Bullying In Schools Highlights Need For Mental Health Officers, Counsellors

Many of our teachers are not trained and equipped to deal with the range of issues that rebellious students present. They may lack knowledge of the background of students and their upbringing.
04 Mar 2020 16:49
Bullying In Schools Highlights Need For Mental Health Officers, Counsellors
Ratu Kadavulevu School.


The physical violence is symptomatic of the depth and seriousness of emotional challenges that afflict students in some of our schools.

If we had professional mental health officer and counsellor at Ratu Kadavulevu School in Tailevu, they might have helped to avert the situation escalating to a video of senior students hitting a younger student with a table leg last year and the retribution against one of the alleged bullies last Sunday.

In a boarding school as big as RKS with 600 plus students, issues are bound to arise because they come from different background and value systems.

While some students are raised in a stable family where all the values (kindness, respect, trust and love) mentioned by Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama are taught, others may come from a totally different upbringing. Some are brought up by single parents in an environment where life is a constant struggle.

Teachers may not have the time to extract this information from students or engage in disciplinary proceedings.

Mental health officer/ counsellor would be the best people to do it.

There may be several reasons why a student is rebellious or engaging in anti-social behaviour. The student could be suffering from undiagnosed mental health problems. If the problems are not treated early, they could develop into more serious and dangerous behaviour.

Students are not allowed to take law into their own hands.

They cannot just decide that because a student does not conform to their standards, he needs to be beaten up. That’s jungle law and it’s criminal. As such it should be viewed seriously and action taken to show that we do not condone any form of physical violence.

The RKS incidents proved that they were part of a culture of violence that did not just spring up in 12 months.

This disturbing culture had existed longer than that. It had survived and grown because it was merely glossed over in the past. Whatever actions were taken were cosmetic.

Last year when the first bullying/assault took place, it was surprising that the parents of the victim did not know about it until a video of it went viral on social media.

Why did the victim keep quiet about it and never told his parents? Either he was ashamed of it or feared for his life if he revealed what happened.

Then last Sunday, about one year later, one of the four alleged bullies, was attacked by another group of students as its way of enforcing justice.

But two wrongs do not make it right.

Both incidents should be condemned because they were perpetuating this culture of violence. If they are part of an initiation ritual, then it must be eliminated right away.

It contradicts the policy of zero tolerance on corporal punishment in schools.

Last year, it was announced that counsellors would be posted in schools to deal with the emotional and physical wellbeing of students. RKS needs one. It also needs a mental health professional. He or she does not necessarily have to live in the school compound and goes in when the need arises.

We need to take a leaf out of what New Zealand is doing to address mental health challenges in schools. It is investing millions of dollars in this area.

A survey by the NZ Council for Education Research last year showed that 62 per cent of principals were struggling to get help for students with mental health issues.

It said the pressure from social media was contributing to an increase in students with anxiety. It had lots of evidence that showed that anxiety and pressures among young people were driven by technology. Drugs were also identified as one of the causes of the problems.

It is general knowledge here that illicit drugs have also found their way into some of our schools.

Unless we deal with the root causes of the culture of violence in some schools like RKS, it will continue.

And it has to be addressed professionally.

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