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Cyber Bulling Among Learners in Higher Educational Institutions in Sub-Saharan Africa: Examining Challenges and Possible Mitigations

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Proliferation of technology in the form of internet, mobile phone and social media access and usage is exposing many youths to cyber bullying activities. Cyber bullying activities are viewed as negative consequences of growth and development in technology. Many of the victims of cyber bullying include those that have been trapped in the technology through obsessive and addictive behaviours. The study was conducted in order to understand cyber bullying in educational institutions in Sub- Saharan Africa. The study is guided by the following five objectives: understanding cyber bullying and its manifestations among learners in education institutions; explore contributing factors in education institutions; determine the prevalence of cyber bullying in education institutions; examine the effects of cyber bullying among learners in education institutions and determine ways of dealing with cyber bullying among learners in education institution. The study adopted a case study approach and involved 123 respondents with a response rate of 64% (n=192). A survey questionnaire was used to collect data. Resulting data was analysed using statistical package for social sciences (SPSS). Evidence suggests that cyber bullying has serious psychological harm on the victims some leading to suicidal thoughts and suicide, among others. The study concludes that the effects of cyber bullying are far reaching and devastating to the learners and the institutional safety as well. The study recommends that more research and awareness are needed in an effort to control this menace and make outreaching and learning institutions safe.
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Higher Education Studies; Vol. 10, No. 2; 2020
ISSN 1925-4741 E-ISSN 1925-475X
Published by Canadian Center of Science and Education
53
Cyber Bulling Among Learners in Higher Educational Institutions in
Sub-Saharan Africa: Examining Challenges and Possible Mitigations
Andrew Makori1 & Peace Agufana1
1School of Education, Murang‟a University of Technology, Kenya
Correspondence: Andrew Makori, School of Education, Murang‟a University of Technology, Kenya. E-mail:
andrewmakori@hotmail.co.uk
Received: January 14, 2020 Accepted: February 25, 2020 Online Published: March 16, 2020
doi:10.5539/hes.v10n2p53 URL: https://doi.org/10.5539/hes.v10n2p53
Abstract
Proliferation of technology in the form of internet, mobile phone and social media access and usage is exposing
many youths to cyber bullying activities. Cyber bullying activities are viewed as negative consequences of
growth and development in technology. Many of the victims of cyber bullying include those that have been
trapped in the technology through obsessive and addictive behaviours. The study was conducted in order to
understand cyber bullying in educational institutions in Sub- Saharan Africa. The study is guided by the
following five objectives: understanding cyber bullying and its manifestations among learners in education
institutions; explore contributing factors in education institutions; determine the prevalence of cyber bullying in
education institutions; examine the effects of cyber bullying among learners in education institutions and
determine ways of dealing with cyber bullying among learners in education institution. The study adopted a case
study approach and involved 123 respondents with a response rate of 64% (n=192). A survey questionnaire was
used to collect data. Resulting data was analysed using statistical package for social sciences (SPSS). Evidence
suggests that cyber bullying has serious psychological harm on the victims some leading to suicidal thoughts and
suicide, among others. The study concludes that the effects of cyber bullying are far reaching and devastating to
the learners and the institutional safety as well. The study recommends that more research and awareness are
needed in an effort to control this menace and make outreaching and learning institutions safe.
Keywords: cyber bullying, characteristics, Sub-Saharan Africa, educational, impact, prevalence, mitigation
1. Introduction
Use of internet and social media is associated with both benefits and consequences. Positive benefits include
access to information, access to teaching and learning resources, increased levels of social support and social
connectedness. Negative consequences associated with the use of internet and social media include exposure to
sexual materials, cybercrime and cyber bulling. This article focuses on cyber bullying. Cyber bullying has been
defined as “sending or posting harmful or cruel texts or images using internet or other digital communication
devices” (Willard, 2004: 1).Cyber bullying involves the use of information and communication technologies
such as email, cell phone, and pager text messages, instant messaging, defamatory personal websites and
defamatory online personal policy websites to support deliberate, repeated and hostile behaviour by an individual
or group that is intended to harm others (Li, 2010). Cyber bullying has been associated with various devastating
effects, among them, low self-esteem, depression, incompetence, alienation, academic problems, family
problems, school violence, deliquescent behaviour, suicidal thoughts, suicide, mental health problems and drug
abuse (Safana, 2016; Goodno, 2011; Smith, 2015; Okoth, 2014). For many cyber bullying affect their everyday
lives and is a constant source of distress and worry. At school level, cyber bullying may make it difficult to
maintain school operations, safety and academic achievement (Smith, 2015).
