TROUBLING: With their packed timetables, children spend most of their time at school. This is great if there are positive interactions with other kids and a conducive learning environment, but if it leads to a child being a social outcast and the target of cruel pranks, school can be a minefield, discover Audrey Vijaindren and Suzanna Pillay
WHEN Maisara (not her real name) was 8, she suddenly developed a fear of going to school.
“She started feigning headaches and stomach pains, and came up with all kinds of excuses so that she would not have to attend school.
“It was unusual, as she always used to look forward to returning to school after long holidays,” said Maisara’s mother, Maria.
This went on for several days. Maria then sat her daughter down and asked her why she did not want to go to school.
“Initially, she was reluctant to tell me, but after some coaxing, she revealed that a classmate had been taking her pocket money and the food she brought from home.”
Maria, who was unsettled by the revelation, met the school principal, who promised to look into the matter and assured her that Maisara would no longer be bullied.
Days later, upon finding out that the bullying still happened, Maria requested a meeting with the bully and the child’s parents to resolve the issue.
“The school refused to oblige, saying it would handle the matter. It was only after I threatened to take the case to the Education Ministry and lodge a police report that the school took action.
“But instead of counselling the bully, she got transferred to another school. I was not happy with the way the school handled the matter, as it shifted the problem to another school instead of finding a solution.”
Maria later discovered that the girl came from a broken home and resorted to bullying to get attention.
The underlying problem among bullies is the weakness in their family unit, says Parent Action Group for Education (PAGE) Malaysia chairman Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim.
“They take a hostile approach towards weak or lonely students at school to make up for the lack of control, love or attention at home.”
Usha Ponnudurai, a counsellor and deputy manager at HELP University’s Centre for Psychological and Counselling Services, says children resort to bullying because of various reasons, adding that familial and social factors play a part.
“For example, physical aggression between parents and children may act as a modelling behaviour to youngsters, who then carry out such behaviour at school. Name-calling and verbal put-downs between parents and children also serve as a template for children in managing social relationships.”
She says neglectful factors facilitate children’s bullying behaviour, such as a lack of empathy and warmth at home, and lack of parental guidance and intervention in fostering positive and healthy characteristics in the young.
“Children who lack a sense of right and wrong, and lack awareness of their strengths and weaknesses may choose to bully others to gain ‘popularity’ or validation from their peers, which is harmful.”
A 2003 survey by Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris’ Cognitive Science and Human Development Faculty revealed that the majority of bullying cases happened in the classroom and that 80 per cent of primary school pupils had fallen victim to bullying.
To overcome the problem, Noor Azimah believes that parents should play a more active role in educating their children.
“One way is to make a concerted effort to attend parent-teacher association meetings. Unfortunately, most parents, especially those in the low-income bracket, leave their children’s education to teachers. They feel that teachers know best.”
She says parents should be encouraged to approach the school if a concern requires addressing.
“Some parents have the notion that if they bring up a complaint to the school, their children will be victimised. While school authorities assure that it won’t happen, victimisation does take place in some cases, usually seen in teachers being sarcastic to certain students. This has to stop.”
She says students, too, are sometimes afraid to speak up because they feel the need to “protect” each other, resulting in an ongoing cycle.
Noor Azimah says the emergence of smartphones has, to an extent, helped facilitate communication between teachers and parents.
However, she believes there is no permanent solution to the bullying problem.
“Bullying happens at school in one form or another, and in varying degrees. This is a taste of the real world. Cyberbullying is also a major problem that cannot be ignored.
“An environment without bullying can be created when such behaviour is frowned upon and discouraged at all cost.”