A study conducted by Unisa's Bureau of Market Research, through its Youth Research Unit, shows that nearly 35% of learners in Gauteng schools have been bullied in the past two years, with 42% of this group being Grade 8 learners and a third having experienced bullying throughout their secondary school lives.
The research, which spans from 2011-2012, was conducted on 3 371 learners in Grades 8 to 12 in 24 Gauteng schools. It showed that 1 158 learners have been bullied in the past two years.
Presenting these finding at the Colloquium on the Prevention of Bullying in Gauteng Schools on Tuesday, Goodness Zulu, a social worker at the Youth Research Unit in Unisa, said although traditional forms of bullying were still prominent, the phenomenon of cyber bullying was emerging rapidly – especially through texting – with about 16.9% of bullying cases being attributable to this.
"Young people recognise that technology is creating a platform for bullying and contribute to the on-going online victimisation of the youth.
"We had concerns regarding the distinction between bullying and abuse. Some of the responses we received from the learners who are being bullied, told us they didn't report it because they were scared they would be bullied more. [They were also scared] to tell their [parents] because they would be yelled at," said Zulu.
The research recommended that continuous cyber safety education and the serious impact of bullying needed to be addressed.
Today's colloquium, hosted by the Gauteng Department of Education, aims to establish the current trends regarding bullying, to assess the impact of bullying on the school life of children, learning and teaching, and the overall functionality of schools.
"Online awareness campaigns and counselling services are recommended and binding guidelines on appropriate action to reported [incidents] need to be enhanced. Intervention strategies include early age-appropriate intervention programmes, appropriate reporting structures, and empowerment and proactive intervention strategies of child care practitioners," recommended the study.
Gauteng MEC for Education Barbara Creecy said the theme of the colloquium, 'Working Together to End Bullying, The prevention of Bullying in Gauteng Schools', spoke directly to their hopes for the outcomes of the colloquium.
"Bullying is an old phenomenon, which we deal with on a daily basis. While it often begins with teasing, it progresses to physical assault. Initiation practices in high schools are often protected by those in power. What frightens us about the cyber bullying ... is that it can go on 24 hours.
"We hope we will be able to develop campaigns to assist educators, communities and parents to speak out and the victims to take a stand," Creecy said.
The Head of Community Awareness and Prevention Programme Department at Childline, Gita Dannen, said bullying was frequently overlooked because teachers and parents were frequently unaware that it was happening.
"If they ... are aware of it, they [often] don't know how to deal with it. In South Africa, there is ... a continued use of corporal punishment in homes and [some] schools.
"This leads to the normalisation and acceptance of violent behaviour. In turn, it leads to low levels of reporting – the perception is that this is normal and nothing can or will be done about it," she said, adding that 70% of those bullied had themselves been victims. This is according to a study conducted by the Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention.
She further urged children to report abuse and bullying. She encouraged parents to open communications lines with their children to help them build their self-esteem and to engage in hobbies that build esteem.
"Talk about school daily, bullying and its consequences; talk to the educator about how your child is doing socially at school," Dannen advised parents.
In prioritising the issue of bullying, Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane, in the State of the Province Address in 2011, announced that she had assigned 1 000 community volunteers to monitor, amongst others, incidents of bullying in schools.
The provincial Education Department has also introduced a school safety policy that provides psycho-social support in the event of bullying and violence amongst learners.
Lay counsellors have been appointed to provide support to schools. Some counsellors hold violence prevention classes or workshops for learners, while some schools provide special programmes on preventing violence and gang activity for high-risk learners. Under the policy, patrollers are also provided for schools which can't afford to hire private security.