Message from President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins On International Day against Bullying and Violence in Schools
Thursday, 5th November, 2020
I warmly welcome the decision of last year of the General Assembly of UNESCO that designated an annual international day against bullying and violence in schools - including cyber bullying. We mark that United Nations’ day today, the 5th of November.
School-related violence, in all its forms, is a serious infringement, of course, of not only children and adolescents’ rights to education, but to their basic rights to health and well-being.
A recent UNESCO report tells us that almost one-in-three students report having been bullied by their peers at school, at least once in the previous month. A similar proportion are affected by physical violence. Tragically, online and mobile phone bullying are both increasing, with UNESCO finding “a strong connection and continuum between offline and online bullying”.
The UNESCO research also found that most students who are victims of cyber-bullying can report having been previously bullied in school, thus a large percentage of victims of bullying have been bullied both online and offline.
These are appalling findings of deep concern, demonstrating the need for heightened awareness of an issue that demands an appropriate set of policy responses to tackle its far-reaching consequences. This violence, for that is what it is, must be brought to an end with support from all of us.
The consequences of bullying include children and young people finding it difficult to concentrate in class, missing classes, avoiding school activities, playing truant, or dropping out of school altogether. The experience of being bullied has a demonstrable, adverse impact on academic achievement and intellectual and personal development, as well as future education and employment prospects.
It is unacceptable that we would tolerate an atmosphere of anxiety, fear and insecurity that is clearly incompatible with learning. Unsafe pedagogical environments must not be allowed to undermine the quality of education for all learners.
Education at its best delivers security emancipation from sources of fear to children and young adults, such as will enable them to become free, responsible, engaged and participative citizens in an increasingly complex and interconnected world.
Children are the future, they are agents of change within their own schools and communities, and they rightly continue to demand more urgent action on these important issues.
We need strong leadership at every level, with public support, to tackle these issues which affect so many children and young people to the detriment of their education and quality of life, impacting on their future life circumstances and happiness. It requires collaboration between all those involved. It will depend on the community, better teacher training, and improved school environments that will promote tolerance, inclusivity and equality. What is most important is acknowledging that we must address all the root causes of violence and promote a culture of respect for students’ rights and of zero tolerance to bullying and violence.
Ending child and youth violence is possible. Let us all do what we can to achieve this goal as a matter of urgency.
Thank you. Beir beannacht.