Take a holistic approach to bringing up children

  • The Star Says
  • Monday, 21 Jan 2019

Nowhere to go: A Suriana Welfare Society representative speaking to stateless children during an interview.

WE were told on Thursday that the government is “seriously considering” imposing a curfew for those under 18 as a way to curb social problems, particularly drug abuse, among young people.

Malaysia wants to emulate Iceland, which changed the law in 2002 to introduce something similar and has since recorded a decrease in the incidence of teenagers drinking, smoking and taking drugs.

The Nordic country actually relied on several other measures as well in making that positive change – and it is our hope always that the government tackles everything holistically – but because Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail mainly spoke about the possibility of a children’s curfew here, that is what people focus on.

The idea that it may one day be illegal for our children to be outside on their own at certain hours of the night, has definitely grabbed our attention.

We can be sure that everybody has an opinion on the matter because it involves our kids and their freedom of movement.

Naturally, there is both support for and opposition to such a move. We can expect a vigorous debate whenever the proposal is discussed.

But another piece of news that came out last week must be regarded as equally important.

On Wednesday, The Star highlighted that an infographic in a Year Three textbook has elements of victim blaming although it is meant to teach students to protect their modesty – the Bahasa Malaysia phrase translates literally to “protect the modesty of her sexual organs”.

The infographic offers guidance on how girls can protect their modesty. Tip No. 1 is on the choice of clothes, which suggests that how a nine-year-old girl looks can invite sexual assault.

The next part is on what happens if a girl does not protect her modesty. According to the Physical Education and Health Education textbook, she will dishonour her family and she will be ostracised.

The Education Ministry acknow­ledged that the infographic can be seen as blaming the victims of sexual misconduct and said following complaints, it had responded immediately to correct the textbook.

Deputy Education Minister Teo Nie Ching said her ministry would study how to prevent mistakes in textbooks.

This is the kind of thing that makes people go, “What are they teaching kids in school these days?”

It was good that the ministry acted quickly and Teo’s statement provides some comfort.

But have we not heard all this before? Over the years, there have been many cases of people pointing out grammatical and factual errors in books used by schoolchildren. And we have often been assured that the textbooks are selected according to procedure.

In May 2017, when responding to an article in the Educate section of Sunday Star, the ministry’s Textbook Division said all school textbooks used by the ministry undergo a stringent checking process before they are distributed.

The division added that the textbooks were “produced professionally” with facts taken from authentic and credible sources.

The phrase “quality textbooks” comes up frequently in the division’s vision, mission and client charter. And that is the way it should be.

But this latest textbook issue goes beyond carelessness and flawed research. Injecting victim blaming and gender bias into schoolbooks is a form of miseducation. We cannot help but worry that there may be more of such bad judgment tucked away in other textbooks.

When we send our children to school, we hope that they will receive lessons and experiences that will expand their minds and feed their souls. We want them to be enlightened on the value of sensitivity, inclusiveness and respect.

If they instead have in their heads ill-conceived notions – for example, that the victims of sexual misconduct are often at fault – our kids may eventually find themselves unable to face the world with empathy and compassion.

And that is an unfortunate condition no less restrictive and indiscriminate than a curfew.

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