Bullying, name-calling and ostracising are not uncommon in educational institutions. There are possibilities of children facing it even in kindergarten. Cambridge dictionary defines it as the act of hurting someone, often over a period of time, and forcing them to do something they do not want to.
In the case of primary and middle schools, children are under the supervision of teachers constantly. Still, a recent study has revealed that every third child is bullied in school. The number could be more, as many cases go unreported.
As the transition to intermediate or junior college takes place, educational institutions play a lesser role in controlling its spread. This leads to a
difficult situation for the students, as they would still be trying to get used to an unsupervised and freer environment, adding to the emotional and physical changes. Thus, higher education institutions should be more careful about the emotional well-being of students.
The need for providing such a care was recommended in as early as 1948-49 by the Radhakrishnan University Education Commission. This was further reiterated in 1966 by the Kothari Education Commission which pointed at
failure to safeguard students’ welfare as a major weakness of the existing system of education. This has become more pronounced due to these major changes in the society: the trend of nuclear families, increased stress of modern living and more importantly, unhealthy competition among students.
What differentiates bullying from teasing? While bullying affects the healthy environment in colleges, it could be more traumatic for a sensitive child. The upbringing of children, their emotional make-up and support system play a significant role in helping students deal with bullying.
Can a teacher catering to a large number of grown-up students be aware of every such act in the class? Can the faculty take any action apart from warning students? What roles can parents, counsellors and teachers play in overcoming such situations?
Dr Usha Rao, a clinical psychologist and student counsellor, feels that the traditional way of considering educational institutions as a second home should be reinforced, which means that institutions share equal responsibilities with parents and that the students are comfortable sharing their concerns with the faculty. The moral education module which was traditionally an important part of the curriculum would help immensely, along with a few brief and mandatory sessions on soft skills.
Many institutions lay more emphasis on academics and underplay the role of relaxation and recreation. Students are not given a chance to introspect, think and work on their problems. They are made to feel that problems can be only of academic nature and any other emotional issue is not worth talking about, let alone seeking attention.
The major aim should be to strengthen a student mentally as it is not possible to reign in the bullies always. Students should be able to acknowledge that it is not possible to be liked and admired by all, and even a few good friends are enough to lead a happy college life.
This is all the more relevant these days as the association with the peers continues even after college hours, through social networking. Getting along will not be a major problem if students are encouraged to develop hobbies and participate in co-curricular and extracurricular activities.
When a teenager is continuously bullied, it can trigger not just trauma but also suicidal tendencies. Though it may not be possible to anticipate and control every conflict in class, a good teacher can keep a lookout for signs of emotional distress and warning signs. Selecting a good student representative helps a great deal in connecting with students, while sending them to counsellors will go a long way in preventing mental abuse and loss of life.
In addition, class trips and short visits to academic places will develop bonding and overcome differences. Class activities, by forming groups of heterogeneous students, too help in ensuring a harmonious college life.
(The author is associate professor, Christ, Bengaluru)