Disciplining kids begins at home

HERE we go again, talking about so-called “hotspot” schools tainted by disciplinary problems, like bullying, gangsterism and drug abuse.

A list of 402 schools nationwide marked as schools saddled with these issues, and requiring special attention from the relevant authorities, has leaked on social media.

Deputy Education Minister Datuk Chong Sin Woon said, of the total, 311 were in the category of schools with disciplinary issues while 91 are “hotspots” or have the potential of becoming problematic schools.

A furore has exploded because the list is now in the public domain. And stoking the fires of controversy even further, “good schools” are also to be found on the list, with parents demanding explanations for these tarnished images a natural consequence.

However, the “sinister” reality is, this issue has remained unresolved for decades, quite like an unsolvable case from a crime caper. Every education minister who has come and gone has flashed the badge and shot from the lip.

Almost all have spun that proverbial cliché, “kita tidak akan kompromi” (we will not compromise) in their oath to deal with these delinquents.

Like a rehashed script, the false promises have rolled out; “will take action,” and “take this seriously” or “go after the culprits”.

In the end, though, the problem continues to persist, and worryingly, has now even flourished. The authorities have been able to do little to stem the tide.

To put it succinctly, these education ministers have failed miserably. The countless meetings between the police, educators and parents, are sadly, wasted resource. And from these shindigs, a silly number of committees and sub-committees have been set up over spreads of kuih and coffee, while their reports are likely languishing in the dust.

Of course, no one wants to concede failure. But, for amusement’s sake, hit the search engines on this issue, and see the cyclical nature of the problem. It is rampant and repetitive.

In 2004, 16-year-old student Farid Ibrahim was killed when he was bashed up by seniors at the hostel of SM Agama Datuk Klana Putra Ma’amor in Seremban.

Earlier, in 2000, then Education director-general Datuk Dr Abdul Shukor Abdullah had urged school principals not to sweep cases under the carpet, “as has happened in the past”, when they encounter gang activities in schools.

Former Inspector-General of Police Datuk Seri Mohamed Bakri Omar revealed in 2003 that there were 5,320 criminal cases involving students, crimes including drug abuse, stealing, robbery, extortion, rape and murder – in statistics, a 22.7% increase from the 2002 figure of 4,200.

Then in 2010, when Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin was the Education Minister, he also did the tough cop talk. That was the time when schools were experiencing the situation of their boys extorting money from fellow students to provide protection services, a racket which made a splash in the media.

There were also the violent attacks, rapes, alcoholism and cases of schoolboys swearing at nearby residents.

According to a report, residents outside the school were just as afraid of the gang members, who were described as not just backyard school bullies, but full-fledged gangsters and now, sadistic rapists.

“It cannot be looked at lightly. I consider this a very serious problem. We will investigate further and the police should be notified for action to be taken,” Muhyiddin said.

Fast forward to 2017. Has anything changed? Not much, of course, going by the state of affairs. In fact, the problem has probably become more pronounced because students have begun to use social media to (inadvertently) expose their indiscretions.

Videos of gangsters on their bikes outside school gates or cases of students being bullied, are quickly shared on social media.

The positive to be extracted is that Malaysians, especially the police and school authorities, can now easily identify the offender and swiftly mete out punishment, sparing victims the ordeal of sharing their experiences.

Now, an action committee comprising the police, Armed Forces, Parents and Teachers’ Association (PTA) and NGOs, has been set up to implement the appropriate measures to nip this in the bud.

Fact sheets indicate that over the past five years, the annual rate of students involved in disciplinary problems stood at around 2%.

Among the problems recorded were criminal intent, bullying, obscene behaviour, truancy and down-line issues like lackadaisical attitudes towards self-care and time management.

As has been traditionally so, truancy is reportedly the main contributor to disciplinary issues at schools, and to address the problem, the ministry has set a key performance indicator (KPI) to reduce cases to 0.02% from the current KPI of 0.04%.

On the allegation that bullying has become prevalent and disturbing, Chong disagreed, insisting that only 0.06% of such cases were recorded over the past five years.

Bullying in schools has three main categories, namely, bullying with language (abusive language), physical bullying (pushing/shoving) and gestures (eyes, body language). A new category, cyberbullying, is currently being studied, too.

This act of ill-intent is a problem Chong’s predecessors escaped during the dark ages of communication. But it is certainly a headache for him and he should be wholeheartedly supported to crack this nut once and for all.

With that said, he also has to be realistic … this won’t go away overnight. As long as there are schools and students, there will be disciplinary problems. It is only the degree of seriousness that is worryingly variable.

What are we doing blaming teachers and principals? Parents should not treat schools as care centres – the responsibility of parenting starts at home.

And we could do better than run to the press every time a student is punished at school. None of us in our 40s and beyond would have told our parents about being caned in school. We’d fear getting a second round.

But it’s probably this culture of correction which needs to be put in place if we’re to ever see real progress. Old values, it seems, remain fundamental ones.