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Bullying in Kenyan schools higher than world rate

Written by Arthur Okwemba

Students in Kenyan secondary schools are experiencing higher levels of bullying than the international trend, a development researchers warn may hurt individual performance and self-esteem.

Those who are bullied are increasing transforming themselves into bullies increasing the prevalence of the incidence in secondary schools, according to research released one week ago by Africa Mental Health Foundation.

Although the issue of bullying is common place and well talked about topic in Kenya, the researchers have for the first time shown its magnitude in scientific terms.

“The high prevalence of bullying in Kenyan schools is worrying, and may be detrimental to the victims if well defined interventions are not put in place,” says Prof David Ndetei the lead researcher and lecturer at University of Nairobi.

{styleboxjp}Of the 1,012 students who were interviewed in 17 public secondary schools in Nairobi last year, between 63 per cent and 82 per cent said they suffered one form or another of bullying.

Majority of them (82 percent) said they had their belongings taken away by those in the same class or senior classes. Those in forms one and two and who were boarders, complained of being beaten and having their belongings taken.{/styleboxjp}

Day scholars and those in form three and four, tended to suffer less this type of bullying, the study found. Other studies elsewhere have indicated that those whose belongings are taken rarely tell their parents. Instead they tell their parents or guardians that they cannot remember where they left the property.

Students also complained of other bullying methods that were affecting their concentration and willingness to stay in school.

Over 63 percent of the students reported to have been beaten up or hit; 64 per cent said they had been blackmailed or threatened; 71 percent reported to have been called bad or nasty names; 68 per cent had had tricks played on them; and 72 per cent said lies had been told about them.

This incidences of bullying were high in boys and mixed schools (67 percent), with the students reporting three out of the four bullying frequencies compared to 60 per cent among girls. Boys were found to be more victims of bullying than girls.

But direct and indirect bullying was worse among students in national schools - the dream of every parent and child- than those in provincial schools.

Of those interviewed in national schools, 70 percent said they had experienced at least one form of direct bullying compared to 60 per cent in provincial schools.

Although the researchers could not pin point the reasons behind this differences, they think the national mixture of students from diverse socio-cultural, rural, and urban backgrounds who attend national schools could be one of the reasons for the high incidences of bullying in such institutions.

Those who were bullied considered school unsafe, had increased risk of depression, and had low-esteem tendencies that progressed into adulthood.

Bullies were found to be in the same class as their victims. However, 30 per cent of victims reported those who bullied them to be older, with 10 percent saying their bullies were young.

Students in forms one and two suffer the highest rates of direct bullying compared to those in senior forms, the study found. This bullying took place at school in dormitories, playgrounds, corridors, and on the way to and from school, away from adult supervision.

But a dangerous trend which worried the researchers was victims of bullying later turned into bullies as well. Students who were bullied through threats and blackmails tended to use the same tactics to bully other students.

Say the researchers: “Bullying experiences led to bullying behaviour, meaning a higher incidence of being bullied increased the chances of victims turning into bullies.”

Boys were found to bully both boys and girls (if in mixed schools), while girls bullied fellow girls only.

While these boys used direct methods of bullying, girls were apt and utilized more subtle and indirect methods of bullying such as spreading rumours and enforcing social isolations about those they were bullying.

Researchers elsewhere have shown that girls value social relationships more than boys. Hence the reason why girls who are bullies set out to disrupt social relationships of the girl they are bullying by telling lies about them. This type of bullying was more prevalent in form two and three.

But Prof Ndetei says the bullying of between 63 and 82 percent reported in secondary schools in Nairobi is very high when compared to incidences in other parts of the world.

Several studies outside Kenya have shown approximately 15 per cent of students are either bullied regularly or are initiators of bullying behaviour.

In Australia bullying prevalence lies between 15 and 20 percent, while in the United States between 15 and 30 percent of the students are bullies or victims of bullying.

The high prevalence of bullying in Kenya is however similar to what was established by another research in Free State, South Africa, where 84 per cent of the students and 95 per cent of the teachers thought bullying to be a big problem.

Bullying refers to repeated oppression, either physical or psychological, of a less powerful person by a more powerful person or group. The power imbalance between the perpetrator and the victim is the cause of ill treatment of the victim.

It takes various forms such as teasing, taunting, threatening, hitting and stealing of property belonging to the victim, or causing a student to be socially isolated through intentional exclusion.

Those who bully posses certain characteristics. They seem to a have need to feel powerful and in control, derive satisfaction from inflicting injury and suffering on others, and have little empathy for their victims whom they blame for provoking the bullying.

Most of them tend to come from families where physical punishment is used and they are taught to apply the same in defense. They also hail from families where parental involvement and warmth is lacking.

Such students are anti-social, apt to break school rules and are generally defiant or oppositional towards adults. Majority have little anxiety and possess strong self-esteem.

Victims of bullying on the other hand are insecure, anxious, suffer low-esteem and rarely defend themselves. Most of them are socially isolated, physically weaker, and tend to be close to their parents who are in turn over-protective, the researchers say.

But at the same time, they rarely tell their parents, teachers or any other adult about the bullying incidence, instead preferring to confide in their closest friends.

This may explain why 32 per cent of those interviewed said they are usually assisted by their friends whenever they are bullied compared 20 percent who sought the help of teachers.

Parents or teachers only know of the problem when it is getting out of hand or when they notice weird habits in their child or student.

In contrast to the United State, where direct bullying declines as a student proceeds to high school, it is the other way round in Kenya. 

Studies done in other countries like the United States have recommended various interventions which can be used to address the problem of bullying in schools.

In their study, “School Bullying: Insights and Perspectives”, Smith P. and Sharp propose the development of school bullying policies, improving school ground environment and empowering students through conflict resolution, peer counseling and assertive training.

Teachers should work with students to come up with ways of assisting the victims as well as creating a climate where bullying is not tolerated, they recommend.

Researcher in Europe have also suggested that anti-bullying programs that involve individualized interventions with bullies and victims, and increasing adult supervisions during lunch or games times be used to eliminate or minimize incidences of bullying.

Comprehensive anti-bullying programs involving parents, students, the community members, and teachers need to be put in place to ensure the learning environment is safe and friendly. This are the things the Kenyan secondary schools need to put in place.

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