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Your child, a victim of bullying?

Pradipta Mukherjee | September 16, 2005

Kolkata's top schools are responding to the changing times by opting for professional responses to the growing problem of bullying. In the process they are creating a demand for a new generation of professionals.

High-profile schools like Heritage, Mahadevi Birla and South Point already have counsellors to handle such cases. 

"These kind of disorders need to be handled sympathetically and delicately. It's also the duty of the guardians to find out whether their child is bullying others or getting bullied," said Dr Suropani Bhattacharya, president of Primary Education Board.

Meenakshi Atal, headmistress at the junior section of The Heritage School, says bullying is a cause of concern and adds that adults need understanding this better. 

Parents often feel hapless. Suneeta Jain recalls, "My daughter would cry and never want to go to school. I feared that if I try to moralise to these bullies, they might insult me and do the same with my daughter. My only option was admitting her to another school." 

Sometimes kids get teased because they don't come from an affluent background. 

The demand for counsellors has risen as a result of this trend.

Though Kolkata schools are notoriously shy of sharing figures and data, the grapevine indicates such counsellors are often part-time and are paid somewhere between Rs 4,500 a month to nearly twice that figure. The charges for full-time services are commensurately higher.

Kolkata's schools need more than 300 such professionals, though sources in the government's education department said this could cross 500 if government schools joined the trend.

As of now, the actual availability of trained manpower was less than the demand, resulting in use of part-time help or in-house solutions.

School principals admitted they were faced with a choice of nominating either qualified professionals like psychotherapists, or counsellors with no degree but with experience in handling such cases.

"Some kids do exhibit a bullying tendency in class and have to be taken seriously," admits Madhu Kohli, principal, junior section of South Point High School. 

Psychotherapist Mohua Roy says, "Most often, school bullies are classmates, unlike in colleges where seniors rag freshers."

As far as schools are concerned, there is a trace of one-upmanship as well, though no school will admit it. The new-generation schools say these facilities are proof of better school management systems that the older schools lack. The established, or older schools have been quick to react and have, in many cases, adopted a similar solution. 

Counsellors, who used to be employed in high schools to solve adolescent problems, are now slowly being recruited for the primary sections as well.

More schools might follow suit due to pressure from guardians and a realisation that there is need for such a service. 

Schools have also introduced a system whereby a class meeting is convened and the whole class counselled whenever the teachers get to know of such a problem.

Sometimes children can be cruel without realising the impact a simple act of teasing and bullying can have on their peers, said Atal. This kind of behaviour also results from the environment a child has at home. In certain cases, parents need to be counselled as well.

Instead of being told not to do something, the child must be made to realise what he is doing is wrong. Counselling children, taking care of their worst fears, and involving them in co-curricular activities are some of the solutions the schools are trying to provide, said Mitra.

Besides, the expectations that parents and guardians now have from their children's school have also increased. With school fees having gone up many times in the last few years, and parents becoming more critical of ways schools are run after the fee hike, few institutions can afford to sit back.

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