Armenia lagging in addressing school bullying
Bullying in Armenia, experts say, derives from stereotypical thinking, intolerance towards those who differ from the majority and deviate from the norms accepted in society.
Most often people are bullied on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation. Some research findings show that most of the Armenian population believes that the rights of homosexuals should be limited, which leads to their oppression.
At the same time, bullying in Armenia is not viewed as a problem at all, in particular, in schools. There are no statistics on how many schoolchildren are subjected to peer violence each year. There have never been any programs to prevent bullying or to train teachers on the issue.
UNICEF research shows that half of 13-15-year-olds in the world (150 million children) experience bullying by their school peers.
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A personal story
Artak studied at school until the 9th grade and back then he was not harassed. He was a popular student – he studied well and never got into trouble. However, even then, he already understood what bullying can lead to:
“I myself was almost no different from others. Probably that is why no one bullied me. But we had a boy with long hair in our class. His mom was a hairdresser and he changed his hair frequently. It was his fault alone.
I remember that the guys from other classes did not leave him alone. Very often they would try to pick fights with us because of him. They even tried to forcibly cut off his hair. In general, all children who, for example, had problems with weight, or wore glasses, became victims of bullying”, says Artak.
This was not the only case of bullying in his small school on the outskirts of the city. In the 8th grade, a new girl appeared in the school where Artak studied. She had to transfer from another school because of bullying. The girl always wore black and pink, and she also had piercings:
“We sometimes talked to her. She did not stay at our school for long. The bullying was so obvious that the girl was about to be expelled from school. But before it even got that far, she committed suicide – hung herself at home. After that, I remember, there was a small meaningless discussion in the class. We came to the conclusion that she was just ‘different’.
I don’t think that anyone really changed after that, because, in fact, this case was not properly discussed, the reasons were not revealed, no one felt guilty. The only thing that happened was that we were assigned a weekly classroom hour, where we supposedly had to discuss tolerance, differences, and such like”, says Artak.
Artak first became a victim of bullying himself in college. It all started when Artak, an LGBTQ activist, forgot to hide his rainbow pendant, a symbol that was immediately recognized. This thin young man with long hair became the center of attention of fellow students. The discriminatory attitude towards him on the part of some teachers also became a reason for bullying by fellow students.
“They sat behind me, making stupid compliments, mocking my appearance. They asked me personal questions. There was also a gay guy in college and we shared the dose of bullying, so to speak.
There were also attempts at physical violence. After that, I just stopped going to classes. I only attended my exams and left as soon as each was over, I felt helpless there”, says Artak.
Director of the Republican Centre for Psychology and Pedagogy, Araksia Svadzhyan, says that in Armenian schools they are mainly focused on knowledge, and children’s worldview, while interpersonal relations and communication skills are overlooked:
“Until now, a national policy on bullying has not been formed. Small, localized anti-bullying projects have been carried out by various organizations. For many, the school seems to be a safe environment, but what you need to understand is that there is no one pattern of behavior of children with self-esteem issues.”
The study entitled “In children’s own words …” reveals that 38% of schoolchildren in Armenia had seen someone they knew getting beaten up, and 35% of the children had witnessed bullying at school at least once. This means that almost every second child in school has witnessed violence.
Araksia Svajyan believes that schools should strive to become a safe environment for every student, and counter bullying.
Meanwhile, teachers themselves, wittingly or otherwise, can participate in or even provoke bullying. A teacher’s careless remark can make one of the students a target for his classmates. This becomes tacit permission to bully.
Araksia Svajyan says that in order to create a school environment without bullying, it is necessary to work with both teachers and parents. No one should remain indifferent to this phenomenon:
“It is very important that parents know that children who bully others in school are 60% more likely to commit future felonies. This happens because such children can perceive violence as the only way to resolve issues on an interpersonal level.
While the child is still at school, parents can turn a blind eye to their child’s propensity for violence, believing that this is how they acquire the vital skill of problem-solving, however, in the future, such behavior can manifest quite differently. The spread of bullying is greatly facilitated by the fact that not only the victim and the oppressor are involved in the process, but also a crowd of silent observers”.
60% of children or adolescents who experienced bullying never talk about what happened and even when bullying is discovered, it is not always dealt with correctly.
Araksia Svajyan notes that usually parents and teachers try to help the victim only by punishing their offenders, while the abuser themself often needs help.
“If you do not help the offender, bullying will not stop, because its reasons are not eliminated, and the reasons can vary from domestic violence to the lack of parent’s confidence in their child,” says Araksia Svadzhyan.
There have never been any teacher training programs aimed at preventing bullying in Armenian schools.
In 2020, a small such program was conducted by the Republican Psychological and Pedagogical Center with 73 teachers from two Yerevan schools.
In 2021, a larger pilot program will be launched, where one school will be selected in each of the three regions of Armenia (Lori, Shirak and Tavush). This bullying prevention program is planned to be carried out in cooperation with the Swedish organization ‘Global to Local’, as Sweden is considered to be the country with the lowest level of bullying.