A representative council of learners's (RCLS) understanding and response to bullying in their school : an action research project.
Bullying at schools is a problem that has recently gained much media exposure highlighting its increasing occurrence and violent nature. It has also gained attention in the educational field with an increasing number of pertinent studies. The link between school bullying and school violence has been drawn by educators and researchers alike. Of great importance is the positioning of school bullying in the sphere of Peace Education in the school. Despite bullying being mentioned in many relevant educational policies and documents pertaining to school governance, incidents are on the increase. The severity of bullying incidents is also worsening. This context led to the interest of addressing bullying amongst the Representative Council of Learners (RCL) at my school. As the Teacher Liaison Officer (TLO) to the RLC, I decided to initiate an Action Research project with the RCL of this school. The study explores and acts on the RLC perspectives on bullying at their school and their perspectives on suitable interventions. The methodology of action research suited an intervention goal. Learners need to be involved in processes of creating a peaceful learning environment for all. As stated by McNiff and Whitehead, “Working out ideas is the learning, working out how to live with one another is the peace process” (McNiff & Whitehead, 2002, p.13). The study is framed by Freire’s theory on pedagogy and Butler’s theory of gender. It involves several data collection methods, including questionnaires, focus group interviews, creative writing responses, posters, workshops and observations. My findings are presented as discussions based on various generative themes which emerged from the data. The findings of the study revealed that learners had difficulty formulating a comprehensive definition of bullying. Many initially felt that few incidents of bullying occurred at their school and were unaware of the full range of incidents of bullying. Boys and girls experienced bullying differently while different age groups had similar experiences of bullying. Features such as power, aggression and abuse were commonly raised in learners understanding of bullying. While a broader knowledge on bullying was generated through the action research process, many silences still emerged. Learners failed to draw the link between bullying and violence. They also did not mention any incident related to new age bullying or incidents involving the educator as a victim or as the bully. The study acknowledges that in order for bullying at this school to be reduced, a second and possibly a third cycle of the action research process is needed. The study indicates that bullying is not a simple problem that can be dealt with in a short period of time. It needs to be incorporated annually in the school programme dealing with pertinent societal dynamics which affect teaching and learning.