The dynamics of cyberbullying in girls' and boys' schools: multiple case studies of secondary schools in KwaZulu-Natal.
Piliso, Blossom Bulelwa.
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Cyberbullying in schools is an emerging phenomenon not yet well understood. Research shows that cyberbullying may cause psychological, emotional and social damage to victims. As cyberbullying increases in its prevalence, it is crucial to understand how it manifests itself, to identify its dangers, and to examine the behavioural and psychosocial factors associated with it. This study sought to explore the experiences and impact of cyberbullying amongst the Grade 8 learners at secondary school level in a Western School District of KwaZulu-Natal. Quantitative data was collected from 316 learners using a survey questionnaire. Lessons on cyberbullying, focus group interviews comprising eight learners from each school, one-on-one interviews consisting of one learner from each school who also participated in the focus group interviews, and semi-structured interviews for Life Orientation (LO) teachers (three from the girls’ school and four from the boys’ school) were conducted to generate qualitative data. The multiple instrumental case study design that employs mixed methods was utilised to achieve the objectives of this study. This allowed the researcher to collect quantitative and qualitative data and to explore the differences within and between cases. The instrumental approach enabled the researcher to gain insight into cyberbullying phenomenon amongst the learners and to scrutinise the context in which this occurs. Descriptive statistics was used to describe, summarise and organise quantitative data using cross-tabulation, graphs and numerical data. Inferential statistics was employed to determine whether there was a significant association between variables. Thematic approach was utilised to analyse qualitative data and similar responses were coded and relevant themes and sub-themes were developed. The theories underpinning the study were the Socio-ecological Theory (SET) and the Social Cognitive Theory (SCT). The SET suggests that human development is influenced by a series of interrelated systems within the environment and that the behaviour of children and that of the adolescents is shaped by a range of related systems such as the family, peers and the school environments. The SCT implies that cognitive, affective, biological and emotional factors such as peer support and stressful events can affect the development of an individual’s behaviour. The quantitative results revealed that 85.8% of learners have cell phones and 66.1% use the internet for entertainment on social media networks. The percentages of victims of direct and indirect bullying show that there is no significant difference between males and females. Cyberbullying experiences are not significantly different between males and females (p-value>0.05). LO teachers ensure that strict security measures are in place regarding the use of cell phones within schools. However, the qualitative results showed that cyberbullying experiences of learners in both schools were extremely serious and may have a psychological impact on the victims. Cyberbullying mostly happens on WhatsApp. The support given to the victims by their schools involves counselling and if identified, perpetrators are detained and parental intervention sought. The results of the study also provide insights into the dynamics of cyberbullying in order to inform strategies for alleviating the impact of the cyberbullying phenomenon in schools. The findings indicate that cyberbullying is a growing problem since the youth use technology inappropriately leading to suffering psychologically after victimisation. Empathy training is crucial for teachers and policy makers in order to reduce cyberbullying incidents among learners. Schools need to promote the skills, provide safety to learners and increase awareness to learners so that they are morally engaged with the victims of cyberbullying. It is, therefore, imperative to explore strategies which can be utilised to address the scourge of cyberbullying in the schools and to empower learners in order to avoid being victimised by cyberbullies. It is also crucial that stakeholders such as the Department of Education, principals, teachers, parents and young people work together to mitigate this global epidemic.