Addressing bullying in schools


Dr Wan Mohd Zahid is welcomed by Old Edwardians Association Malaysia president Mohaideen Mohd Ishack at SMK King Edward XII in Taiping.

Dr Wan Mohd Zahid is welcomed by Old Edwardians Association Malaysia president Mohaideen Mohd Ishack at SMK King Edward XII in Taiping.

STUDENTS of social science 101 will be familiar with the theory of unintended consequences of purposive action.

As an illustration of this phenomenon, take the idea of school. Its establishment is predicated on noble intentions, that is, to bring up the good person and other pristine goals as envisaged by the philosophy of education.

Contrary to its idyllic intentions, the school tends to produce unintended consequences. The scourge of bullying, for example, that has recently caught our attention is one such unintended consequence of schooling. To be sure, the school was not established to promote bullying.‼

Yet, this fearful and humiliating practice occurs in our schools. We witnessed with horror, through Youtube.

The former Deputy Education Minister Datuk P. Kamalanathan, who kindly consented to be present at S P Setia’s Kindness Concert, praised S P Setia and Star Media Group for jointly undertaking the challenging task as our CSR initiative to address the problem of bullying in school. He also praised the young celebrities who voluntarily came forward to do their part to help address the problem.

It should be mentioned that S P Setia Foundation elected to promote national unity among the races as its flagship CSR initiative. Setia’s reason for embarking upon such an initiative is to foster a sustainable institutionalised legacy for posterity. Unity means harmony and harmony is good for us Malaysians and for business.

Setia made “caring” as a strategic concept because it unambiguously carries the idea of goodwill and love. The promotion of caring received enthusiastic endorsement from our top management bosses at S P Setia.

Datu Khor Chap Jen, S P Setia’s President & CEO and Datuk Wong Tuck Wai, our COO, who after watching a horrific bullying video posted on Youtube, were so scandalised by what they viewed that they immediately proposed that Setia dedicate itself to do whatever it could to help address the scourge.

This initiative gave birth to the now famous tagline “#StandTogether” which brought about an unexpected spontaneous response from Malaysia’s celebrities, eager to contribute as they at one time in their school experience suffered at the hands of bullies.

Caring side

What was unanticipated and indeed a pleasant surprise was that we received a truly encouraging tweet from the Education Ministry which read “Excellent Anti-Bullying Campaign Initiative. This will be the beginning of the end of bullying in Malaysian schools”.

Wow! The unanticipated consequence of a purposive action in concrete and positive terms! What this meant was that all schools under the ministry have joined S P Setia to become part of our caring and kindness initiative. This is a good boost to public-private sector cooperation.

Properly managed and orchestrated the inappropriate behaviour of bullying can be addressed once and for all. S P Setia is proud to team up with the Education Ministry to erase the scourge of bullying in schools.

One of the initiatives that Setia undertook was to visit our respective alma maters to promote the campaign. Datuk Wong Tuck Wai visited his alma mater, Saint Michael’s Institution, Ipoh and I, King Edward VII in Taiping.

I must confess that it was a great feeling visiting my beloved school again. It was indeed déjà vu for me. Stepping on the ground that I used to tread brought forth a cascade of fond memories. I received an exceptionally warm welcome from students and staff. I shared my thoughts with the excited and enthusiastic “young tigers”.

In my speech, I said students must remain focused and not distracted. They should focus on building a future for themselves and staying the course. Inappropriate behaviour, like bullying, is irrational behaviour and would not bring peace and prosperity that we all seek.

The question and answer session that followed was fantastic. The “young tigers” were forthcoming with their great questions reflecting their intellectual depth and maturity. This is great stuff. If students are truly engrossed with such germane and significant concerns, there is no way inappropriate behaviour could make inroads into student behaviour.

Teacher leaves impression

After the dialogue session I was interviewed by the R.AGE tv crew. It was an impromptu event. I was caught off guard actually. I was asked to talk about my school experience and about my former teachers. The question triggered an emotion within me. I felt a lump in my throat and I could not supress a strong feeling that overcame me. I narrated an episode that brought back intense nostalgic memories. I could vividly recall that poignant moment. It was recess time and I was standing some distance from the school “tuck shop” watching other students enjoying their meal. I was startled when a gentle voice from behind me said, “Boy, why aren’t you eating at the tuck shop”. I answered, “I have no money, Sir”. He put his hand in his pocket and handed me 20 cents. “Here, go and buy yourself a good meal”. Thanking him profusely I made a beeline for the tuck shop. What a meal. And what a caring teacher we had during that time. It did not matter that the teacher was Chinese. Our teachers treated us the same, with tender loving care, irrespective of race, colour or creed. My thoughts go back to him whenever I talk or write about education. I believe that the reason why we were good boys during my time was because we had kind and caring teachers. They were great humanists. Our teachers tempered pedagogy with the human touch.