1.1 Contributing Factors
Review of literature identifies factors that could easily be attributable to cyber bullying in educational
institutions. For instance, Smith (2015) attributes it to wide availability of digital technology and cyber platforms
proliferation of technological innovations. These changes attracts large number of youths, thereby resulting or
leading to issues of obsessive and addictive technological behaviours among students (Smith, 2015). Besides, Li
(2015) observe that technology continues to develop rapidly and therefore changing people‟s ways of
functionality in society. Further, internet, cell phone and other communication technologies provide us with
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conveniences, but at the same time expose our students to interaction that put their safety and emotional
well-being at risk (Li, 2010).
The other factor is the culture of self-expression that is propagated by social media platforms (Rachoene and
Oyedeni, 2015). This culture empowers individuals to create, control and broadcast their own content. Social
networking sites are particularly popular tools for the youths‟ self-expression practices (Rachoene and Oyedeni,
2015). Porter and his colleagues have identified smart phone proliferation as another factor that contributes to
cyber bullying (Porter, Hampshire, Milner, Minthali, Robson, De Lannoy, Bango, Ngunguluza, Mashiri, Tanle
and Abane, 2015). Smart phone proliferation have changed information communication technology (ICT) access
for many African pupils and/students (Porter, et al., 2015). Smart phones are now an essential tool for youths
whether they are poor or rich, even in very remote rural areas. Also basic mobile phones are increasingly
accessible to young people (Porter, et al., 2015).
Porter et al (2015) further, report that young people‟s use of mobile phones has expanded exponentially and
dramatically in both urban and rural contexts across sub-Saharan Africa over the last decade. This has
contributed to easy access to information and interaction with other people, which may result to cyber bulling
and cyber crimes.
Al-Zahrain (2015) identifies anonymity as a factor for cyber bullying to target victim of any age. In such a
situation and in a majority of the cases victims may not know who the perpetrators are (Grigg, 2012). All one
needs is access the communication technology (Ngesu et al., 2013).Ngesu and his colleagues report that
individuals who feel anonymous hide behind their phones and computers and attack their victims (Ngesu et al.,
2013).
The other factor that contributes to cyber bullying is increased penetration of networked computers and mobile
phones among young people. This has been noted to increase cyber bullying potential (Smith et al., 2008).
Other studies have identified frequent online use as a risk factor in relation to cyber bullying (Safana, 2016).
This is supported by Smith and his colleagues who note that cyber bullying is associated with the use of internet
(Smith, et al., 2008). They further argue that those students who use the internet more appear to be at greater risk
of experiencing at least some cyber bullying (Smith et al., 2008). This gains support from Hinduja and Patchin,
(2010) who comment that when teenagers spend large amount of time on the internet, potentials for misuse and
harm can also increase. Wide expansion of internet use could make it easier for cyber bullies to target students
who usually find it difficult to avoid (Al- Zahrain, 2015). A cyber bullying survey study conducted by Gross and
Juvonen (2008) as cited in Al- Zahrain (2015) involving 1454 students drawn across the USA indicate a positive
relationship between extensive use of the internet and cyber bullying.
1.2 Understanding Cyber Bullying and Its Manifestations
Understanding the meaning of cyber bullying is very important in relation to its manifestations and determining
possible mitigations. Cyber bullying occurs when anyone uses technology deliberately and repeatedly to bully,
harass, hassle and threaten someone (Smith, 2015). Cyber bullying is using technology such as internet or cell
phone to deliberately insult, threaten or intimidate someone for instance, through a text or a call (Okoth, 2014).
Smith (2015), adds, it involves the use of electronic media to inflict harm to someone intentionally and in more
than one occasion.A number of definitions of cyber bullying abound and some have been considered in the
current article. For instance, Belsey in Burton and Mutonguizo (2009: 1) defines cyber bullying, as “bullying
which involves the use of information and communication technologies, such as e-mail, cell phone and text
messages, instant messaging and defamatory online personal polling websites, to support deliberate, repeated
and hostile behaviour by an individual or group that is intended to harm others” . Also William in Burton and
Mutonguizo (2009:1) defines cyber-bullying as “the use of speech that is defamatory, constituting bullying,
harassment or discrimination and the disclosure of personal information that contains offensive, vulgar or
derogatory comments”. According to Kowalski, Giumeeti, Schroeder and Lattanner (2014) cyber bullying refers
to the use of electronic communication technologies to bully others. Russell (2014) defines cyber bulling as “a
behaviour that is repetitive, aggressive, hurtful and intended to cause harm by creating power imbalance”. Cyber
bullying can occur on blogs (interaction web journal), websites, in emails, list serves, chats, instant messaging
and text/digital image messagingvia mobile devices (Li, 2010).
