UAE | Education

Bullying: Who is responsible?

While teachers and schools take all the flak for misbehaviour by students, XPRESS investigates whether students and parents are above blame

  • By Sharmila Dhal, Senior Reporter and Faisal Masudi, Staff Reporter
  • Published: 00:00 May 3, 2012
  • XPRESS

Eleven-year-old Lujain Hussein battles for her life at Shaikh Khalifa Medical Centre in Abu Dhabi
  • Image Credit: Gulf News Archives
  • Eleven-year-old Lujain Hussein battles for her life at Shaikh Khalifa Medical Centre in Abu Dhabi following a brutal attack by a group of grade four boys at an international school in the capital.
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Dubai: Loujain Hussain has spent over a week lying comatose at the Shaikh Khalifa Medical Centre in Abu Dhabi.

As the 11-year-old girl battles for her life following a horrific attack by a group of grade four boys who repeatedly kicked and punched her during lunch break at an international school in Abu Dhabi, an XPRESS investigation reveals that most teachers feel helpless when it comes to disciplining students.

Parents are not bothered to listen to us about their child's attitude towards studies or classmates. They believe their child is an angel

An Indian teacher at a private Sharjah school

Most schools have defined mechanisms to deal with student behaviour and the Ministry of Education has also issued a clear-cut Student Conduct Disciplinary By-Law, which goes into specific scenarios of misconduct and ways to address them (see box). But as it turns out, the ground reality is not black and white.

A four-year-old boy flinging a chair across the classroom, an eight-year-old girl being isolated by her friends, a 12-year-old who is repeatedly punched in the back by his classmates, a group of 11th graders coming to blows after a fight — such scenes are not uncommon in UAE schools.

"They are happening too often, more than they ever should. I'm more concerned about the incidents that go unreported," said Saminah Shaheem, Consultant at the Human Relations Institute in Dubai, who regularly conducts workshops on bullying. But prevalent as the scourge is, teachers say they can only do so much.

Accountability

An Indian teacher at a prominent Dubai school said, "I teach three- to four-year-olds. Even at this age, some boys can be very naughty because they are pampered at home. But as teachers, we have to exercise utmost restraint when we deal with such children. Forget spanking, which is a complete no-no, we cannot even speak to them loudly or point a finger at them."

Another teacher said, "Under the current scheme of things, it's the teachers who have to be more accountable for their behaviour than students for their misbehaviour. Let's also face it, many teachers are here for a living, not for a cause. So it's rare to find someone going that extra mile to enforce discipline."

A school's ability to keep order is as much a reflection of its students as it is of its teachers. Mohammad Darwish, Chief of the Regulations and Compliance Commission at the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), said, "KHDA expects all private schools to design, approve, implement and review as necessary a behaviour management policy that covers the entire school community. The policy should reflect zero tolerance of any verbal, emotional and physical abuse from members of the school community — adults and children alike. Instances of all forms of abuse should be reported to the relevant government authority for next steps and action."

An official at an international school feels that the official procedure could sometimes send out the wrong signal.

"We cannot suspend a student for a gross violation of conduct without the consent of the educational authorities. We are expected to document such incidents in writing under federal education bylaws, so due process has to be followed. I say let the school suspend the student first, and then have the meeting between all sides to reinstate the pupil or not. Otherwise, it sends a wrong message that schools are not to be trusted, that they don't know their own students. And it can make students less worried about consequences."

Parents in denial

At the core of the problem are parents who are either in denial or have little time for their children.

An Indian teacher at a private Sharjah school said she no longer feels she has the moral duty to ensure her students are well-behaved in class.

"Parents are not bothered to listen to us about their child's attitude towards studies or classmates. They believe their child is an angel," she said, and added, "My colleagues are also fed up by this indifference." However, most schools are careful to keep an open line of communication with parents. They also maintain a record of a child's bad behaviour.