When I was recalling my school days to the R.AGE TV crew and about the teacher who gave me 20 cents, I couldn’t hold back my tears. The memory of that kind teacher overwhelmed me. I could not help thinking how lucky I was to be in that situation when teachers were great humanists, kind and caring. I had to pause in order to recover my composure before I could proceed with the interview.

I did not realise that R.AGE uploaded the interview into YouTube. A few weeks passed when a friend texted me, “You were on video, and crying!” Honestly, I was embarrassed.

It is to be mentioned that the video did not solicit for responses from viewers. No question of any kind was posted. Unexpectedly, the video produced unintended interest among viewers. At the time of writing the site recorded over 500,000 hits! And counting. A number of viewers posted their comments. Clearly people did not just visit the site, they felt that they had to express their authentic reactions.

There were a couple of other things that struck us concerning the feedback. Firstly, a close study revealed that the respondents came from various races. There were almost equal number of Malays, Chinese and Indians who shared their thoughts. Secondly, upon examining the contents of the responses, we discovered that they were qualitatively similar to one another. They fitted into a compelling pattern of shared concern. It was as though our viewers had independently “conspired” to speak in one voice, to convey a common concern about what was happening to their own society.

Shared concern

From a social science perspective the unsolicited comments from the public at large revealed something significant about Malaysian society, something that we thought never existed in the tangible manner perhaps only in an abstract form. But here we have a concrete expression of Malaysian society, characterised by what Emile Durkheim called “Conscience Collective” that is, that people of Malaysia shared a set of shared beliefs and concerns which operate as a unifying force within society. The people who wrote were Malays, Chinese and Indians and they obviously did not consult each other to express their concerns.

These represented a collective conscience of our Malaysian people who independently articulated a collective unease. This is a concrete manifestation of society, to be sure a Malaysian society, united and bonded by a unifying thread of common concern.

I find it noteworthy that it was just a simple thing - a spontaneous interview - that brought the people together. A simple event evoked fond memories of the years gone by. Uneventful though the video scene may seem, the people saw beyond the simplicity of the occasion. It brought back memories of peace, happiness and unity that they once experienced and evoked a sense of regret that such “beautiful inter-ethnic relationship that we had in the past which made us all colour blind” was now so rare in the alienated society of the present day.

The people who wrote expressed a common desire: the return of a united, caring society of the years long gone.

There is no doubt that all these articulations represented a common yearning for a return to a peaceful and harmonious society, for the days gone by where all the races lived together in peace and in perfect harmony. This sociological state of common concern and desires can be classified as the “collective representation” of our Malaysian society. They are heartfelt expressions, no two ways about it.

Not just school

There is another matter that I wish to put in perspective here. I notice, time and again, that whenever something is amiss in our society, there is a chorus calling for the school to play its part. While I do concur that indeed school has an important role to play and must not shun from this responsibility, it is not right to allocate blame solely on the schools and expect them to unilaterally rectify the situation.

I am sure readers will agree with me about the critical role the environment plays in shaping our behaviour. The environment undoubtedly exerts a strong suggestive effect on our behaviour, no matter whether we are students or adults. Our environment is indeed our curriculum, defined minimally as the sum total of formal, informal and non-formal happenings around us that we experience every second of our lives and which profoundly impact our value system.

It is well for us to remember that values are not taught but caught. It is very important for adults to bear in mind before they quickly heap blame on schools alone to correct what is amiss with our society. We must remember that at a young impressionable age, it is easy for the students to soak in inappropriate values that they catch from the curricular environment around them. There is so much the teacher and the school environment can do.

The unanticipated response from viewers toward the video had brought forth a new dimension to the kindness and caring initiative of S P Setia. Setia’s focus was on schools. But the viewers took the matter to a higher level, to include Malaysian society at large. Both dimensions are not mutually exclusive but rather mutually reinforcing. This is yet another unanticipated outcome. I make bold therefore to extend an invitation to the concerned viewers, to the 500,000 viewers who visited R.AGE’s site, and other Malaysians, to join S P Setia and Star Media Group in this noble cause to support the kindness revolution to instil noble values among our school children. Together we can bring back the spirit of the beautiful old days where we lived in harmony, like brothers and sisters. The time is indeed opportune as we have a new Education Minister and a new government to give us all a renewed hope of good things to come.

I take this opportunity also to thank those viewers who heaped praises on S P Setia and The Star for undertaking this “noble” initiative to restore the “culture of kindness and caring” and weed out completely inappropriate behaviour from our schools.

I am sure my teacher who gave me 20 cents would be happy that his little kindness to the little Malay boy went a long way to sustain the culture of kindness and caring perhaps for generations to come.

I dedicate this article to Mr Eng Hong, my beloved teacher who gave me 20 cents. Even writing this makes me misty eyed.

The writer is chairman of S P Setia Foundation.