DUBAI // Parents and psychologists have urged schools to develop a clear policy on bullying and to enforce it.
Too many schools have turned a blind eye to the problem that affects as many as a third of the 1 million pupils in the UAE, parents said.
Although schools have their individual approach to tackling bullying, some principals have been evading concerned parents. “Every time I want to meet with my son’s principal, I am told that she is busy,” one mother said.
In February, Dubai’s Knowledge and Human Development Authority said it was conducting a five-year census of its private school pupils . It will include questions on bullying and aims to improve students’ welfare.
There is a lack of statistics on bullying at schools. In 2013, a study by the Abu Dhabi Education Council found that 38 per cent of boys and 28 per cent of girls said they had been physically and verbally abused at school, while 50 per cent of boys and 38 per cent of girls had witnessed others being bullied. Even so, about 65 per cent of the 17,659 pupils surveyed said they generally felt safe at school.
A mother whose son was bullied at school said he was unable to get to the toilet during school hours. “Imagine what it does to him, waiting eight hours a day, five days a week, because he is afraid of being attacked,” said Umm Ali.
Barbara Lane, a teacher and mother of four, said children should be taught that bullying and sexual assault were wrong and they should not do that.
“As a parent, if a child tells you something is wrong and you do nothing, what kind of message does this send? That nobody cares?” she said.
“It is our job to find solutions to these sort of problems.”
Schools can prevent bullying by enacting clear rules against misbehaviour and hold bullies to account, said Dr Mazen Hamoudi, a consultant psychiatrist at the American Centre for Psychiatry and Neurology in Sharjah.
“Schools need to have a very clear and firm policy to handle bullying, and students and their parents should sign a document [to agree that they acknowledge the school’s policy] during the registration process,” he said.
“Bullying has a huge psychological impact on the victims. I have seen many students suffering from depression, anxiety, mood dysregulation, and a few of them have death wishes or suicidal feelings as a result.”
In 2015, an 11-year-old boy in Sharjah killed himself after he was bullied and sexually assaulted by another pupil.
“We wondered how someone that young could do something like that and why he felt he had no other options,” said a pupil who knew the deceased.
School leaders who are trying to fight bullying say they are seeing positive results. “We do not have these problems in our school because we are giving this problem due diligence,” said a principal in Ajman.
“Every school needs a procession of adults walking the halls to make sure that the students are safe. We also make parents and students understand that certain kinds of behaviour will have consequences and that we will follow through with them.”
To better fight bullying, a teacher in Sharjah says schools could use comedy sketches, social media platforms, role-playing sessions and videos to engage pupils and teach them what to do when they witness bullying.
“Schools can play a definitive role in preventing abuse and making sure that parents are in the loop when it comes to policies for handling such issues,” said Dr Hamoudi.