Savvy Kisani, Director of the Little Nest Nursery in Al Jafaliya, said, "We have not had any untoward incidents so far. But if we find that a child consistently misbehaves and that we need to speak to the parents, we do show them our records, including video clippings at times."

Mathew Greening, Deputy Principal of Dubai International Academy, said the school had a comprehensive anti-bullying policy with all staff trained to recognise the signs. Besides close monitoring by teachers, CCTV cameras installed for security purposes also capture any unruly behaviour.

A spokesperson for the GEMS education group, which runs over two dozen schools in the UAE, said: "GEMS schools have very clear rules published in their annual handbooks (provided to students and parents), which outline how discipline is managed at schools. Teachers are supported by the administration when in-classroom discipline is required. Administrators handle more serious cases." He said, "Adult presence in all areas of the school, including playgrounds and shared common areas, is crucial. Students must see adults as part of their school life and recognise that adults are there to protect and support their growth."

Often, bullying can manifest itself outside the school premises. As M.L. Augustine, Managing Director of School Transport Services, which carries thousands of children to school everyday, said, "We do have instances of children fighting, screaming, not wearing seat belts, etc, on the school bus. If we find something amiss, we send an incident report to the school for any required action."

Tim Waley, Principal of Uptown School, Dubai, said enforcing discipline among students is not the school's responsibility alone. "When communication between parents and teachers is overlooked, that's when a problem could arise. There are occasionally situations where a parent's first response is to believe their children in relation to some misdemeanour without first seeking the full picture — it's like a predetermined response. Parents will then get a different picture of the school; it's important to hear all sides of the story.

"Parents [of erring students] may not like it, but they need to be open to discussions. It's worse not to hold children accountable and responsible for their actions," he said.

"Parents in some cases directly reach out to higher authorities first [like the KHDA or Ministry of Education], thinking they will get what they want out of the situation. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't."

Experts believe ambitious and aggressive parents push children to excel at any cost, with the result that moral values take a back seat. "It bothers me that some children don't think twice about misrepresenting facts just to get ahead of the game," said college counsellor Shyamala Elango. "By letting them get away with it, we could just be raising a generation of bullies."

Alarmed at the widespread malaise of bullying in UAE schools, Wail Huneidi, a Jordanian father of two in Abu Dhabi, has launched an anti-bullying campaign. "Often, bullying in the classroom goes unchecked because teachers are either afraid to act or don't recognise the problem. There is an urgent need to create greater awareness in this area."

Shaheem said the fight against bullying needed "a 360 degree initiative involving teachers, parents, children and general practitioners".

Student attacks
  • 11 per cent of students have pelted their teachers with stones
  • Almost 11 per cent have hit teachers
  • Nearly seven per cent have spat on teachers 

Source: School Violence in UAE Society, 2011, By Professor Ahmad Alomosh, University of Sharjah

Bully

Director Lee Hirsh's new docu-drama Bully has been making waves in the US for bringing home the horror of bullying. The director spent nearly three years going around the country documenting cases of bullying in schools and captured the severity of this issue, but they are stories that anyone anywhere in the world can relate to.

Comments (10)

What needs to be done to prevent bullying in schools? Who is to be blamed for indiscipline: schools, teachers, parents or students? Have you come across any incidents of bullying in your child’s school?
  1. Added 12:06 May 3, 2012

    I agree with the article. It is not the sole responsilbility of the school and its teachers to counter bullying. Parents play a very big and vital role in this. They are the only people who can guide their children and correct such behaviour. But most do not have time. Also many are not happy as rightly pointed out in the article with teachers shouting/pointing or trying to correct children in school. It therefore makes parents completely responsible for such behaviour. Best regards, Vincent.

    Vincent Dsouza, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  2. Added 12:00 May 3, 2012

    This kind of incidents happen in schools... who is responsible is questionable... Teachers/school managment or parents whose children are too naughty or not listening to the elders, everyone should think and come with a constructive solution, (I think, every school and busses should fix CCTV cameras).

