Schools must address bullying

Bronagh Hammond, Western Cape Education Department spokeswoman

The issue of bullying and antisocial behaviour is addressed in schools throughout the year. The Western Cape Education Department (WCED) has initiated a number of programmes and steps to assist schools in addressing this issue. It is an ongoing initiative.

We also constantly promote our Safe Schools hotline which offers counselling support and advice to pupils and parents – as well as a mechanism for reporting such behaviour for further investigation.

Parents and pupils (however) should first report such abuse to their teachers or school management. It is important that the school management is aware of the allegations so that they can address it as soon as possible.

Schools must address bullying, including cyber-bullying, in their school code of conduct. Disciplinary measures against pupils who distribute, film or participate in events that put the school into disrepute or constitute abuse, assault or bullying – should be addressed.

Public schools must draw up and publish a policy on the use of social media such as Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, WhatsApp and Twitter. They must inform users that defamatory, derogatory, false or offensive comments made and such information shared on the school’s Facebook page or similar platforms will be deleted by its administrator and sensitise pupils and employees to the appropriate etiquette for online activities.

Important to note is that any online activity of any individual creates a digital tattoo for that person which cannot easily be erased.

(Schools should) specify when and for what purpose the use of social media platforms is acceptable within the school environment; ensure that online activities planned by educators only include age appropriate sites and educate pupils and employees on critical thinking skills, digital literacy and online safety measures, to enable them to navigate safely through the online world.

As educators are employees of the Western Cape Government, they must also adhere to the government’s social media policy guidelines.

On the issue of schools being targeted on social media, this is often difficult to control, as we cannot manage what gets placed on public platforms. We recently reported a case to TikTok, whereby a fake school account was placed on their site, however, it is more difficult to manage personal opinions and insults by individuals.

It is important that we educate our youth on social media risks and behaviours so that they become positive cyber citizens.

The WCED has a cyber-wellness programme that aims to ensure that pupils and educators alike are cognisant of their digital footprint and the infinite potential of the cyber world both positively and negatively.

The WCED has issued guidelines on e-safety in schools, educating towards responsible, and ethical use of ICT in education, guidelines on cellular phones and other mobile technologies in public schools; guidelines on social media and networking in public schools and various manuals and worksheets which are available online for more information.