Cyber bullying occurs through information exchange without physical contact between the offender and the
offended (Gakil, 2017). Cyber bullying a kind of bulling that involves the use of mobiles and internet to pass
aggressive information to other repetitively (Smith, et al., 2008).Rachoene and Oyedemi (2015) talk of the use of
social media platforms to perpetuate aggressive behaviour towards others.
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Based on the foregone discussions, any bullying can be classified as cyber bullying, if it involves online, digital
or electronic devices to convey hateful, hurtful, harmful or aggressive message repeatedly with intention to cause
harm to an individual or a group of individuals.
It is also important to consider or include a discussion of some terminologies used in the literature in relation to
cyber bullying. These terms include cyber violence, cyber aggression, internet bullying, electronic bullying,
internet harassment, digital bullying or online harassment (Popovac and Leoschut, 2012). All this terms refer to
violence and aggression perpetuation through information technology. Also these terms refers to any discomfort
or harm that intentionally and repeatedly inflicted on a specific person or group. These cruel acts may include the
sending of harassing emails or instant messages, posting obscene insulting and slanderous messages online
(Popovac and Leoschut, 2012).
Cyber bullying through mobile phones or online may take various forms, for instance sending malicious
messages or text messages, messages of a sexual nature known as sexting or sending pictures or videos of
someone with intention of distributing the content to others. In some situations individuals may impersonate
others online or create false profiles with which to perpetuate cyber aggression (Popovac and Leschut,
2012).Cyber bullying can be indirect or direct.
According to Li (2010: 373- 374), cyber bullying can take various forms:
Flaming: sending angry, rude, vulgar messages directed to a person or persons privately or to an online
group;
Harassment: repeatedly sending a person offensive messages;
Cyber- stalking: harassment that include threats of harm or is highly intimidating;
Denigration (put-down: sending or posting harmful untrue or cruel statements about a person to other
people;
Masquerade: Pretending to be someone else and sending or posting material that makes that person look
bad or places that person in a potential danger;
Outing and trickery: sending or posting material about a person that contains sensitive, private or
embarrassing information, including forwarding private messages or images. Engaging in tricks to
solicit embarrassing information that is then made public;
Exclusion: Acts that specifically exclude a person from an online group.
1.3 Prevalence and Characteristics
Patchin and Hinduja (2006) conducted an online survey involving 384 respondents who were younger than 18
years. The results indicate various forms of bullying occurred online including being ignored (60.4%),
disrespected (30.0%), called names (29.9%), threatened (21.4%), picked on (19.8%), made fun of(19.3%) and
having rumours spread about them (18.8%).
A study conducted on ownership and usage of mobile phones (all types) in three countries is illustrated on table 1
below. The countries involved include Ghana, Malawi and South Africa (Porter, et al. 2015).
Table 1. Showing ownership and usage of mobile phones (all types) among children approximately 9-18 years
old, 2013/2014. N=3085
Country
Aspect
Male (%)
Female (%)
Ghana
Ghana
Malawi
Malawi
South Africa
South Africa
Mobile owned
Mobile Usage
Mobile owned
Mobile Usage
Mobile owned
Mobile Usage
18.8
45.0
10.4
36.1
50.9
77.4
12.9
37.2
6.2
33.4
50.8
77.1
Source: Porter et al. (2015: 26)
It is evident from table 1 above that the number of mobile phone users in all three countries was lower than
mobile phone owners. Also the number of female mobile phone owners was lower than male owners in all the
three countries, although in South Africa the difference is very small. The number of mobile phone users is quite
high than ownership suggesting that the children may be either using family or relative mobile phone or
borrowing from friends.
Also the high numbers of mobile phone users may be a contributing factor in cyber bullying related
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incidences.This is supported by Hinduja and Patchin (2014: 3) who state that “cyber bullying is a growing
problem because increasing numbers of kids are using and have completely embraced online interactivity”.
In Australia, bullying prevalence lies between 15 and 20 per cent, with reported cases of both bullies and
bullying victims committing suicide or homicide (Okoth, 2014). In Korea a study in two middle schools,
involving seventieth and eightieth grade students reported that 40 per cent of the respondents were involved in
bullying with females victims most likely to have suicidal tendencies (Okoth, 2014). In Nigeria a study involving
some students from Benin City indicate that almost 4 in every 5 of the respondents reported being bullied and
bullying others (Aluede, 2011).
