The thought of being expelled from school used to be enough deterrent to keep kids from behaving badly in school but that doesn't appear to be enough these days.
Recently, Education Minister Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid announced that his ministry is putting together a proposal to send students with serious discipline problems for rehabilitation in the lock-up or prison. While it is still under consideration by the Prisons Department, many parties are concerned with the initiative.
The proposal was made after it was revealed that 442 secondary school students were expelled this year for various disciplinary problems, such as gangsterism, bullying, drugs, truancy and criminal matters.
While expulsion is seen as the last resort for students with disciplinary problems, they would normally be given counselling first.
"We are fine-tuning the proposal with the Prisons Department and getting feedback from teachers and parents," said Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid.
Currently, the rehabilitation programmes only apply for students who have been charged with criminal offences, in which they will be put in reform schools.
With the current rehabilitation programmes already in place, do we still need to send students who are only guilty of disciplinary problems to prisons?
“We Need To Open Our Eyes, And Realise That Our Current Methods Are Not Working”
“When a minor is found guilty in a court trial, there are several options that can be taken. First, they can be bound over to the parents and put under their care. If the crime is heavy, they can be sent to a reform school, or prison for more serious offences,” explained crime analyst Kamal Affandi Hashim.
According to the Prison Act 1996, young offenders are categorised as offenders who are of 14-21 years old. They can also be sent to Sekolah Tunas, a juvenile school to treat young offenders, as agreed under Section 65, the 2001 Children’s Act.
Under the school, the juvenile students undergo the same education syllabus as their non-juvenile counterparts on top of other regimented methods specific to juvenile schools.
“If we have to open more juvenile schools or even having to send the problematic students to prisons, then in my opinion this means that the current education system we have for young offenders is not working. Instead of closing down the schools, unfortunately we are building more of them,” he opined to Malaysian Digest.Kamal Affandi Hashim
Instead of sending them to reform schools or prisons as a last resort, Kamal Affandi thinks we should communicate more with the young offenders and find out what they want. Expelling students with serious discipline problems from school is only a temporary measure, as the students can later get involved in unhealthy activities and crimes.
“Some of them don’t have the social aptitude, but are great in creative spaces, such as arts and painting. There should be a channel for them to focus on.”
Besides that, adults must also admit that they could be part of the solution in helping young offenders get back on track. All the studies and statistics from scholars will be meaningless if the grown-ups do not participate in helping the young offenders.
“For adults to communicate with the youngsters, they must do it with a language that the young people understand. For example, if you try to put in religious elements into your communication with the young offenders, they will not hear to whatever you are saying,” he said.
By using the language that is the same with the students, adults can connect and understand more on their needs and frustrations. Many adults who are handling the students, according to him, have grown more conservative and refuse to learn new methods to treat the juvenile students.
“We need more creative approaches, but many are still unprepared to take the risk of applying new methods, as the new methods are unproven and could be wrong.
“But we need to open our eyes, and realise that our current methods are not working, and it is time to revise our juvenile school system.”
He gave an example of how the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development through the National Population and Family Development Board (LPPKN) and Community Welfare Department (JKM) offered guidance to troubled teenagers by communicating with them heartfully. They did it not only because it was the ministry’s responsibility, but it was about developing the next generation of Malaysians.
Up To One-Third Of Incarcerated Youth Return To Jail Or Prison Within A Few Years After Release
Malaysian Digest approached the Parent Action Group For Education (PAGE) Malaysia, an educational lobbyist that serves as a channel between parents, the Education Ministry and other stakeholders in Malaysia’s education system. The organisation often voices out on important national education issues, in its aim for the country to produce more first-world talents.
PAGE's honorary secretary Tunku Munawirah PutraAs for sending problematic students to prisons, the organisation took a cue from other countries that have done it, but have failed to produce any good results from the programme.
“Statistics and studies from USA and other countries show that such punishment has been proven ineffective, in fact, it increases the risk of future delinquency,” said Tunku Munawirah Putra, PAGE’s honorary secretary.
One such study in the USA titled Unlocking Juvenile Corrections by Barry Krisberg, James Austin and Patricia Steele from the National Council on Crime and Deliquency, published in 1991, revealed that up to one-third of incarcerated youth return to jail or prison within a few years after release.
In Malaysia, there are no statistics to track the level of discipline among students in Malaysia, or the efficiency of juvenile education in the country.
“We have no data to refer to. We believe it is important to invest in developing data systems that permit monitoring numbers and effectiveness of programmes that are being undertaken, so we would have the information on which programmes are working or not, and which are more effective to invest in.
“We do not need to reinvent the wheel, in order to develop evidence based programmes, as these have been done in other parts of the world, however, we do need to track and monitor its effectiveness to ensure that it is worth the investment if we are to run such programmes in Malaysia,” she explained.
Currently, there are a total of 640 students undergoing rehabilitation programme in eight prisons and four Henry Gurney reform schools.
Tunku Munawirah opined that investing in successful delinquency-prevention programmes is more effective, rather than treating the problem when it happens.
“It costs the USA billions of dollars a year to arrest, prosecute, incarcerate and treat offenders. Investing in such delinquency prevention programmes can save taxpayers a lot of money in the form of reduced spending on prisons.”
For such programmes to be effective, it must be started since the students are young, in preventing youth from engaging in delinquent behaviours in the first place. Emphasis must be given towards family interactions and home visiting programmes, especially to the children from ‘at-risk’ households.
