Bullying and the public school dilemma

By Mohd Tajuddin Mohd Rasdi

I have advised all my children that if they have children themselves, they should save enough money to send them to a private school. If they do not have enough money, I told them that they should homeschool them.

I have very little faith in public schools keeping our children safe. There are many things wrong with our public school system such as racism, extremism, uncritical education and a lackadaisical attitude towards teaching. With respect to bullying, I have written before and also given interviews saying it has always been an administrative and school design problem. When I criticised the JKR school, I was informed that JKR architects were miffed and did not really care to invite me to explain and defend my position. Such attitudes should change with the newly minted Education Minister Maszlee Malik. To me, the bullying of any child in school is the fault of the administration and due to poor architecture design. The buck stops there.

With respect to the administration, there are three points I want to make. Firstly, there should never be a point in time in which the children in classes are without a teacher. They should at least be within the teacher’s line of sight. The administration must design a system to make this happen. My son was punched by another boy while there was no teacher in the classroom. When the administration insisted on retaining the boy and not expelling him, I took my son out and spent thousands of ringgit sending him to a private school. I have never heard of any bullying problems at private schools.

Secondly, when the children are on recess, they must be supervised by a few adults who can see and hear all the children in a contained playground. When my children went to a school in Great Britain, I saw some adults who were not teachers looking after the children who were divided by age into three different self-contained playgrounds. When I spoke to these adults, they said they were hired as playground supervisors. Would it be too difficult to get the teachers to take turns being playground supervisors?

Thirdly, when school is let out, no child must be released outside of the school grounds until his or her vehicle has arrived. They must then be escorted out safely. Most schools I see just let everyone out of the gate and fence so that the children are no longer the teacher’s problem. There must be specially designated spaces for waiting that are within earshot and sight of the teachers in the staff room or the administrative offices. I see private Chinese schools doing that and I do not understand why our public schools cannot practise this simple safety feature.

With respect to my architectural design ideas, I wish to put forth the following suggestions. Firstly, all classes must be within sight of the teachers room. I recommend that the present practice of lumping all the teachers together in one big room be immediately stopped. We complain about 45 students per class, but we also have a “big classroom” of teachers! If the teachers can be redistributed into six or seven classes of 12 teachers per classroom as their work space, these classes can be distributed throughout all the school blocks where they would be in earshot and visual range of all the classrooms.

I also recommend that the walls of the classroom be of transparent glass two feet off the ground instead of the present three feet. The louvered windows must all be transparent. Sun shading must take on a different form than tinted glass. Of course, this visual and acoustical surveillance can be resolved by a simple CCTV camera system, but passive system by architectural design should always be the first choice.

Next is the design and location of toilets. New school designs must place the toilets within visual range of the administration and the teachers room. The toilet walls should not all be closed up but designed so that a scream can easily be heard through open windows or gaps in the wall. Toilets must also be divided into age groups to minimise the mix between the young and senior students. For present JKR schools, the toilets must be within visual surveillance of an occupied class. The administration must make that happen.

Thirdly, all negative spaces must be sealed off so that no pupil can climb or crawl in. What are negative spaces? They are leftover spaces which the architect did not really know or care what to do with. In my old school, they became storage areas where old and broken furniture was dumped. My friends used to sneak to those places to smoke cigarettes. No child should be cornered where an adult cannot see.

Finally, I recommend that the administration offices and the other management offices be of transparent glass overlooking strategic spaces where bullying can occur. The idea is to strike fear into the hearts of would-be bullies and communicate that all eyes are on them through the glass wall even if there might not be anyone in the offices.

The responsibility for the safety of our children is entrusted to teachers for six hours a day. The administration must ensure that the pupils do not leave their sight for even a minute. The cases of bullying must cease and the administration as well as the JKR architects must ensure that all nooks and crannies of this problem are dealt with.

Until that is done and taken seriously by the education ministry and the JKR, please try to either homeschool your children or send them to private schools. Our public schools are almost a lost cause due to indifference.

Mohd Tajuddin Mohd Rasdi is a professor at USCI University.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.