In the United States of America (USA), a study by the Pew Internet and American Life project indicate that 26%
of the teens had been harassed through their mobile phones either by calls or messages (Okoth (2014). Also in
the USA 93% of the youths accessing internet experienced anonymous cyberspace attacks, usually done by the
perpetrators to demonstrate power and authority over subjects (Smith, 2015). In the United Kingdom (UK),
surveys carried out involving adolescent indicate that 14- 23% admitted having sent offensive pornographic,
abusive or threatening text using cell phone (Okoth, 2014).
1.4 Effects of Cyber Bullying
Review of literature reveals devastating effects of cyber bullying upon school children victims. For instance,
Okoth (2014) observe that cyber bullying is brutal and causes social, physical and psychological effects on the
victims. Also according to Ngesu and his colleagues, effects of cyber bullying in secondary schools are
manifested in various ways and include absenteeism, violence, low self-esteem and poor academic performance
(Ngesu, Gunga, Wachira, Munithi, K‟Odhiambo, 2013). Okoth (2014) has also cited Low self-esteem and poor
academic performance. Also leavers who are bullied view the school as unsafe and also experience increased risk
of depression and high rate of drug abuse (Okoth, 2014). In addition, cyber bullying has also been described as a
common form of aggression and violence that student engage in, in many schools (Okoth, 2014). Smith (2015)
adds that low self- esteem tendencies tend to progress to adulthood. Studies have shown that some teenager
students harassed by cyber bullies suffered depression, experienced education problems and some committed
suicide (Smith, 2015). Also bullying in general can lead to feelings of incompetence, alienation and depression,
among the victims (Smith, 2015). Other cyber bullying related effects include, low self-esteem, family problems,
academic problems, school violence, deliquescent behaviour and suicidal thoughts (Goodno, 2011). In the USA,
for instance, several teenagers have committed suicide due to cyber bullying (Goodno, 2011).
Psychological problems associated with cyber bullying include increased social anxiety, low self-esteem,
depression, wide ranging mental health problems, drug abuse, poor adjustment, aggression, suicidal ideation,
increased emotional distress, likelihood of acting out and other somatic symptoms (Safana, 2016). Li (2010)
identifies other psychological harm inflicted by cyber bullying and includes low-self-esteem, school failure,
anger, anxiety, depression, school avoidance or absenteeism, school violence and suicide. Here Safana and Li
report similar psychological effects in some aspects. Smith (2015) reports of tragic incidences associated with
cyber bullying such as self-harm and suicide. Other effects identified by Russell (2014) include depression and
helplessness, lack of social competence, tend to cry easily, having difficulties defending themselves from attack,
low self- esteem and anxiety
Other studies have shown that cyber bullying victims exhibited decreased concentration, absenteeism and poor
academic achievement (Beran and Li, 2007).Many other studies have identified an association between cyber
bullying and emotional, social and academic difficulties (Beran and Li, 2006; Li, 2007; Patchin and Hinduja,
2010).Cyber bullying may also hinder the academic development of learners (Akbuhut and Eristi, 2011; Tettegah,
Befont and Tayber, 2006). Other consequences may include post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse,
social and personal relationship problems (Tettegah, et al., 2006; Al-Zahrain, 2015).
Poor academic performance may be attributed to disruptions associated with mobile phone usage. Porter and his
colleagues identify four factors that may link mobile usage, disruptions and academic performance, and include
(Porter, et al., 2015):
Disruption in adolescent sleep patterns associated with cheap night calls;
Time lost through prolonged sessions on social network sites;
Harassment and bullying;
Increased widespread access to pornography.
There is a concern regarding time that young people spend on the internet and other social media platforms, and
risks of addictive behaviours (Porter et al., 2015). Internet and mobile phone usage have become compulsive
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among students resulting in students spending less time on their school work (Porter et al., 2015). Mobile phones
were implicated for spreading cheap rumours that accelerated damage during the period of rampant unrest
(Okoth, 2014).
1.5 Dealing with Cyber Bullying
Review of literature has demonstrated that cyber bullying is a serious phenomenon with devastating effect on
school students who are connected to the internet and/or social media networks and platforms. The effects
identified in the literature can be a great source of worry to the parents, educators and school administrators. It is
therefore urgent that some firm steps or stands are taken to control this menace in order to protect school learners
from the negative effects of cyber bullying.
Russell (2004) recommends that parents, school administrators and teacher can take the following steps to
protect the learners from the effects of cyber bullying:
Parents should make themselves available to speak with their children about school;
Parents to monitor what their children are doing on the internet and nay other technology;
Parents should keep an open dialogue with the school in case they do believe there has been an issue
with cyber bullying involving their children;
School administrator and teacher should keep an open dialogue with students so that they feel safe in
talking about the subject.
