NGO aims to make schools safe and inclusive through campaign


When students feel that they're respected and well taken care of in the physical, emotional and mental sphere, they'll feel safe and comfortable to get involved in activities and engage in conversations and discussions at school. Photo: Pixabay

The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence campaign ended on Human Rights Day on Dec 10, but the fight against gender based violence continues for many, including Kryss Network, an NGO that focuses on research and documentation of online and offline gender based violence. The NGO has launched a campaign called “Suara Pelajar, Suara Utama” (Students’ voices are essential) to help make schools a safer place for all students in Malaysia.

As part of the campaign, a video titled 'What is a Safe and Inclusive Learning Space?' has been released to show how Malaysians can work together to create a safer and more inclusive learning environment in public schools around the country.

Abdullah says that issues students face in schools, such as period spot checks, bullying and violence, identity-based discrimination, often don't get dealt with by school authorities. Photo: Kryss NetworkAbdullah says that issues students face in schools, such as period spot checks, bullying and violence, identity-based discrimination, often don't get dealt with by school authorities. Photo: Kryss Network

In the campaign video, Kryss Network advocacy and outreach officer Abdullah Nishad says that “when people think about student safety, they may think about the school guard or school fences that are safely locked. And when thinking about inclusive education, they may only relate it to students with special needs or students of various races in our schools”.

But the aspect of student safety and inclusive education is not only limited to the physical aspects or students' grades, he highlights.

“The focus of inclusivity also needs to consider students' emotional and mental well-being. Unfortunately, this is often overlooked,” he says.

According to Kryss Network communications and media officer Ruhaishah Zulkifli, studies have shown that cases of bullying, period spot checks, toilets that don’t function (can’t be locked, etc), are among the problems still faced in many schools – they’re “not a new thing”.

“Studies show that students who are bullied will feel anxious, depressed and dislike going to school. And, usually when this happens, they will start skipping school, play truant, and in some cases, fight back and most of the time, this doesn’t lead to something good,” she says.

“Many schools in Malaysia don’t have clean or functioning toilets. Clean toilets may seem like a trivial issue but this is very important health issue, especially for female students when they’re menstruating. This contributes to existing social issues such as ‘period poverty’ which isn’t just about whether they have access to sanitary pads or not, but also about access to facilities such as clean and functioning toilets. This is important because if there is no source of clean water, it can result in diseases such as urinary tract infection or UTI,” she explains in the video.

Accountability matters

If students don’t feel safe or comfortable, then they don’t enjoy going to school, says Abdullah.

“The Education Ministry has emphasised the importance of student safety in school and of ensuring no student is left behind. Education Minister Fadhlina Sidek has been quoted saying that children's safety on school grounds is a shared responsibility and ‘the Ministry is committed towards ensuring that all students receive access to education’.

But issues that students face often come to light on social media, such as the period spot checks, bullying and violence, identity-based discrimination, physical verbal and sexual harassment/abuse. Unfortunately, there has yet to be accountability and action taken by school authorities,” says Abdullah.

Students have shared that bullying and verbal abuse aren’t behaviours only exhibited by other students but unfortunately, it is sometimes perpetuated by the teachers themselves, he reveals.

“Access to equal education requires school spaces that are sensitive to students’ needs so they can feel safe and are also heard and represented,” says Abdullah, adding that school systems that are not inclusive only benefit those who are already privileged.

Many schools in Malaysia don’t have clean or functioning toilets. Clean toilets may seem like a trivial issue but this is very important health issue, especially for female students who are menstruating, says Ruhaishah. Photo: Kryss NetworkMany schools in Malaysia don’t have clean or functioning toilets. Clean toilets may seem like a trivial issue but this is very important health issue, especially for female students who are menstruating, says Ruhaishah. Photo: Kryss Network

“It is important that the views of the students from all the different communities be taken into consideration. The approach to the issues that students face should be more student-centric where we should ask them, what’s best for them,” says Ruhaishah.

Schools need to be a safe and inclusive space for all students because for some, it’s the only place where they feel safe, she adds.

And, when students’ needs are taken care of, it ultimately leads to a better society for everyone, she concludes.

As part of the campaign, there is a survey (until Dec 31) for students to provide their feedback about what a safe and inclusive school should be like.

Participate in the campaign

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