“Parents must understand the need to spend time and read to their kids, or they risk falling behind later in their lives which puts them at a higher risk of being a delinquent.”
When asked whether she thinks the current Malaysian juvenile court and schooling systems are sufficient to handle students with serious disciplinary issues, she said it can be further improved. The country needs a better quality education which starts at preschool and a better welfare system to care for poverty-stricken household and low-income families.
“When we allocate RM250 million of our annual national budget to RELA and the same amount, RM250 million is to be distributed to 10,000 national primary and secondary schools to benefit approximately five million students nationwide for school upgrades and maintenance, and at the same time hoping to reduce the number of non-attendance or dropout rates, could we keep these children interested to go to school?,” she relayed to Malaysian Digest.
So What Happens In Malaysian Reform Schools?
If you have watched any episodes of the American reality TV series Beyond Scared Straight, where real convicts confront juvenile offenders with the horrors of life in prison in a bid to steer them away from a life of crime, perhaps our Education Minister is hoping to do the same with Malaysian students with a long list of disciplinary issues.
The idea is that by 'scaring' them, teens with serious disciplinary issues might change their ways after coming face to face with the harrowing reality of prison life.
In reality, it isn’t that easy to scare teens today exposed to violence and crime from an early age.
Malaysia has long had its own version of teen rehab therapy. According to witness accounts, being in rehabilitation centers such as Henry Gurney school is a humbling experience.
Henry Gurney schools were set up in the 1950s to provide formal education and rehabilitation for juvenile offenders. Currently, there are three Henry Gurney schools in Malaysia, all of which have been registered as government schools since 2011.
While harsh treatment is given by the wardens to the students inside the schools, the aim is to discipline them to become a better person by the time the students have finished their sentence, or transferring to other prisons when they reach 21 years old.
New students inside the Henry Gurney school will spent two months in the receiving room (Bilik Penerimaan), where they will be provided counselling, religious education and even guidance talks by the more senior students.
Enrolment into the school does not rely on age, but on academic abilities. Students who cannot meet the minimum requirements will be sent for 3M (membaca, menulis dan mengira or reading, writing and counting) classes to learn the basics. They can then choose to continue their juvenile education in academic or vocational streams.
However, due to lack of facilities, the students can’t take in science-stream subjects and instead can only cater for the arts-stream.
For vocational studies, students are taught skills and trades that can benefit them once they are released into the public, such as carpentry, welding, engine repair, and sewing.
Excelling Against The Odds
Despite their criminal backgrounds, students in Henry Gurney and other correction schools have shown promising results in national exams. In 2008, the Henry Gurney school made history after their students achieved 100% pass rate in the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) examination, with one student achieving A- for six subjects.
In 2016, a top scorer from Sekolah Integriti in Kajang Prison managed to score seven As in his SPM.
According to a report by Utusan, a student from Henry Gurney who only wished to be known as Kamal, was grateful for the teachings provided by the school, even with his history of criminal offences.
His hard work has earned him with the best SPM results among the Henry Gurney students in 2015.
"I would like to dedicate this success to my mother, sister, teachers and the wardens who have always motivated me to achieve an excellent result," said Kamal.
As for those who show a promising talent in sports, the school might even give them a chance to prove their mettle in outside competitions.
Back In 2009, a few Henry Gurney students won gold in the Majlis Sukan Sekolah Malaysia (MSSM) tournament, a national sports competition for students all over the country, representing their respective states. A few of the Henry Gurney students also represented Malacca in boxing for Sukma events.
In many cases, the success of these former juvenile delinquents to rise against the odds stacked against them is partly due to the dedication of their teachers.
A former teacher in Henry Gurney, Adrine Sapari, who served in the school for 14 years, said there is a special satisfaction when the juvenile students managed to get better as a result of the school's education.
"The students are very active in the classes. They are always curious, ask lots of questions, and often finish their assignments. I feel honoured to be serving a uniform body that believes in strict discipline and uniformity.
"Of the 400,000 teachers in the country, less than 100 teachers are chosen to serve in Henry Gurney," he recalled to GPS Bestari.
Staying true to the school’s motto Saya akan bangkit kembali (I will rise again), the purpose of the school is to create graduates that can reintegrate into the society and become a fully-functioning citizen. Hopefully, from the special education, vocational training and academic classes, they will be able to leave their criminal life behind and look forward to a new life when they graduate.
Besides Henry Gurney schools nationwide, a more recent idea mooted by the Education Ministry is the Remaja Berwawasan programme implemented in collaboration with the Malaysian Armed Forces and the Royal Malaysia Police.
The programme saw 200 16-year-old students from 10 schools in Kedah going to Kepala Batas Air Force College in Alor Setar under the Uniformed Policing 2, National Blue Ocean Strategy 8 which aims to handle discipline problems among youths in schools.
A recent Remaja Berwawasan programme held earlier this year.
The three main agencies in charge of the programme were the military, police and Ministry of Education. Students participated in team-building activities such as obstacle courses, futsal matches, marathons, morning exercises, motivational speeches, counselling and cultural nights.
The Education Minister had highlighted that this was among various programmes implemented to reduce student disciplinary problems.
The government may have to conduct more studies before sending problematic students to prison, as the current rehab programmes in reform schools may be enough to educate them. Instead of sending them to prison, the government may can improve on the current rehab methods inside the reform schools.