Smith (2015), making reference to South Africa, observes that, a firm stand is required to protect learners from
the negative effects of cyber bullying. Raskanskas and Stoltz (2007) feel that a more practical strategy is to raise
awareness among adults about the dangers of cyber bullying. They further recommend that cyber bullying
should be included in school anti-bullying policies, anti-bullying materials and teacher training materials for
anti- bullying work (Raskanskas and Stoltz, 2007). Besides, they recommend more specific intervention such as
contacting mobile companies and internet service providers (Raskanskas and Stoltz, 2007).
Al- Zahrain (2015) talks of collaboration and educating parents, school personnel and citizens in the community
about cyber bullying. Besides, the schools have a critical role to play in reducing and controlling cyber bullying
through the process of raising awareness.
Hoff and Mitchell (2009: 662) offer what they describe as a „three- pronged approach‟ for dealing with cyber
bullying. The approach involves:
Educating students and parents on the risks of virtual spaces and teach them the appropriate ways to
protect students;
Expanding schools approaches towards cyber bullying by teaching students how to deal with social
tensions and problems;
Addressing legal cases related to cyber bullying and discussing interventions and possible solutions
through professional networks such as conferences and professional associations.
Kowalski et al. (2012) also provide a nine-element guide for students and parents on how to respond to cyber
bullying:
Save or print copies of nasty messages and websites as evidence;
Ignore, delete or block the sender ;
Report fake or offensive profiles to the site host;
Investigate and monitor children‟s online activities;
Communicate with the school personnel and share evidence if the cyber bully is a student;
Contact the cyber bully‟s guardian and share evidence if he or she is known
Seek legal advice if the cyber bully‟s guardians are unresponsive;
Report the cyber bully to the police;
Seek help from a school counselor or other mental health professional, if your child expresses emotional
problems.
Other ways may include, fighting back; turning-off computers or mobile phone or block messages or profiles;
changing email address or mobile phone numbers; ignoring it; asking them to stop; keeping a record of nasty
emails or messages and not responding to the threatening nasty email or other electronic messages.
In South Africa, some schools have set up committees to promote safe and responsible use of technologies in
schools (Porter et al., 2015). Besides, students need to be taught the importance of making informed choices
about behaviours in virtual environment or world (Porter, et al., 2015). However, it may be difficult for schools
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to keep pace with the rapidly changing availability of phones and their expanding functionality (Porter, et al.
2015).
Another measure is discouraging use of mobile phones in schools, for instance in Kenya, the Ministry of
Education has banned possession and use of mobile phones in public schools (Okoth, 2014). However, this could
be viewed as a temporary measure, since a number of students are increasing using mobile phones as a teaching
and learning resource (Porter et al., 2015).
2. Research Methodology
The study reported in this article was conducted to increase knowledge and understanding on cyber-bullying in
Kenya‟s institutions of higher learning. The findings will contribute to building a knowledge base for
understanding the prevalence, effects and mitigation strategies of cyber-bullying.
This study is a case study in which a descriptive research design was adopted. A purposive sampling strategy
was employed in which one public university in Kenya was identified and selected for the study. Data was
collected using a survey questionnaire which consisted of closed and opened ended items. This was necessary to
diversify responses as well as reduce what Watson and Coombes (2009) as cited in Makori and Onderi (2013)
describe as „question fatigue‟. The open-ended selection of the questionnaire offered respondents opportunity to
make a comment, expand or clarify some information provided on their responses and thus assist the researchers
and readers gain insights in their perspective on cyber-bullying in institutions of higher learning in Kenya.A total
of 192 questionnaires were distributed to the six schools of the university and 123 of them were completed and
returned (representing 64% response rate).
Resulting data from closed-ended items was analysed using Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS).The
open-ended items or sections of the items was analysed thematically and used to expand on the results of the
closed- ended items. Of course some of them on their own generated very important information in relation to
the objectives that this study set out to achieve.
It is also important to mention that ethical considerations have been observed in this study. For instance,
attention has been paid to such areas as confidentiality, anonymity and minimisation of any harm to the
respondents associated with this study.
3. Study Findings and Discussions
3.1 Background Information
Gender: Male (54%; n=123) and Female (46%; n=123)
Age interval: 16- 18 (20%; n=123); 19- 21 (59%; n=123) 22- 24 (15%; n=123) 28-31 (7%; n =123). Just
fewer than 60% of the participants were within 19-21 age range.
Residential status: Home (7%;n=123); On campus (34%;n=123) Rented hostel (51%; n=123) Stay with
guardian (5%; n=123); No response (2%; n=123). Just over half of the respondents live in rented
hostels.
