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The palpable fear of bullying in our schools and universities

 | June 19, 2017

The Education Ministry must get its act together and deal with the issue of bullying before more lives are needlessly lost.

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If the high profile and needless deaths of T Nhaveen and Zulfarhan Osman Zulkarnain have not shocked the education ministry into deciding to deal once and for all with the problem of bullying among students, we wonder what will.

It can’t wait for more killings to occur before mustering the political will to ensure that our schools and hostels cease to be breeding grounds for gangsters and murderers.

Certainly, it is not the education ministry alone that must wake up. Those responsible for social and welfare policies must also do some soul searching.

Are there weaknesses in our social policies and programmes or their implementation? Is enough being done to ensure that poor parents with many children are not so deprived that they have to spend every minute of their waking hours struggling to make a living and thereby neglecting their broods?

Isn’t it time to revisit the pre-Mahathir family planning programmes, when planning a family meant limiting the number of births?

Of course, it is not only children from poor families who turn into gangsters. Some well-to-do Malaysians also neglect their parental duties, sometimes because they are too busy accumulating more and more wealth, and sometimes because they equate loving their children to spoiling them.

The lack of adult supervision, and the failure of guardians or parents to set boundaries, mean that neglected children become feral. They do as they please, wherever and whenever.

For some of these neglected children, the closest to a sense of belonging, is joining a gang. The loyalty gang members have for one another is second to none. The unwritten code is one-for-all and all-for-one. Gang members enjoy a special relationship with one another, and they are aware that breaking the rules can incur swift and harsh punishment.

Gang members accept this, simply because it is the closest they can feel to being “loved”. Being appreciated. Being acknowledged and being wanted.

Nhaveen had everything to live for. As a responsible teenager, he worked to help make ends meet and enjoy some extra pocket money. He was looking forward to college life, and was due to leave for KL to further his education in a field inspired by his music idol AR Rahman.

Nhaveen and Zulfarhan had bright futures. Zulfarhan was studying at the Malaysian National Defence University (UPNM), and told his mother how much he looked forward to the day when he could officially serve his nation.

The lives of these young men however were crudely cut short by the cruel actions of their bullies.

But how many others have escaped our attention, only because their injuries were not severe enough, or because both the victim, or his or her parents, feared the attention they would receive would only exacerbate the bullying?

Friends and former teachers of both Nhaveen and Zulfarhan, described them as quiet and good natured boys.

Nhaveen’s teachers admitted he was a frequent target of bullies. So, how did the school deal with these bullies? How bad was the culture of bullying in the school to begin with? And if absolutely nothing was done, why was this so?

My friends in the education field, allege that disciplinary teachers are sometimes afraid to censure known troublemakers. Fear of a retaliation makes them reluctant to perform their duties.

Teachers who have admonished bullies, have found their cars “keyed” – when a key or sharp object is used to scratch the paintwork off one’s car.

The bullies are also often times physically intimidating, being bigger in build than the teachers themselves.

Discipline teachers also often worry about being targeted once they leave the relatively safe confines of the school compound as many bullies are members of street gangs.

Some people deny that there is bullying based on ethnicity, in our schools. This denial is dangerous because if left unchallenged, it will lead to larger, more serious problems in society. We cannot ignore that teachers also discriminate against certain races.

It is time for everyone – parents, teachers and students themselves – to face the ugly truth that bullying in schools is rampant.

Anyone who is deemed to be different, or boys who exhibit feminine traits are relentlessly teased. In Nhaveen’s case, the taunting spilled over into his private life. Two of his former perpetrators had left the school.

Sadly, both teachers and the victims of bullying, are reluctant to report such cases. Teachers are afraid of becoming new targets, and victims are fearful of the torment becoming more frequent or the violence more intense.

We have lost two innocent lives already. We cannot wait until we read about yet another in the news before we stand up collectively as a society and work together to end bullying in our schools and universities.

Mariam Mokhtar is an FMT columnist.

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