Letters - Table White Paper on bullying

THE Ministry of Education is to be commended for 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 Datuk Chong Sin Woon is reported to have said: "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 and unnecessary sad deaths due to bullying?

To his credit though, Chong was open-minded in giving the public vital statistics which are very disturbing. He gave startling figures such as that 2.03% of students were involved in various disciplinary issues. Last year, 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 to come out with some 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 the students. However the timeframe 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!

I would also propose that a report card should be presented to the public on the annual (or more frequent basis), on the progress achieved by the ministry to reduce bullying. Let the parents, students and people know. Heads of schools who are complacent should be penalised.

Its reported that there were 2,906 bullying cases in 2014 and 3,448 cases in 2016. This could indicate a rising and worsening trend. But these figures could be higher. I understand from my discussions with those in the know, that there is some serious reluctance on the part of some heads of schools and teachers and even parents and especially students, to report on bullying.

They often fear reprisals and revenge. The problems are exacerbated where in many schools the teachers and principals are women. They understandably dare not risk taking tougher action against the errant students for fear of being attacked by these 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 and destructive and debilitating issue of critical national significance. It affects the quality of school and college graduates and had 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 problems 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.

Hence, although the setting up of a Ministry of Education Action Committee on Bullying is welcome, it can be regarded as necessary, but not sufficient.

There are, I suspect, some deep underlying socio-economic 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 Ministry of Education Action Committee on Bullying expand its terms of reference and its scope of work to prepare a White Paper for Parliament.

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

Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam
Chairman
Asli Centre of Public Policy Studies