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Natalie Robinson-Arnold speaks during the Ministry of Education’s press conference.

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Social Work Specialist, Student Support Services, Ministry of Education, Natalie Robinson-Arnold has said cyberbullying has grown during the pandemic.

“Cyberbullying gives a lot of anonymity. So, you don’t have to know who is doing all the sexting, who is posting pictures of you. Now that the students are back out, it is physical. They have the attitude that they were waiting to see them face-to-face to take out whatever it is,” she told the Guardian.

Since physical classes resumed in early February there have been videos circulating of student fights and reports of bullying.

She added that it is not straightforward why students bully other students and some of the factors include academic pressure, exposure to domestic violence at homes, exposure to community violence, social and traditional media and video games. All these can encourage school violence.

She also spoke about how the ministry tackles cases of school bullying.

After there is a fight among school gangs or individual students, the Student Support Services examines the causes of what caused negative action took place.

She added that the social workers would be the first responders after violence in schools takes place to understand why the violence took place.

“We go through a process with the trauma that they went through and they assist the students in regulating their emotions. We give them coping skills and teach them to negotiate. We do the same for the perpetrator and the victim. We also work with the parents and show them how to minimise their children’s activities in those activities.”

Robinson-Arnold concluded by saying that despite the large school population the ministry will do everything it can to ensure that they keep these conflicts to a minimum.

“We have one social worker assigned to multiple primary schools and secondary schools in different areas. We don’t have a social worker in every school as we still are not at that level yet.”

More struggling students

Clinical Psychologist Denise Jittan-Johnson in a reply to Guardian questions also said that the pandemic has had a negative impact on the behaviour of children at schools and this has contributed to school bullying.

“We have a greater number of children who are struggling now due to the increased stressors as a result of the pandemic. Our children have been to a large part isolated and cut off from many of their positive coping methods. There have been changes not only to how they learn, but also how they interact. There have been changes to family dynamics, losses of jobs, losses of lives. All of these are significant stressors. With the increase in stressed children, there is an increase in the displacement of this stress on to their peers in the form of bullying.”

She defined bullying behaviour as the intentional act of wielding power over the other with the intent to harm the other.

She said children who are bullied can experience negative physical, social, emotional, academic, and mental health issues. They are more likely to experience depression, increased sadness, health complaints, decreased school participation and lower self-worth.

She said although these issues may persist into adulthood, lifelong damage can be mitigated if those who are victims of bullying receive appropriate support.

“Research completed regarding the lasting effects of bullying concluded that receiving the support of adults at home and school mitigate the negative effect of bullying victimisation on life satisfaction, and this effect is larger in the case of adult home support. Adults at school and home to take joint measures to prevent and reduce the prevalence bullying.”