YEAR 11 student Ella Scotford has more than exams and homework on her mind after she was chosen to report to Queensland’s education minister on the mounting issue of bullying among teenagers.
Miss Scotford is one of 16 young Queenslanders appointed to give Education Minister Grace Grace a students’ perspective on key education matters.
She is the only Catholic school student on the 2018 Ministerial Student Advisory Council, which is made up of students from regional classrooms, state and private schools.
The council met for the first time on June 7 to listen to ideas that are working in various classrooms across the state, including in Catholic schools.
Bullying and cyberbullying is the council’s first priority.
Although Miss Scotford has not been the victim of cyberbullying, she admitted it was an enormous problem for her generation.
She said social media contributed to most forms of cyberbullying in large, metropolitan schools because predators were “a few clicks away” from causing harm.
Both the anonymity of social media and the faceless encounter it offered teenagers meant young people “have this technology, this mask on, to say whatever they want in a few clicks of their fingers”.
“I think there’s a lot of pressure on our generation with so much social media available at a few clicks,” Miss Scotford said.
“We can do anything with social media.”
Miss Scotford said her generation was also pressured to act and behave according to popular trends portrayed on social media.
“There’s so much pressure on us as a generation, and especially from what I know as girls, from an all-girls’ school, of a certain way we have to be portrayed online and a certain way we have to show ourselves,” she said.
“But (it helps) just knowing it’s okay, that you don’t have to follow that stereotypical approach to social media that may be portrayed online.”
Among the recommendations made to Ms Grace, Miss Scotford said the council hoped to encourage students to celebrate difference in an effort to reduce bullying.
“The difference between us is something that can be picked on and used as that incentive to bully someone,” she said.
The council also recommended teaching the effects of bullying at a younger age, and build “a more serious conversation” into the education curriculum.
A promotional item sitting in the meeting room where the council met also sparked a conversation about effective anti-bullying advertising.
“At the back of the room we noticed there was a ‘Say no to bullying’ poster and it was a very cute young boy smiling saying ‘Say no to bullying’,” Miss Scotford said.
“We talked about not sugar-coating the issue about cyberbullying or bullying and being more confronting with it because it is such a brutal thing that occurs.
“That might get the message across more effectively.”
Young people who come forward about cases of bullying should also be protected and encouraged to speak out “because it can have a very serious effect on the students”.
Queensland Catholic Education Commission executive director Dr Lee-Anne Perry, who is a member of the Queensland Government’s Anti-Cyberbullying Taskforce, congratulated Miss Scotford on representing Catholic schools on the new student council.
“Ella is a resilient and engaged young woman and she will be able to clearly articulate the concerns and hopes of students in Catholic schools,” Dr Perry said.
“We look forward to Ella and all the young people on the Student Advisory Council sharing their experience so decision-makers can consider the broadest possible range of views.”
Following the council’s first meeting, Ms Grace said it was “only natural” to offer students an opportunity “to make their views heard”.
“Students are our most important stakeholders so it’s only natural they be given an opportunity to make their views heard,” she said.
“These students will be my eyes and ears in Queensland classrooms and school grounds, and I’ll be asking them ways we can improve their learning experience.”
Ms Grace said the Queensland Government was “determined to continue the fight against bullying, and the ideas put forward by this student council will be progressed to the Queensland Anti-Cyberbullying Taskforce”.
The student council is expected to meet again later this year.