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Bullying reflects power relations

Bullying in schools deals more with power relations than the characteristics of individual students, says a newly minted doctor of Child Studies, who studied bullying at schools in Vietnam.

Bullying in schools is common in Vietnam and recently has been discussed more frequently. Vietnam signed onto the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child early on, and has made several international commitments to create child-friendly environments, especially in schools. At the same time, several cases of suicide, and among girls, even group suicides have occurred among Vietnamese schoolchildren.

With funding from Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) & Department for Research Cooperation (SAREC), Paul Horton has studied bullying in two Vietnamese schools. He has just defended his thesis at the Department of Child Studies.

More than half of the schoolchildren (56%) have experienced bullying, according to the study, which covered a total of 900 students in two schools. The corresponding figure in Sweden is lower than 10%, even if a straightforward comparison is difficult, Horton says. He defines bullying as a power relation, where a person forces someone to do something against their will.

“Students force other students to do things they otherwise wouldn’t do.

Horton says that this is actually a reflection of power relations in schools. As an institution the school deals with getting children to do things they otherwise wouldn’t do and perhaps don’t want to do. The functions of discipline and supervision are essential and exercised by the teacher.

“School stands for something boring. Education is a type of sausage-stuffing exercise where the children are quiet and the teacher speaks. The children are trained to be silent. In Vietnam, it is not unusual to hit children as a punishment. Hitting children is a way for the teacher to bully them.”

He therefore thinks that stricter discipline will not discourage mobbing; quite the opposite. A more dialogue-oriented pedagogy is needed if bullying at school is to decrease.

“A good teacher is one who listens and who dares to relax discipline.”

Paul Horton defended his thesis on September 23rd. The full text of the document can be found here.


Anika Agebjörn 2011-09-26



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Last updated: 2014-11-13