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PUPILS feel that bullying is a bigger problem in South African schools than overcrowding in classrooms and not having decent toilets.

A survey conducted last month among 7 324 pupils, teachers and community members, by Pondering Panda, a consumer insights company, shows that bullying is a greater cause for concern among younger children.

Some 33 percent of 13- to 14-year-olds identify it as a big problem, compared to 25 percent of 15- to 17-year-olds.

“The survey shows that bullying remains the most significant cause for concern, with 28 percent saying it was one of the biggest problems at their school, compared to 31 percent in June,” said Johan van der Merwe, the head of public relations at Pondering Panda.

The Western Cape and Gauteng were the provinces most likely to identify bullying as a concern, at 35 percent each.

Two weeks ago, a Grade 10 pupil in Gauteng was shot and killed by a Grade 11 pupil who had allegedly bullied him.

An average of 28 percent of pupils said bullying was one of the biggest problems at their school, compared to 31 percent in June.

A quarter of the respondents felt that the lack of parental involvement in schools was a problem.

A total of 24 percent felt that lack of decent toilets was the biggest problem in their school and another 24 percent felt that overcrowding was the biggest problem for them.

The survey also found that even though there was a general consensus that bullying tops the list, different race groups perceived the extent of the problem differently.

“Among race groups, blacks were less likely to see bullying as a major issue than other race groups.

“Twenty six percent of young black South Africans felt bullying was one of the most significant problems facing their schools.

“In contrast, 40 percent of young whites, 35 percent of coloureds and 52 percent of Indians saw bullying as a serious problem,” Van der Merwe said.

Only 9 percent of the respondents felt that the availability of tap water was an issue. Eleven percent felt that absent teachers was the main problem and 13 percent said late-coming among teachers was an issue.

“The fact that [bullying] is seen as more important than infrastructure requirements means that it should be a high priority for teachers, parents and education officials,” Pondering Panda spokeswoman Shirley Wakefield said.

The Teddy Bear Clinic’s clinical director, Dr Shaheda Omar, said the prevalence of bullying in schools was a reflection of what was happening in the broader society.