Public school pupils in Abu Dhabi say they don’t feel safe at school

Experts call for action to curb bullying after new survey suggests one pupil in three has suffered physical harm.

ABU DHABI // One child in three in Abu Dhabi has been physically harmed more than once at school, and only just over half feel safe there, the results of a new study suggest.

More than two children in five said they had been bullied, ridiculed or verbally abused more than once.

The children’s responses show the real extent of the school bullying problem, said Barry Lee Cummings, chief awareness officer for Beat the Cyber Bully.

“They don’t surprise me and that’s what’s sad,” Mr Cummings said. “What is particularly worrying is that more and more young people are just accepting bullying, online and offline, as a normal part of life.

“This is wrong and we need to change it. The only solution is education and awareness, but this needs to come from a country or society level so we are all on the same page, speaking the same language to our children.

“Under no circumstances anywhere should any child or young person believe that bullying is a normal part of their daily lives.”

Of the 52,000 pupils polled by the schools regulator, Abu Dhabi Education Council, only 51.9 per cent in state education and 56.2 per cent in private education felt safe at school.

A third of private school pupils, or 32.7 per cent, said they “sustained bodily harm more than once at school” and 39.1 per cent said they had been bullied, ridiculed or verbally abused once or more at school.

The survey found 47.1 per cent of state school pupils and 49.8 per cent at private school had seen other children “suffer bodily harm more than once”.

Dr Samineh Shaheem, assistant professor of learning and development specialist at Hult International Business School, said a change in culture was needed to beat bullying.

“We need a sort of community-wide awareness programme to raise awareness generally as a community,” said Dr Shaheem. “Schools should build bullying prevention material into the curriculum and into school activities.

“They would use this time to train teachers, train parents, have workshops, have seminars and, if we take two steps back, it’s about culture-building.

“You can’t just have an anti-bullying prevention week and hope that is inoculation against bullying for the rest of the year.”

Adec prohibits corporal punishment, but last year a lab technician was fired after being caught on camera beating a pupil.

Incidents of corporal punishment have also occurred in other emirates, prompting the Ministry of Education to launch an investigation and set up a hotline for students to report any abuse.

Results of the survey, conducted among pupils from grades 5 to 12 between April and July last year, were published as Abu Dhabi Education Digest: Highlights of Student Survey 2015.

The poll included pupils’ opinions on academic achievement, morale, quality of teaching, school’s code of conduct, safety, health care, counselling and parental involvement.

Last year, there were 223,803 pupils enrolled in 188 private schools and about 130,000 pupils at 255 public schools.

Adec was unavailable for comment.