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Bullying is alarming enough to table a White Paper in Parliament

  • We need a more comprehensive and holistic strategy to stop the bullying culture from growing.

The education ministry is to be commended for finally appointing a high-level action committee on bullying, to adopt measures to ensure that bullying in schools does not worsen.

However, it is worrying that deputy education minister Dauk Chong Sin Woon is reported to have said the "education ministry is not alarmed over the number of bullying cases in schools, but is taking the matter seriously".

This appears to a contradiction in terms. How can parents and siblings and the caring public not be alarmed when bullying has been on the rise and there have been tragically unnecessary sad deaths due to bullying?

To his credit though, Datuk Chong was open-minded in giving the public vital statistics which are actually also very disturbing.

He gave startling figures such as 2.03% of students were involved in various disciplinary issues. Last year alone 111,895 students had disciplinary problems and 95,046 of them were from secondary schools.

These are the students who are likely to be recruited as future gangsters who will bully the public and even become full-fledged gangsters and criminals.

Is that what we want? Are the figures not alarming enough to move the ministry into coming out with more drastic measures to combat bullying in schools and curbing the number future criminals being churned out from our education system?

KPI

It is thus laudable that a key performance indicator (KPI) has been set to reduce disciplinary problems from the present 0.4 % to 0.02% of students. However the time frame has to be clearly stated and pursued relentlessly. Otherwise, we will carry on with the same old apathy that has led to this bad situation!

In fact, I would also like to propose that a report card be presented to the public annually (or more frequently) on the progress achieved by the ministry to reduce bullying. Let the parents, students and the public know. Heads of schools who are complacent should be penalized.

2,906 bullying cases were reported in 2014 and 3,448 cases in 2016. This could indicate a rising and worsening trend. But actual figures could be even higher.

I understand from my discussions with those in the know that there is serious reluctance on the part of some school principals, teachers, parents and especially students, to report on bullying. They often fear reprisals and revenge.

This problem is exacerbated in many schools where the teachers and principals are of the gentler gender. They understandably dare not risk taking tougher actions against their errant students, for fear of being attacked by cowardly bullies and gangs. Can't the police provide more protection and confidence to teachers, parents and pupils?

White Paper

Indeed, it is felt by many that bullying in schools and now even some universities, has become not only alarming but a critical, destructive and debilitating issue of national significance. It affects the quality of school and college graduates and can have a negative impact on our future leaders! No wonder our education system is rated poorly by international standards.

How can students perform well when there is fear and insecurity in so many of the 402 schools that the ministry has identified for its watch list for poor discipline? Why not name and shame these schools?

I recall that at my school, the Victoria Institution Kuala Lumpur, when we had the problem of gangsterism we identified and shamed the culprits. This strategy worked very fast. But, there has to be a strong will to beat the problem and no pussyfooting or politics in matters of discipline, please.

Hence, although the setting up of an action committee on bullying is welcome, it can be regarded as necessary, but not sufficient.

There are, I suspect, some deep underlying socioeconomic and even political structural problems that have to be addressed as a matter of high political will and urgency. We need a more comprehensive and holistic strategy to stop the bullying culture from growing.

Thus, I would propose the action committee on bullying expand its terms of reference and scope of work, to prepare a White Paper for the Parliament.

The White Paper could review the problems of rising bullying and recommend to the government, the people and their representatives through Parliament support, various ways and means, to reduce bulling in all our education institutions.

Please listen to the people's deep concerns and widespread alarm over bullying in all its forms in our country, and act fast to provide a better Malaysia for tomorrow!

(Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam is the Chairman of ASLI Center for Public Policy Studies.)

 

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