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Bullying and School Attendance

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    Selected items from the 2008 Ghana Global School-based Student Health Survey are analyses first to explore the relationships between the duration and type of bullying and school attendance. Second, we investigate whether having emotional problems, in addition to being bullied, incrementally affects the relationship between bullying and school attendance. Third, we explore the mitigating influence of peer friendships on these relationships. In all cases we provide a gender analysis. The results show that bullying is associated with increased absenteeism for both boys and girls. The analysis of reported emotional problems, however, shows distinct ender differences.

    For boys, increases in emotional problems are not associated with increased absenteeism for those who are bullied. On the other hand, for girls emotional problems were strongly associated with absenteeism and more so for girls who had not reported being bullied. The third strand of our analysis also showed gender differences in which absenteeism associated with bullying was mitigated by the support of friends for boys but not to the same degree for girls, especially those girls who had reported being psychologically bullied. In addition to the threat to school access caused by bullying, the gender dimensions of the latter two sets of findings suggest a school environment in which peer friendship and emotional well- being are intertwined in complex ways.

    While there is little or no research within the Ghanaian context, supported by research from elsewhere, we suggest that peer friendships for girls may be comprised of more non-physical, social and verbal interaction within which it might be more difficult to pinpoint bullying. That peer interactions might include a mixture of support and bullying could explain why there s a strong influence on girls’ emotional well-being and hence their school attendance. Bullying and School Attendance: A Case Study of Senior High School Students in Ghana 1. Introduction Physical and psychological bullying are prevalent in many schools. The global extent of bullying has been explicitly acknowledged in the international declarations and treaties directed at protecting children (and also adults) from all forms of violence.

    These include the United Nations (1989) Convention on the Rights of the Child; World Health Organization (1999) Violence Prevention: An Important Element of a Health Promoting School; United Nations (1994) Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women; EUNICE (n. D. ) Child Friendly Schools. In the face of the international mandate for safe learning environments, the reality for many school students is quite different. Many experience bullying and many other forms of violence on a day-to-day basis within school (see for example, Leach and Mitchell, 2006, Dunne, 2007). Bullying, aggression and other forms of violence in make the best of the opportunities they have (Commission on Children and Violence, 1995; Department for Children, Schools and Families, 2007; United Nations, 2005).

    More specifically, violence against students may result in higher levels of absenteeism (Rugby and Sale, 1993), greater truancy (Guilford and Morrison, 1996; Green, 2006) and increased likelihood of drop out (Leach and Mitchell, 2006) which are described by Lenin (2007) as forms of silent exclusion from school, all of which contribute to less effective learning. Levels of absenteeism have been shown to increase with the severity of visitation which in turn has been related to depression, anxiety, sadness, loneliness and general low self-esteem (Bond, et al. , 001; Rugby, 2003). Prompted by earlier qualitative case study research in Ghanaian schools (Dunne et al. , 2005), in this paper we use survey data to investigate how being bullied influences sustained school access.

    Our focus on attendance or absenteeism draws parallels to CREATE zone of exclusion 3 (for primary education) and 6 (for secondary education) which describe students at risk of dropping out from schools. In this case, our exploration concerns the ways that being bullied is linked to a cycle of ‘silent’ exclusion – low attendance, low attainment and at risk of dropping UT (Lenin, 2007). While our main analysis refers to survey data collected from over 7,000 students in senior high schools, an important feature of this paper is the way we have drawn previous findings from qualitative case study research into our discussion. The paper has three main analytical threads. First, we explore the relationship between the duration and type of bullying and school attendance.

    Second, we investigate whether having emotional problems, in addition to being bullied, incrementally affects the relationship between bullying and school attendance. Third, we explore the mitigating influence of peer friendships on these relationships by asking, are friends able to counterbalance the impact that bullying has on school attendance? Can supportive friends ameliorate the negative emotional impacts on young students and increase the likelihood of school attendance? Throughout, our use of a gender disaggregated nationally representative youth sample also allows us to explore the gender dimensions. The paper develops in the next section as we locate our analyses within the evolving literature on violence in schools and in particular on cases of bullying in schools.

