Safe space for learners | Inquirer Opinion

Safe space for learners

/ 05:03 AM January 29, 2023

Schools are supposed to be a safe space — this is where children learn not only academics but also values: honesty, responsibility, respect, perseverance, justice, good manners and right conduct, among others. Next to their homes, schools are where children spend most of their time, and here they are taught how to get along with one another, accept and tolerate cultural and personality differences, work these differences out, and together strive for a better community, society, country. But cases of violence happening in schools — one recent case last week resulted in the death of a 13-year-old—only show how adults have failed the youth in helping keep these institutions of learning safe.

A 15-year-old boy stabbed a classmate at Culiat High School in Quezon City over a misunderstanding that reportedly stemmed from jealousy. This is not the first case of school violence nor will it be the last—in fact, a few days earlier, another 13-year-old stabbed two classmates, ages 15 and 16, at the Cauayan City National High School in Isabela, as “self-defense” against bullying. Private schools have reported similar incidents as well. Last year, Colegio San Agustin Makati launched an investigation into a violent fight in the boys’ comfort room between two Grade 9 students, with videos and photos posted on social media showing one of the involved lying on the floor with a wounded head. In 2018, another case was reported in Ateneo de Manila Junior High School resulting in the dismissal of the student who was caught on video bullying his peers.


The 2018 case prompted the Department of Education to remind public and private schools of DepEd Order No. 40, series 2012, which mandates the creation of child protection committees. In addition, under the implementing rules and regulations of Republic Act No. 10627 or the Anti-Bullying Act of 2013, schools are required to offer comprehensive bullying prevention programs including counseling, life skills training, education, and other activities meant to enhance the overall well-being of victims, bullies, and other affected parties. At the time, DepEd encouraged students to report any form of harassment to their parents, teachers, and school authorities, and assured them that these will be looked into and treated with confidentiality.

But a common complaint among those who have experienced or witnessed school violence is how perpetrators get off lightly. This has created an environment of fear that, because of the tendency to treat these cases as “isolated” and not serious enough, the harassment will continue and even worsen for those who have come forward to report them.


“The reality is that violence pervades the school system … and not enough is being done to address it,” Alberto T. Muyot, CEO of Save the Children Philippines and former senior DepEd official, wrote on the social learning network website Apolitical in August 2019. Worse, he noted, adults often dismiss these incidents as part of the child’s “normal school experience,” and children are expected to handle such situations on their own.

But inflicting pain and suffering on another should never be normalized. Based on the 2016 National Baseline Study on Violence Against Children — the most recent available data — 14.3 percent of children experienced physical violence; 23 percent experienced psychological violence; 5.3 percent experienced sexual violence; and three out of five children experienced bullying — all in the school setting.

Since its launch last November, DepEd’s antichild abuse hotline has received 78 complaints and majority of these were about bullying incidents. School violence, however, is only one symptom of the poor state of mental health among students; self-harm and suicide have also been on the rise, especially during the pandemic with online classes adding pressure to young people. Those who are unable to cope manifest their stress in various ways including violent behavior. All the more reason for schools to strengthen their mental health services — this includes tapping professionally trained guidance counselors, instead of designating teachers who may lack the proper training to take on the role. DepEd requires schools to hire one guidance counselor for every 500 students, but it has been pointed out that the country has only 4,069 guidance counselors as of June 2022. This barely meets the ideal ratio for the more than 24 million elementary and high school students.

For schools to be a safe space for students, the presence of professionals who are willing to listen and counsel them is crucial. Schools’ child protection committees should also tighten security protocols to prevent students from bringing deadly weapons to school premises. Follow-ups should be made on reported cases and counseling extended to all parties involved.

DepEd must ensure that learners are able to grow into responsible, productive members of society—and this can only be possible if schools are a safe and secure space for them to do so. It should not fail the youth.

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