Respondents use various cyber platform (n=123): WhatsApp (24%); Facebook (16%); Tweeter (12%);
IMO (4%); Messenger (14%) and No response (30%). The cyber platform that respondents use most is
WhatsApp, followed by Facebook.
As part of this investigation, respondents were asked what cyber bullying meant to them. A range of
definitions emerged from the analysis and some of them include:
When some student bullies another student on the internet;
When you call another student names online;
When you use a student‟s cell phone to get them in trouble;
When you pretend to be another student online;
Abusing others on the social media e.g. internet;
When one uses another student‟s phone to text bad messages to someone;
Insulting people through the internet;
When you send mean messages or comments about other students online;
Sending a threatening message to another person;
The analysis indicates that the respondents have an understanding of what cyber bullying means.
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3.2 Factors Contributing to Cyber Bullying in Educational Institutions
Mode of accessing cyber platforms (n=123): Phone (54%) Tablet (34%) Laptop (10%) Cybercafé (5%).
Just over half of the students and just over one- third of the students access cyber platform using phones
and tablets.
24% (n=123) indicate that the institution provided free access to internet connectivity.
Less than two-thirds of them indicate that the institution allowed them free internet access for fewer
than 5 hours a day.
56% (n=123) indicate that they received strange messages from people they do not know.
10% (n=123), indicate that they have received „name‟ calling messages through the internet.
Based on these study findings, accessing various platforms and especially internet and phone can be a significant
factor in cyber-bullying. The nature of the messages received includes:
Threatening and spine tingling message
Harassing message, for instance, as one participant put it “a text harassing me to pay a debt which I
didn‟t owe the person claiming “. (sic)
Love message.
3.3 Cyber Bullying and Its Manifestations among Learners in Educational Institutions
3.3.1 Prevalence of Cyber Bullying in Educational Institutions
Table 2. Showing cyber-bullying prevalence
Statement (s)
Strongly Agree
(n=123)
Agree
(n=123)
Strongly
disagree
(n=123)
Not
sure
(n=123)
No
Response
(n=123)
It happens all the time
30%
32%
5%
2%
32%
It happens too often, but
not all the time
17%
29%
2%
7%
32%
It happens sometimes
17%
37%
5%
5%
27%
It hardly ever happen
7%
2%
34%
10%
39%
It never happen
5%
2%
52%
10%
32%
Table 2 shows that cyber bullying is a common event in educational institutions. It occurs all the time. For
instance, evidence indicates that62% feel that cyber bullying occur all the time.
Table 3. Showing various manifestations of Cyber bullying
Statement
True
(n=123)
False
(n=123)
I don‟t know what cyber bullying is
24%
76%
Cyber bullying is no big deal
10%
90%
Friends of mine have been cyber bullied
46%
54%
We‟ve had cyber bullying incidents in my college
49%
51%
I have cyber bullied others
7%
93%
I have said nasty things to others online, but don‟t consider it cyber-bullying
34%
66%
I have been cyber bullied by a close friend
27%
73%
I have had someone steal my password/cell phone and pretend to be me
34%
66%
I sent a joke to someone, but they thought it was cyber bullying
61%
39%
Others have said mean things to or about me online, but I don‟t consider cyber
bullying
39%
61%
46%
54%
Some important things to note based on Table 3 above:
Over three quarters of the respondents know what cyber bullying is all about.
Cyber bullying manifests itself in various ways
Respondents have either been cyber bullied or have cyber-bullied someone.
Cyber bullying is a serious problem among the respondents.
Close friends have been involved in cyber bullying activities to each other.
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There is also evidence in the analysis indicating that the respondents‟ friend report of receiving bad or strange
messages. For instance, one reports of a case where her friend was sent nude photos of someone and then the
person (the attacker) pressurized her to send her nude ones in return.Others have reported of incidences receiving
abusive and threatening messages.
3.4 Effects of Cyber Bullying among Learners in Educational Institutions
Table 4. Illustrating effects of Cyber bullying on the victims
Statement (s)
Strongly
Agree
(n=123)
Agree
(n=123)
Disagree
(n=123)
Strongly
disagree
(n=123)
Not
sure
(n=123)
No
response
(n=123)
They become embarrassed if
other people find out what
happened
46%
17%
5%
0%
12%
11%
Victims of cyber bullying feel
bad because they are attacked
as individuals
29%
32%
10%
0%
12%
25%
They have a strong feeling
that no one can help
10%
27
24%
15%
15%
17%
They think that there is no
way they can escape from
cyber bullying
5%
17%
15%
20%
27%
32%
They feel they are alone with
no support
15%
17%
15%
20%
9%
25%
They think that cyber bullying
will not stop
20%
10%
10%
12%
27%
32%
It is evident from Table 4 above that the cyber bullying victims felt embarrassed and helpless.