    Following Bullying and School Attendance: A case study of Senior High School Students in this we focus on the Ghanaian context in advance of a detailed description of our methods and approach to the quantitative analyses. Then we present the results for each of three analytical threads that frame the study as described in the preceding paragraph. In the concluding section we discuss some of the implications and refer to the wider literature to suggest spaces for further research. 1. 1 Background income, age and ethnicity, it is manifestly multi-dimensional, culturally defined and intent specific (Furlong and Morrison, 2000; Leach and Humphreys, 2007).

    Violence against children has been widely documented and sadly it occurs in places where they should be the most protected, that is, in their homes, foster institutions and schools (UN, 2005). Research indicates that violence may be perpetrated by teachers, other staff and school mates on children through corporal punishment, other forms of punishment, sexual aggression and bullying (Leach, et al. , 2003; Dunne et al. , 2005; Leach and Mitchell, 2006, I-IN, 2005). While violence may be carried out by people outside these contexts, our specific interest here is about bullying in school as a form of violence carried out by both by teachers on students and students on their peers (Allows, 1993; Rugby, 2003).

    There is no universally accepted definition of violence but the WHO’s Information Series on School Health: Document Three, provides the following description: Violence is the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community that either results in, or has a high likelihood of resulting in, injury, death, psychological harm, allotments, or deprivation (WHO, 1999:2). While the distinctions in the above definition might be arguable and overlapping, our main concerns in this paper are with violence against ‘another person’, in particular being bullied by ones’ peers. Our primary focus is on interpersonal events in schools that might encompass intentional acts of physical bullying, as well as physiological bullying such as name calling, harassment and other forms of verbal abuse.

    Interpersonal violence in schools has many forms and bullying is the most common (Allows, 1999; WHO, 1999; and Rugby, 2003). It has been categorized as aggression or aggressive behavior (Pets and Kicks, 2006) that is perpetrated by a more powerful person or group on a weaker person (Smith and Brain, 2000). Some researchers reserve definitions of bullying for repeated acts of aggression (Roland and Minute, 1989; Whitney and smith, 1993; Allows, 1994; smith and Sharp, 1994; crag, 1998), but we prefer the definition provided by Askew who describes bullying as a “continuum of behavior, which involves varying degrees of attempt to gain power and dominance over another” (Askew, 1999:61).

    This definition encompasses a reader range of intensity in interpersonal bullying that captures single as well as sustained, long term acts of aggression, as well as physical and psychological forms of bullying. In its more overt forms bullying includes physical assault or verbal abuse, although it might also be more covert and indirect, carried out through relational manipulation or social exclusion including newer forms of cyber-bullying via the internet or cell phone (Crick and Garrotter, 1995; Cone et al. , 2006; Greene, 2006; Gin et al. , 2007). Some researchers using 2 perpetrate physical aggression while girls use relational bullying or indirect aggression (BCöriskiest et al. , 1992; Crick and Garrotter, 1995; Shows-Banshee and Manmade, 2008).

    This has been contested by Pets and Kicks (2006) who report boys being both “directly and indirectly more aggressive than girls” and by Banana (2008) who reports girl-on-girl physical aggression in South African schools. There is a growing strand of research that has connected sexuality to violence. This is often referred to as ‘gender-based violence’ to connote violence or abuse based on gender and sexual stereotypes and also to connect it to sexism and patriarchy (Hyde ND McVeigh, 2007; Terry and Hoarer, 2007). The term gender-based violence has been widely adopted although it might be argued that all violence is gendered (Dunne et al. , 2006; Leach and Mitchell, 2006).

