This article first appeared in Forum, The Edge Malaysia Weekly on May 15, 2017 - May 21, 2017
It is most unfortunate that it always takes a tragedy — the tragic death of a child, in this case — to shake the nation and jolt the authorities into action. The untimely death of Mohd Thakif Amin Mohd Gaddafi should serve as a lesson to all concerned that cruelty can happen at any school, even those that are supposed to bring one closer to God.
His demise has opened a can of worms for many agencies involved in overseeing learning institutions. It affects issues such as punitive measures, regulations, monitoring and enforcement.
In the establishment and administration of a learning institution, what are the responsibilities of the relevant ministries and government/state agencies? Who should be the umbrella body and guardian to ensure that regulations are adhered to? Who is responsible — and accountable — for what exactly? How can we have better awareness and policies to ensure that the stakeholders have proper knowledge and are trained to ensure the safety of our children? How can children be empowered and know what constitutes abuse and where they can go to for help?
Children need to be safe in order to thrive, thus there are such laws as the Child Act (Amendment) 2016, which provides for the National Child Policy and the National Child Protection Policy, among others, under the auspices of the Jabatan Kebajikan Masyarakat, which is overseen by the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development (KPWKM).
Therefore, both the Ministry of Education (MoE) and KPWKM should coordinate better in regulating the institutions of learning. The guidelines, policies and laws are in place but implementation, monitoring and enforcement are key in ensuring that children are in a comfortable and adequately protected environment to learn without any risk of violence or abuse.
The spotlight, unfortunately, is on religious schools because of Mohd Thakif Amin’s case, and because many of these schools are unregulated and unlicensed. But, let us not forget that just days before we learnt about Mohd Thakif Amin’s plight, a primary school teacher allegedly threw a chair in class, injuring a student in the head.
Then there are cases of bullying in schools. Recently, a boy died after allegedly being forced to ingest poison by a few of his peers.
So, what is the best way to teach and discipline a challenging child? Is corporal punishment necessary? Or is it done out of convenience and for a lack of better ideas in reforming the child?
There must be a way to deal with teachers who have abusive tendencies. Many of these cases go unreported because children do not know that they have rights and believe that the teachers have the right to treat them that way.
A friend related that at her daughter’s primary school, female religious teachers touched female students’ groins to check for sanitary napkins if the latter cited menstruation for skipping their midday prayers. Perhaps these teachers justified it as “amar makruf nahi mungkar” (enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong). The extent to how far religious teaching can go, and how to put an end to these “justifications”, is another subject altogether.
The crucial lesson is that children should know their rights and what is considered abuse. Parents must adopt positive parenting techniques and not leave it to teachers to educate their children.
There must be some form of training provided by professionals on child’s rights so as to empower the children and not let them fall victim to any kind of abuse.
It would be good if non-governmental organisations dealing with child welfare could work with the ministries and corporate sponsors to run such programmes — in schools as well as online. These programmes include public service announcements and infomercials on child rights, preventive measures, dealing with bullies and seeking help from trustworthy adults.
What hope would a child have if his parents and caregivers or teachers fail him? The statistics on mental illness in Malaysia is worrying. The National Health and Morbidity Survey 2015 showed that three in 10 adults suffered mental illness. Many children might be suffering under the guidance and care of these people.
Admittedly, it is not easy to deal with difficult children. Some teachers have the passion, patience and dedication to nurture and bring out the best in the most challenging of students, and these educators deserve our gratitude and salutes. But those who are abusive, excessive in disciplining or do not adhere to the teachers’ code of conduct must be dealt with in a proper manner. They must take a course to learn how to deal with children or undergo anger management therapy before they can be allowed back into the classroom.
Last year, it was reported that of the 450,000 teachers in Malaysia, only 200 educators suffering from stress and depression had sought counselling.
MoE and KPWKM must give priority to cases of violence and abuse in schools and have better coordination, operation and communication channels with all the stakeholders. Parents, children and teachers must be able to report directly on such matters. The issue should then be dealt with promptly and feedback must be given to the complainant within a certain timeframe.
Review all punishments and standard operating procedures with an emphasis on child safety and protection. Corporal punishment should end, in line with the Convention of the Rights of a Child, which Malaysia ratified in 1995. Let us not wait until another case such as Mohd Thakif Amin’s comes to light … it will be too late.
Tunku Munawirah Putra is honorary secretary of Parent Action Group for Education (Page) Malaysia, an educational lobby that serves as a channel between concerned parents, the Ministry of Education and other stakeholders
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