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Bullying Malaysians

BULLYING in schools, the continuing crisis in Perak, and the teaching of science and mathematics in English were some issues that occupied the Malay-language press from 2 to 8 March 2009.

(Illustration by Nick Choo)

On 5 March, Utusan Malaysia frontpaged the issue of gangsterism and bullying in schools. In the headline story, Hapus konsep senior-junior, the paper listed recent cases of bullying in Kuching and Kuala Lumpur.

In Kuching, a Form Three hostel student was kicked and hit with a kettle by a group of other students in a dormitory. In Kuala Lumpur, a Form Four student died in hospital after sustaining head injuries in a fight outside of school, apparently over a girl. Beneath the front page lead, a box with the headline Lagi pelajar dibelasah senior told of a 15-year-old student who was beaten up by 10 students in Mentakab, Pahang.

In his Bisik-Bisik column on the same day, Awang Selamat wrote, “Suspension and expulsion from school apparently is not effective anymore in addressing this problem.”

He suggested bringing back corporal punishment, including caning, and also increasing religious and moral education among students.

“Surely we do not want kids studying in day schools or boarding schools to be exposed to a culture of bullying among their peers,” he wrote.

On 6 March, the paper quoted Education director-general Datuk Alimuddin Mohd Dom’s suggestion to curb bullying in its report, Lantik guru lelaki jaga disiplin. A reader, M Jasni Majed, had written in to the paper to suggest increasing the intake of male teachers in all schools to curb bullying. Upon being informed of this suggestion, Alimuddin suggested instead that men be appointed as disciplinary teachers in schools nationwide.

In the Pandangan Ikim column on the same day, Komitmen bersama atasi gengsterisme, Abu Bakar Yang asked, “Do these discipline problems originate from the school authorities?

“What about the role of parents and families? How concerned are our leaders and what are the responses from our religious institutions on how to deal with this problem?”

Abu Bakar, a fellow at the Malaysian Institute of Islamic Understanding’s science and technology centre, said the trend of bullying in schools was a failure of the education system. He said education was the responsibility of individuals, parents and leaders.


On 5 March, Utusan Malaysia ran a vox-pop, Cetus kontroversi raih simpati, concerning the continuing crisis in Perak. The paper quoted opinions from a multiracial group of 10 citizens, who were all apparently sick of the Pakatan Rakyat (PR)’s politicking.

The 10 were largely concerned about the economic slowdown and were worried that the current constitutional impasse would impact citizens negatively.

“My tailoring business has dropped by 50% and I find that job opportunities are shrinking,” said 63-year-old Thong Yee Chan.

On the same day, the paper ran a guest opinion piece by the association of former elected representatives, Mubarak, titled Serahkan kekalutan politik Perak kepada undang-undang.

Datuk Abd Manaf Haji Ahmad, Mubarak’s information chief, wrote: “The opposition leaders’ stubbornness and rudeness show that they cannot be chosen to lead this country.

“What will happen to Muslims and Malays 10 years from now?”

On the divided Perak assembly’s emergency sitting under a rain tree on 3 March, Berita Harian‘s 4 March editorial said, Persidangan DUN di bawah pokok jadi bahan jenaka.

The editorial said the PR was “motivated by politics to gain public sympathy.”

“Even though the constitution does not specify that the assembly should sit in the assembly building or any other area, holding it under a tree is unusual, weird and embarrassing. In fact, it could be something future generations will laugh at when they read about the history of Perak’s legislature.”

Utusan Malaysia‘s 4 March editorial, Semua pihak perlu bersabar, tunggu keputusan mahkamah, said, “This is not Malay culture or practice.

“[Perak state assembly Speaker V Sivakumar] is purposely creating controversy after controversy without awaiting the court’s decision (on the legitimacy of the palace-approved Barisan Nasional state government).

“Because he is driven purely by sentiment, whatever Sivakumar has done can be considered sub judice and in contempt of court.”

In Awang Selamat’s Bisik-Bisik column on the same day in the same paper, he said, “The rakyat in Perak will surely be able to conclude if a gathering under a tree can qualify as a sitting of the state assembly.”


On 8 March, Utusan Malaysia frontpaged the continuing division over the teaching of science and mathematics in English in the lead story, Atasi segera isu PPSMI. PPSMI is the Malay-language acronym for the English for Teaching Mathematics and Science policy.

In its report, Bantah PPSMI: Lapan ditahan, the paper said, “Police were forced to release tear gas to stop a procession of approximately 5,000 PPSMI opponents from approaching Istana Negara on 7 March.”

Tear gas being used on the protesters during the 7 March gathering in Kuala Lumpur

In a feature on 6 March, Martabatkan bahasa Melayu, the same paper reported on an international Malay-language debating competition (PABM) that was held from 2 to 6 March in Kuala Lumpur. The competition involved 46 participants from 28 countries in six continents.

“Interestingly, PABM 2009 is taking place while the country is experiencing polarising debates on PPSMI,” wrote Mohd Khuzairi Ismail.

“Surely there are those who will ask, if other races are so interested in learning the Malay language, why is PPSMI bucking the trend?”

The feature quoted Prof Datuk Ir Dr Radin Umar Radin Sohadi of the Higher Education Ministry as saying that PPSMI relates to current realities. Radin, the director of the ministry’s Higher Education Department, said PPSMI should go hand-in-hand with efforts to uphold the dignity of the Malay language.

On 4 March, however, Berita Harian carried a guest commentary titled Bahasa Melayu untuk Sains, Matematik tetap realistik that suggested otherwise.

The writer, Prof Emeritus Datuk Dr Isahak Haron, quoted findings from the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS 2007), which reported drastic deterioration in Malaysian students’ achievements in science and mathematics.

Isahak, an educationist from Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris, is also a key researcher on PPSMI’s impact on achievements in science and mathematics in primary and secondary schools in 2008.

“It is a fallacy that fluency in English is a prerequisite for students to further their studies in the scientific, technological and professional fields. The opposite is true.”

Isahak wrote: “A solid grasp of mathematics and science at primary and secondary levels is really the prerequisite for successful higher education in science and technology, not the English language.

“Implementing a policy that returns the teaching of science and mathematics to the Malay language is not as difficult as it is being made out,” he concluded.

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