Article

What you need to know about school violence and bullying

03/11/2020

Bullying in schools deprives millions of children and young people of their fundamental right to education. A recent UNESCO report revealed that more than 30% of the world's students have been victims of bullying, with devastating consequences on academic achievement, school dropout, and physical and mental health.

The world is marking the first International Day against Violence and Bullying at School Including Cyberbullying, on 5 November. Here is what you need to know about school violence and bullying.

What is school violence?

School violence refers to all forms of violence that takes place in and around schools and is experienced by students and perpetrated by other students, teachers and other school staff. This includes bullying and cyberbullying. Bullying is one of the most pervasive forms of school violence, affecting 1 in 3 young people.

What forms may school violence take?

Based on existing international surveys that collect data on violence in schools, UNESCO recognizes the following forms of school violence:

  • Physical violence, which is any form of physical aggression with intention to hurt perpetrated by peers, teachers or school staff.
  • Psychological violence as verbal and emotional abuse, which includes any forms of isolating, rejecting, ignoring, insults, spreading rumors, making up lies, name-calling, ridicule, humiliation and threats, and psychological punishment.
  • Sexual violence, which includes intimidation of a sexual nature, sexual harassment, unwanted touching, sexual coercion and rape, and it is perpetrated by a teacher, school staff or a schoolmate or classmate.
  • Bullying as a pattern of behaviour rather than isolated incidents, which can be defined as intentional and aggressive behaviour occurring repeatedly against a victim. It can take various forms:
    • Physical bullying, including hitting, kicking and the destruction of property;
    • Psychological bullying, such as teasing, insulting and threatening; or relational, through the spreading of rumours and exclusion from a group; and
    • Sexual bullying, such as making fun of a victim with sexual jokes, comments or gestures, which may be defined as sexual ‘harassment’ in some countries.
  • Cyberbullying is a form of psychological or sexual bullying that takes place online. Examples of cyberbullying include posting or sending messages, pictures or videos, aimed at harassing, threatening or targeting another person via a variety of media and social media platforms. Cyberbullying may also include spreading rumours, posting false information, hurtful messages, embarrassing comments or photos, or excluding someone from online networks or other communications.

Who perpetrates school violence?

School violence is perpetrated by students, teachers and other school staff. However, available evidence shows that violence perpetrated by peers is the most common.

What are the main reasons why children are bullied?

All children can be bullied, yet evidence shows that children who are perceived to be “different” in any way are more at risk. Key factors include physical appearance, ethnic, linguistic or cultural background, gender, including not conforming to gender norms and stereotypes; social status and disability.

What are the consequences of school violence?

Educational consequences: Being bullied undermines the sense of belonging at school and affects continued engagement in education. Children who are frequently bullied are more likely to feel like an outsider at school, and more likely to want to leave school after finishing secondary education. Children who are bullied have lower academic achievements than those who are not frequently bullied.

Health consequences: Children’s mental health and well-being can be adversely impacted by bullying. Bullying is associated with higher rates of feeling lonely and suicidal, higher rates of smoking, alcohol and cannabis use and lower rates of self-reported life satisfaction and health. School violence can also cause physical injuries and harm.

 

What are the linkages between school violence and bullying, school-related gender-based violence and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression?

School violence may be perpetrated as a result of gender norms and stereotypes and enforced by unequal power dynamics and is therefore referred to as school-related gender-based violence. It includes, in particular, a specific type of gender-based violence that is linked to the actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity or expression of victims, including homophobic and transphobic bullying. School-related gender-based violence is a significant part of school violence that requires specific efforts to address.

Does school-related gender-based violence refer to sexual violence against girls only?         

No. School-related gender-based violence refers to all forms of school violence that is based on or driven by gender norms and stereotypes, which also includes violence against and between boys.

Is school violence always gender-based?          

There are many factors that drive school violence. Gender is one of the significant drivers of violence but not all school violence is based on gender. Moreover, international surveys do not systematically collect data on the gendered nature of school violence, nor on violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. 

Based on the analysis of global data, there are no major differences in the prevalence of bullying for boys and girls. However, there are some differences between boys and girls in terms of the types of bullying they experience. Boys are much more exposed to physical bullying, and to physical violence in general, than girls. Girls are slightly more exposed to psychological bullying, particularly through cyberbullying. According to the same data, sexual bullying the same proportion of boys and girls. Data coming from different countries, however, shows that girls are increasingly exposed to sexual bullying online.

How does UNESCO help prevent and address school violence and bullying?

The best available evidence shows that responses to school violence and bullying that are effective should be comprehensive and include a combination of policies and interventions. Often this comprehensive response to school violence and bullying is referred to as a whole-school approach. Based on an extensive review of existing conceptual frameworks that describe that whole-school approach, UNESCO has identified nine key components of a response that goes beyond schools and could be better described as a whole-education system or whole-education approach.  These components are the following:

  • Strong political leadership and robust legal and policy framework to address school violence and bullying;
  • Training and support for teachers on school violence and bullying prevention and positive classroom management
  • Curriculum, learning & teaching to promote, a caring (i.e. anti- school violence and bullying) school climate and students’ social and emotional skills
  • A safe psychological and physical school and classroom environment
  • Reporting mechanisms for students affected by school violence and bullying, together with support and referral services
  • Involvement of all stakeholders in the school community including parents
  • Student empowerment and participation
  • Collaboration and partnerships between the education sector and a wide range of partners (other government sectors, NGOs, academia)
  • Evidence: monitoring of school violence and bullying and evaluation of responses

 

More on UNESCO’s work to prevent and address school violence and bullying

Read UNESCO's publication Behind the numbers: Ending school violence and bullying

 

Photo: Eakachai Leesin/Shutterstock.com