    In schools, sexual harassment, often carried out by male teachers and male students on female students includes unsolicited acts of physical intimacy or demands for sexual favors with intent to offend, humiliate or intimidate (Wolfe et al. , 1997). Again, this form of violence is manifest in a wide range of aggressive acts from name calling to physical assault to sexual abuse (Dunne et al. , 2006). Examples include telling dirty Jokes (De Souza and Ribose, 2005), boys using words such as ‘pitch’ or ‘prostitute’ to humiliate girls, using the word ‘gay as an insult to other boys, inappropriate intimate physical touching and coercing girls for sex (Dunne et al. , 2006).

    In a South African survey, girls report experiencing acts of aggression like beating and slapping by male friends demanding sex and a startling 30 percent of the girls stated that they were forced’ to have sex the first time (Wood and Jesses, 1997). Other research carried out in Southern African schools reported that girls were aped in school toilets, empty classrooms, dormitories and in hostels (Human Rights Watch, 2001). The male perpetrators of sexual abuse might include students, teachers, parents, relatives or other adult males within the community and while young females may be coerced into sex or raped, others engage in transactional sex in exchange for money (perhaps to pay school fees) and other favors (Leach et al. , 2003).

    Relevant to the focus of this paper, the prevalence of sexual violence in schools in West and Central Africa has been reported as contributing to girls dropping out of school either due to unwanted pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases including HIVE/AIDS or because they could not bear the aggression or degradation (SIN, 2005). Risk factors that make it more likely that a child will either be a victim or perpetrator of bullying or other forms of violence in school, include poor academic performance, high absenteeism, leaving school early and unstructured free time (SIN, 2005). Resultant feelings of alienation and the risk of absenteeism or drop-out are often exacerbated by the bullying student peers (Rugby, 2002); an unfriendly school environment (Lenin, 2007) and the fear of physical violence in school from teachers (Marin and Brown, 2008). In a cyclical way, all these forms of violence are also a response to feelings of alienation.

    The 1999 Columbine High School attack in USA, which included the brutal massacre of 13 people, the injury of 23 others and suicide by the two senior high school assailants was revealed to be because they felt isolated and teased by their peers (Marshall, 2000). Learners who are generally made fun of, anger and hatred that finally explode into physical violence” (Marshall, 2000:133). Other examples of violence and serious crime by students in school include the 1991 massacre of 19 schoolgirls and the rape of 71 others by boys at SST Kitty School, Kenya (Leach, 2003) and the eleven and 13 year old school boys in Arkansas (US) who were reported to have fired at 3 their classmates and killed four girls on their school play ground, as a result of rejection from a female classmate (Furlong and Morrison, 2000).

    These sensational acts of violence highlight the significance of the psychosocial environment in school that includes the institutional norms and practices as well as he multiple relations between and amongst teachers and students (Gadding and Hammertoes, 2003). A supportive and inclusive environment has been reported to have a positive impact on student well-being and academic effort (Marin and Brown, 2008). In contrast, poor psychosocial school environments can have harmful effects on students’ health (Gadding and Hammertoes, 2003) school enrolment, retention, and the quality of education (Leach and Mitchell, 2006; UNESCO, 2006). Forms of violence within the school context clearly compromise the learning environment, student well Ewing and the right of access to quality education.

    The first nation-wide survey of bullying in the I-J carried out among 5-16 year olds from 1984-1986 revealed that 68 percent of the 4,000 children involved in the survey reported having been bullied once; 38 percent had been bullied at least twice or had experienced an outstandingly bad incident; five percent claimed it had affected their lives to the point of attempting to commit suicide or had run away or refused to go to school or had been chronically ill (Elliott and Slapstick, 1996, cited in Elliot, 1997). Subsequently, the UK Government introduced a school based anti-bullying programmer Don’t Suffer in Silence to develop whole-school policies on bullying, document children’s experiences and mandate schools to develop and implement strategies to combat bullying (Department for Children, Schools and Families, 1999). In the US too, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 includes measures to reduce levels of violence, as part of the larger plan to improve academic performance.

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