Less government intervention, more resources for schools to tackle bullying

The four teenagers involved in the death of 18-year-old T. Nhaveen are pictured arriving at the Penang court on June 19, 2017. — Picture by KE Ooi
The four teenagers involved in the death of 18-year-old T. Nhaveen are pictured arriving at the Penang court on June 19, 2017. — Picture by KE Ooi

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 4 — Educators insist it is unnecessary for the government to directly tackle bullying, and that schools should instead be provided the necessary resources to address the matter.

In a report on school bullying by the National Human Rights Society (Hakam), education experts and NGOs fear this could result in government overreach.

Psychologist Goh Chee Leong said mandatory regulations for schools to address bullying would be insufficient by themselves.

“If a school lacks the motivation and spirit to actually address bullying head-on then often a state mandate will have minimal positive effect, only complying with the letter of the law at a superficial level.

“We must remember that culture cannot be legislated, and that it crucial for schools to foster a cultural change where bullying is unacceptable. Superficial campaigns and programmes are unlikely to make a dent on this social phenomenon,” said the HELP University psychologist who specialises on bullying.

Goh also said the rates of reported bullying tend to drop in schools which do not pay sufficient attention to bullying or otherwise do not take it very seriously, since students are discouraged by the little or no will whatsoever by its administrators to address the problem.

Cempaka Schools founder Datuk Frieda Pilus said the state can play its part by providing a  platform for schools and teachers to achieve their goals, but is not necessarily the primary stakeholder.

Citing her organisation as an example, Pilus said Cempaka students are educated on what is and is not acceptable behaviour for treating others from a young age.

“Overall though, it is preferable to develop students’ empathy and showing them what it would feel like to be on the receiving end, rather than invoke purely punitive measures. As a result throughout our four campuses no students have been expelled for any bullying-related behaviour,” she said.

However, the Parent Action Group for Education (PAGE) noted a majority of schools lack any set structure on how to respond to bullying and instead rely on ad-hoc reactive procedures where established policy guidelines were not necessarily followed.

“Consequently students do not know what to expect as a response to bullying, nor does it necessarily encourage them to report incidences of bullying,” the group said.

Page used a reported bullying incident at a residential school, where the administrators refused to take action against the perpetrator as “he/she was a final year student whose future should not be jeopardised”. The victim ended up having to endure the bullying with the knowledge the school held his/her safety as secondary concern.

Parents and educators have recently stepped up to demand that the authorities criminalise bullying as an offense.

This follows two major incidents last year which resulted in the deaths of the victims.

On June 1, 21-year old naval cadet Zulfarhan Osman Zulkarnain died at Serdang Hospital after sustaining severe injuries including burn marks, after being hazed by his seniors.

On June 10, 18-year old T. Nhaveen was beaten and sodomised by his high school peers who perceived him as being effeminate. He was declared brain dead when he was admitted to the intensive care unit and later died at the Penang Hospital on June 15.

Later that month, the Melaka Action Group for Parents in Education urged the government to empower teachers to act against bullies while protecting their victims.

Likewise on June 23 several MPs in Penang called for legislation against bullying to be enacted, similar to the United Kingdom’s Education and Inspections Act 2006 which empowers schools to discipline students.

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