposal was premised on a survey she conducted, aimed at assessing the extent bullying has infiltrated schools along Central Corentyne, Berbice. The study discovered that ethnicity was a major factor that contributed to bullying in the school system.

Aside from the reasons as to why students bully each other, the study, according to Bynoe, focused on the forms of bullying, the consequences of bullying on the victim, what strategies have been effective in dealing with bullying and whether there was a significant difference in the form of bullying due to gender.

While this lecturer’s study focused on schools in Berbice, we believe a similar study needs to be conducted by the Ministry of Education, focusing on schools across the country with major involvement from students, parents and teachers. With this study, we will know the core issue that leads to bullying and from there an action plan can be drafted and implemented. The bullies will be identified and get the necessary help. Parents and teachers need to work together as they play an integral role in preventing bullying. Teachers especially need to pay more attention to students’ behaviour.

For start we urge that a national anti-bullying awareness campaign be launched across schools; the implementation of firm school-wide rules with severe punishment for bullying; spread acceptance and respect; include anti-bullying messages and information in school-related publications, newspapers and signboards and also schools should implement the random acts of kindness culture with rewards to the kindest and most creative student. The time to act is now and we need to protect our children.