By Bamidele Ademola-Olateju
My contribution to the debate after the tragic death of Sylvester will be in two parts. This first one is about policy. The next update will be a note to parents and teachers.
It is time to call for a national minimum standards on behavioral matters for schools in Nigeria. A lot is wrong with our education system. It is unresponsive and fossilized. We need to keep updating not just the syllabus but code of conduct and responsibilities, in light of emerging realities. In this update, I will focus on BULLYING. I don’t want to go into scapegoating. Sylvester is dead, he must not die in vain. We should channel our outrage for positive outcome from a tragedy. Something beautiful can emerge from the ashes of our grief, if another child does not suffer bodily harm, leading to death or pushed to commit suicide. Parents of Sylvester can begin to push for a “Sylvester Minimum Standards” for schools.
We all must recognize and classify bullying as any deliberate behavior that is hurtful or harmful to another person, repeated over time and often under circumstances that is difficult for the bullied to defend themselves. It can be physical, emotional or psychological. Such behaviors can occur among friends or in groups, in-person or online. Bullying is insidious. It can be overt or covert. Direct or overt bullying can take the form of physical violence like fighting, hitting or name-calling while covert or indirect bullying can be in form of gossip, slander or exclusion.
In the proposed Sylvester law, all schools, should have a written, and enforced policy on physical, electronic and digital bullying, known to parents, students and staff. This policy should also include policy and procedures on electronic safety published on the website of schools.
Detection and prevention of bullying is adult responsibility. We must ensure that schools have a prevailing culture of zero tolerance for bullying. This can only be done, if schools takes bullying very seriously and the administrators and teachers recognize the contribution it makes to safeguarding children. Schools can only be effective at this, if there is a defined communication channel for young people, if and when they are being bullied. It should be coded in law that bullying in physical or mental form, is unacceptable and the strongest possible action taken against anyone found guilty of such behavior.
Schools anti-bullying policy should aim
• To provide a caring, friendly, secure and safe environment for all students to learn
• To have good communication between all members of staff
• To have defined channels and procedures to follow in cases of suspected bullying where all students will feel safe and secured that they are able to tell a member of staff or Senior student, and know that incidents will be investigated promptly and fairly
• To develop reporting procedures to the ministry of education, social services and the Police
• To check students background and make them aware that bullying has no place in or out of school
• To develop monitoring procedures to identify students known or thought to be at risk of harm from bullying
• To have sanctions on bullying clearly defined in the school policy duly signed by students and their parents
In the case of Sylvester Oromoni, there is enough blame to go round. Let us work together to ensure no child is ever lost to bullying again. May his soul rest in peace.