Cyber-bullying is becoming a serious problem in Malaysia. If you have not been living under a rock or meditating inside a cave for the past few years, this should come as no surprise to you. With the all-too-often occurrences of high-profile bullying cases in Malaysia in the past few years, bullying and cyber-bullying are now part of the national conversation, though I think, for the wrong reasons. People seem to be more obsessed with the gruesome details of those cases and the drama that ensued than having in-depth and honest discussions on why they happened and how to effectively deal with its root causes.
So when my colleague shared with me an article on the Ministry of Education’s new guidelines to stem cyber-bullying, I was a little skeptical at first but decided to keep an open mind to see what solutions have the government adopted to combat cyber-bullying.
A few sentences into the article, whatever slither of hope I had was dashed. The guidelines can be more or less summed up like this: “Students and teachers, you can only use the Internet to say nice things or things that we approve of about each other and about the government. No critical voices are allowed because they are rude, impolite and negative.”
I don’t have a crystal ball but I’m just going to go ahead and make a calculated guess here. With this policy, I bet cyber-bullying will still be rampant and teachers will accelerate their students’ transformation into exam-taking robots in the years to come. Anyone who has dealt with teenagers before would know that when you forbid something, it will only become more appealing to them. It’s frustrating how our policy-makers are convinced that they are implementing sound policies although they often seem to produce disastrous results.
For examples, we can look at the many “wars” on morality that our government has waged on teenagers and see that they have failed spectacularly. The “war” against meaningful sex education has not stopped the soaring numbers of teenage pregnancies, the “war” on drugs has not prevented addicts who are now getting younger and the “war” on porn has not deterred our children to stay away from online porn. It is common sense that when something is not working, we should try a new approach but when it comes to our education policy, this common sense does not seem to apply. While running a red light is universally recognised as a form of recklessness, our policy-makers seem to run full speed ahead risking knocking down generation after generation of young kids through bad education policies such as an exam-oriented system and flip-flopping on the language used to teach science and maths.
As for teachers, once you strip away their agency and autonomy as adults who can think critically and make decisions for themselves, you strip away their humanity. Teachers have so much to offer when it comes to stemming cyber-bullying in school but now they are assigned roles that are not much difference from a prison warden, a position of authority that instills fear on their prisoners in a system that is rooted in harsh punishment. Even worse, they are forced to be subservient to a higher authority that forbids any criticism or dissent of them. Just like the rest of the policies I have mentioned before, this recent policy on stemming cyber-bullying is similarly counter-intuitive.
When you treat children like criminals, they will be more likely to be involved in criminality. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy and one that traps those from disadvantaged socio-economic background in an endless vicious cycle. When our education policy is not one that emphasises on teacher-student engagement and restorative practices but one that is obsessed with punitive measures, it is doomed to fail. What we are doing is essentially fueling the school-to-prison pipeline instead of creating an empowering space that equips our kids with the tools they need to flourish as productive members of the society.
Having harsh punishment for those who are involved in cyber-bullying in school will not stem cyber-bullying as long as the root causes are not addressed. It is like putting a bandage on a gushing wound. We can only start to think about eliminating cyber-bullying in school if we start teaching conflict-resolution skills to our kids, instill in them compassion and empathy, encourage critical-thinking, have an open and honest discussion on issues such as toxic masculinity and consent, and finally help them to respect and embrace differences among people while recognising the universality of humanity. Call these tree-hugging hippie ideas all you want, they seem to be working well. Nordic countries are not lauded for having some of the best education systems for no reason. 
Going back to the article on the Ministry of Education’s guidelines to stem cyber-bullying, a thought came to my mind. What if these guidelines set out by the said ministry are just another disguised attempt to stifle critical voices and restrict free speech in this country? Teachers and students will be prohibited from making negative remarks about the ministry’s directives and their schools. It says a lot about our policy makers’ intention when their first instinct to combat cyber-bullying is to kill free speech. It reflects the paternalistic mentality of those in power and the punitive culture of our society. Censoring speech is not the solution to cyber-bullying. It will drive it underground or to places outside of the school and has the potential to cause untold damage to those who are vulnerable to bullying.
Education is an issue close to my heart. As flawed as our current education system is, it is still a pathway for many to climb up the social ladder and create a better life for themselves. Though I’m not surprised anymore, it still manage to send chills down my spine and make my blood boil every time I see education policy such as this. You should too. Bad education is an injustice to our kids and no kid deserves an education that is unjust.
Believer in humanity and intersectionality. Proponent of reason and critical thinking. Loyal to facts and evidence. Avid consumer of music and caffeine. Slave to his cat.
Posted on 22 November 2017. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.
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