    ALI, dubai, United Arab Emirates

  3. Added 11:29 May 3, 2012

    A lot has been said here by teachers and parents. But what has the school management done so far with the responsible boy's parents? Have had meetings with them? What is the stand of those parents toward their kid's behaviour which landed up a sweet and innocent girl to this stage.

    Kamran, Ras Al Khaimah, United Arab Emirates

  4. Added 10:02 May 3, 2012

    I have been teaching for around eight years now and almost everywhere I have felt that education is only a business both for owners of schools and teachers. In my experience, schools do not wish to take strict action against students because it is one less client and a loss of somewhere around 15 to 60 thousand dirhams a year which they are not willing to let go and also because it isn't their decision alone, it is the ministry that is also involved. I have had many students who had an absolute disregard for others and for rules. Although parents are responsible to a great degree because it is always the word of the teacher against their child and they chose to believe their children. Teachers refrain from pointing out many issues also because there is a trend in schools here where students take pride in getting a teacher fired concocting stories about how they have been picked on by a particular teacher.

    Saira, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates

  5. Added 09:09 May 3, 2012

    I believe that teachers have a limit to what extent they can punish students, likewise parents have the same limits under the law. The reason why bullies thrive in schools here is because there is no academic segregation in terms of aptitude and personality. In my experience, a school level or grade are divided into several sections primarily due to the number of students. However, selection will also be in place to rate a class comprising bright and well-behaved students, and accordingly go down to the lower sections where bullies and naughty students and those who do'nt pay attention to studies are grouped. Rating students with improvement in studies and behavior must earn them a seat in the next higher section. In that way, good and well-behaved students are not disturbed and bullies can be dealt in a fair manner. Their parents will be made aware of this situation.

    Armin, Shajah, United Arab Emirates

  6. Added 08:46 May 3, 2012

    It is apparent that most parents are least bothered about their child's activities in their absence. As a student I myself have experienced this contrast between parents belief and reality. A complete no to punishment is actually bad for the child. Spare the rod and spoil the child?

    Shahzad, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  7. Added 08:15 May 3, 2012

    Parents are to be blamed. I have seen parents being overprotective about their children. They tend to blindly believe their children. Nowadays parents are forgetting that discipline is very important for grooming kids to become good human beings. In school, teachers are being harassed for disciplining kids. Teachers should have all the rights to inculcate values and discipline without physical or verbal abuse. Parents should not be encouraged for too many complains. Make sure that your child explains the matter in detail so that you know the real cause of an incident. This way the child realises that he/she cannot escape with a lie.

    asha, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  8. Added 07:28 May 3, 2012

    I strongly agree with the teacher's comment above that parents are to be held equally accountable for their child's behaviour. One cannot just keep blaming the school and teachers for unruly behaviour such as this. The upbringing of the child at his/her home is reflected in their behaviour outside, be it at school or in public places. If at all some believe that school and teachers are responsible for behaviour of a child, then the children should be living in the school rather than at home. I as a father of two children strongly believe that the parents of the offending children are responsible first.

    Cosie Silveira, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  9. Added 05:48 May 3, 2012

    It is quite simple. We react to stimulus in the manner with which we encounter sensation. If the iron is hot and we touch it as a child, we remember the pain and will not touch a hot iron again. Same with boiling water. When a child does wrong, and he/she is not punished in some manner befitting the wrong doing the child learns nothing and repeats the action. Positive and negative reinforcements are necessary. Reward good behaviour and punish bad behaviour. Physical harm requires physical punishment, either caning or spanking. These boys would not have behaved this way with a little discipline. More fundamentally, the root cause of their violent behaviour must be from their homes, where they might have seen some form of physical abuse e.g. father hitting the mother etc. Children mimic behaviours very well.

    Abdullah, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  10. Added 04:37 May 3, 2012

    The world has become a lot more violent. The child will recover hopefully, but an 11 years old attacked -- I ask where were the adults? The students should be suspended.

    ivonne, argentina , Argentina

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