Violence in schools: Moving forward
By Professor Datin Noran Fauziah bt Yaakub and Dr. Goh Chee Leong
Schools have an important role to play in protecting children from violence. For many children, though, educational settings not only expose them to violence but may also teach them violence. They are exposed to corporal punishment, cruel and humiliating forms of psychological punishment, sexual and gender-based violence, as well as bullying.
HELP University College’s Professor Datin Noran Fauziah bt. Yaakub and Dr. Goh Chee Leong share their thoughts on the impact of bullying on children and the urgent need to end violence in schools.
KUALA LUMPUR, 3 July 2007 - “Recent cases of school bullying have become a cause for concern in Malaysia. One of the more appalling incidents of bullying that stunned the nation was the brutal assault of a 16-year-old student by his school seniors in 2005 which led to his death. This case and others like it have raised public concern about violence in Malaysian schools. The Minister of Education has warned bullies, in a public statement, that strong action will be meted out against them and rightly declared that bullying was “not acceptable.”
“It is important to understand that bullying may not necessarily only take the form of physical violence. The more common and destructive form of bullying in Malaysian schools is psychological in nature. If ‘violence’ is defined as the intentional act of hurting another person, then non-physical bullying represents a form of emotional and social violence. Many societies tend to focus on physical bullying while ignoring and downplaying psychological forms of bullying. This is a dangerous and an irresponsible stance to take given that both forms of bullying lead to genuine suffering on the part of the victim.
Effects of bullying
“Emotionally, victims of bullying often suffer feelings of great distress and fear whenever they are in school. This makes it difficult for victims to engage in the process of education. The overwhelming fear victims experience can also lead to absenteeism from school in an attempt to escape the bullying.
“According to expert reports, victims of bullying often experience self doubt and a drop in self esteem. Many victims blame themselves for the bullying behavior, believing that it is their inherent weakness or incompetence that contributes to them being picked on by the bullies.
“Some victims of bullying harbor intense anger and bitterness towards bullies and the social cliques that condone and support bullying behavior. This anger, if unresolved, may lead to victims becoming bullies themselves with younger children, and are classified as bully-victims. Others may express their anger in anti-social behavior like vandalism and theft.
Resorting to suicidal ideas
“There are, of course, tragic cases in which victims of bullying come to the conclusion that the only way to stop their suffering is to end their lives. Research, has to this effect, indicated that there is a link between bullying and ideas of suicide.
“Bullying behavior also can affect a child’s learning experience. For meaningful education to occur, children must be given an environment that is perceived to be safe, physically, emotionally and intellectually. Only when children feel safe and secure, will they adopt an open attitude to knowledge, only then will they be willing to explore and thereby discover, and only then will they be willing to interact and engage with their teachers and peers. When children feel that they are under constant threat of being hurt and humiliated, they cannot fully realise their academic potential.
“Socially, children who are victims of bullying tend to be isolated from their peers. This could be due to the fact that their low self esteem may lead to a lack of confidence in making friends and socialising.
“In many cases, children who are bullied may lack the social skills to relate comfortably with other children. Often, victims of bullying are socially awkward to begin with, and this unease is made worse when they suffer from bullying. It is a vicious cycle that makes it difficult for victims to break out of and leads to them being deprived of quality peer interactions that are so important in their stage of development.
Enhancing the school community
“To effectively combat bully behaviour among students, there is indeed a great need to enhance overall school community and parents’ capacity to efficiently cope with bully and victim incidences.
“UNICEF in partnership with the Faculty of Behavioral Science at HELP University College and the Malaysian Ministry of Education has embarked on a project to introduce bullying interventions to schools in Malaysia. This intervention model is based on the Olweus School Intervention Model that has been successfully introduced in various parts of the world. This intervention meets the following needs:
Urgent need for awareness and action
“There is an urgent need for awareness among staff and students alike, that bullying in all its forms is not acceptable. A common belief among staff and students is that bullying incidence should be sorted out by the victims themselves. A common refrain is that the victim “should learn to stand up for themselves and fight back”, which is not always practical advice, especially when they are up against a large group of bullies.
“While teaching victims to respond in positive and constructive ways is part of the intervention, the program also focuses attention on how teachers, parents and bystanders can also play a role to create a physically and emotionally safe environment within the school.
“This pilot project will be completed at the end of 2007, at which time its efficacy will be evaluated. The hope is that if effective, it will be introduced at a national level to all schools in the country.”
Say No to Violence Against Children
The Protective Environment
Fact Sheets - Bullying