Based on the comments made, it is evident that the experience of cyber-bullying was very traumatic and attacked
people‟s self-esteem, among others. Others were frustrated, depressed, sad, bored and felt that their privacy was
invaded. Yet others describe their experience as heartbreaking and demoralising; and a sign of rejection by the
society. This is captured in some of the following comments reflecting how respondents felt:
“Bored, frustrated and angry”
“I felt that my self-esteem was lowered and even started hating myself.”
“I feel bad, like someone is invading my privacy.” (sic)
“I felt very bad to an extent of being depressed.”
“I felt looked down upon by my close friends.”
I felt sad because the situation was difficult for me.”
“I felt rejected by the society.”
“I felt that everything is exposed.”
It is not a pleasant experience to the victims, because it is characterised by anger, depression, frustration and a
feeling of rejection, among others
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3.4.1 Dealing with Cyber Bullying among Learners in Educational Institutions
Table 5. Strategies for dealing with cyber bullying
Statement (s)
Strongly
Agree
(n=123)
Agree
(n=123)
Disagree
(n=123)
Strongly
disagree
(n=123)
Not sure
(n=123)
No response
(n=123)
Cyber bullying would
be illegal
51%
12%
5%
2%
10%
12%
Schools would have to
help students who were
cyber bullied
27%
34%
2%
2%
7%
32%
There would be a cyber
bullying police squad to
investigate
cyber-bullying
39%
39%
2%
0%
24%
0%
Schools would teach
parents how to help
their children who are
cyber bullied
34%
39
5%
0%
7%
22%
There would a youth
helpline where students
could go to get help
34%
22%
5%
0%
17%
22%
Schools would teach
parents how to help
their children who are
cyber bullied
42%
27%
0%
0%
10%
22%
They would have to
hold conferences for
young people to help
them solve the problem
34%
42%
0%
0%
5%
20%
Some of the suggestions made on how to deal with cyber bullying in our institutions based on Table 5, include:
Holding conferences or sensitizing young people about cyber bullying;
Educational institutionsto teach their children regarding cyber bullying and its effects
Perhaps having a body to investigate and deal with cyber bullying related issues;
Educational institutions to device strategies for dealing with cyber bullying related challenges.
Educational institutions to collaborate with other organisation to set up tracking systems in order to
identify, arrest and deal with cyber bullies.
The government to institute heavy penalties to cyber bullies, in other words to put strict measures
against people found cyber bullying.
Institutions to appoint staff to handle cyber bullying affairs. One of his roles would be to sensitise
students regarding the effect of cyber bullying and how best to minimise or mitigate its effects on
individuals. The whole purpose of sensitization is to create awareness concerning cyber bullying.
Students should be encouraged to report cyber-bullying related cases to the officer or staff in charge.
Students to be discouraged from bullying their fellow students online.
Provision of guidance and counseling to cyber bullying victims.
Educational institutions to discourage free internet access on campus.
Educational institutions to investigate reported cyber-bullying related issues and take appropriate action.
4. Discussion
The discussion in this section follows the five objectives that guided this study.
4.1 Understanding Cyber Bullying and Its Manifestations
Cyber bullying is a very interesting but harmful social media activity. It is interesting because even close friends
have been involved in it. Friends sometimes send messages to each other not knowing that what they regard as
joke messages are nasty to their friends. The cyber bullying messages are nasty and mean and hurt recipients. In
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62
some incidences cyber attackers have sent images such as nude photos to the victims and demand that they also
send their nude photos. Such activities fall in the realm of sexting within the cyber bullying activities.
4.2 Explore Contributing Factors in Educational Institutions
As it emerged from the current study, the key factor that contributes to cyber bullying is frequent access to
various social media platforms. Evidence is clear that students who frequent various social media platforms and
spent more time on them are more likely to experience cyber attacks. This is in line with the findings of previous
studies, which associate cyber bullying attacks to factors such as: availability of digital technology, cyber
platforms and proliferation of technological innovations (Li, 2015; Ngesu, et al., 2013; Al-Zahrain, 2015). These
changes attract large number of youths resulting or leading to issues of obsessive and addictive technological
behaviours among students. Past studies have also identified the culture of self-expression which allows
individuals to create, control and broadcast their own content. There is also the element of easy accessibility of
smart phone and basic phones to youths regardless of their socio- economic status (Al-Zahrain, 2015). Some of
these tools can be accessed by even the poorest in the society and even in remote areas. Thus placing or
predisposing the youths to cyber bullying activities some of which could be harmful to them in one way or the
other.
4.3 Determine Prevalence of Cyber Bullying in Educational Institutions
Cyber bullying happens all the time whether we like it or not. In some situations it has been ignored a lot but the
effect is devastating. Prevalence is captured in Table 2 in this document and it is evident that 62% of the
respondents felt that cyber bullying incidents happen all the time. Such occurrence is associated with high
number of mobile phone usage. For instance, in our study, majority of the victims happen to be phone users and
therefore harmful messages were sent through their phones. This is because phones are easily accessible than
perhaps other social media technologies (Al-Zahrain, 2015).
4.4 Examining the Effects of Cyber Bullying among Learners
The study findings indicate that the effect of cyber bullying is traumatic and has far reaching effects on the
victims. For instance, respondents‟ report of victims experiencing declined self-esteem, frustration, depression
and sadness, captured in Table 4 in the analysis section of this document. People also reported of a feeling of
invasion of individuals‟ privacy and exposure to the entire world of their private life. Other victims also felt a
sense of rejection by the society. They described their experience as heartbreaking and demoralising. Others felt
rejected by the society as well as intrusion or invasion of their privacy. Majority of the effects reported border in
the realm of psychology and therefore suggest that victims experience serious psychological effects. If the
situation persists, the victims are likely to be affected in their studies leading to absenteeism and declined
performance in their studies. Previous studies have also reported issues such as low self-esteem and depression
in relation to cyber bullying. The effects identified in the study findings are in agreement with previous studies
(Smith, 2015; Li, 2010; Russell, 2014) findings, for instance, depression, school failure, low self- esteem and
anxiety among others.
4.5 Determine Ways of Dealing with Cyber Bullying among Learners in Educational Institutions
It is evident from this study that cyber bullying is a serious phenomenon affecting both secondary school and
higher learning institutions students and therefore consideration of possible mitigation strategies is very
important and necessary.
Some of the possible mitigations against cyber bullying activities in educational institutions may include:
Sensitisation of both parents and students on cyber bullying and its effects on student victims. This
suggests that education institutions should organise regular sensitization programmes because cyber
bullying is a real problem with far-reaching consequences.
Educational institutions to collaborate with the government and other security agencies in order to set
up tracking systems that identify cyber attackers.
The government to institute policies that address the issues and challenges associated with cyber
bullying.
Educational institutions to set up support systems for cyber victims through guidance and counseling
services.
The above suggested measures or possible mitigation strategies are captured in Table 5 in the analysis section of
this document.
The above mitigation measures are also reinforced by previous studies which emphasize parental involvement in
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63
the life and activities of their children and especially in relation to cyber bullying. This calls for open and sincere
dialogue between parents and their children as well as between parents and the school and/or university
administration and staff. The underlying purpose of this is to ensure that their children are aware of the effects of
cyber bullying activities and that they are all protected against such (Al-Zahrain, 2015).
5. Conclusions
This study has demonstrated that cyber bullying in educational institutions is real and has a devastating outcome
upon the victims. It poses serious challenges to parents, educators and school administrators. It also undermines
both school safety and academic achievements of the learners.
Some contributing factors have been captured in the current study and include the increased number of people
using internet and social media platforms, ease access and widespread availability of smart phone and other
web-enabled technologies, intensity and/or frequency of their usage, and obsessive and addictive behaviours of
the learners. These factors have immensely contributed to growing interaction among young people thereby
exposing them to potential cyber bullies.
The study has also captured effects associated with cyber bullying and includes absenteeism, school violence,
high school drop-out rate, low self-esteem and poor academic performance. Others effects include depression,
family problems deliquescent behaviour, suicidal thought, suicide and social anxiety.
The study also offers ways of dealing with the cyber bullying menace both parents and educators to monitor kids
during the time they are on the internet and other online technology; parents to make themselves available to
speak with their kids about school; both parents to keep an open dialogue if they believe that there has been an
issue with cyber bullying involving their children and creating awareness regarding the dangers of cyber bullying.
There is also a need for sensitisation to create awareness and offering guidance and counseling support to cyber
bullying victims. Also educational institutions in collaboration with schools can develop policies that can address
cyber bullying and its associated challenges.
Recommendations
There is limited research on cyber bullying in sub-Saharan Africa and therefore recommend that:
i) More research to be carried out on cyber-bullying in sub-Saharan Africa as there is limited research in
the region
ii) Schools to develop cyber bullying policies to protect school going children
iii) Governments to educate poor communities who lack understanding on use of digital media.
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