Police officers with one of the suspects in the Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah religious school fire in Kampung Datuk Keramat, Kuala Lumpur, last month. The thought that children of such tender age could muster a fiery plan is in itself frightening. FILE PIC

IT seems that some of our children have upgraded themselves into hooligans. Looking at some of the violent acts they committed, they are close to becoming murderers. This is definitely not what we want our children to become.

After the death of Universiti Pertahanan Nasional Malaysia naval cadet Zulfarhan Osman Zulkarnain, who was tortured by his college mates, and T. Nhaveen, 18, who was assaulted by five youths, a few months ago, we were shocked again by another incident where two of seven teenagers remanded allegedly started a fire that killed 21 students, some as young as 6, and two teachers from the Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah religious school in Kuala Lumpur on Sept 24. It is difficult to fathom that the fire was deliberately started by children between the ages of 11 and 18.

I fail see how children that young could cause the death of 23 people. The two teenagers, who allegedly set fire to the religious school, did not show any remorse after being arrested. They put on tough faces when questioned about their act.

Although there were reports saying that it was not intended to end as a tragedy, the thought that children of such tender age could muster a fiery plan is in itself frightening.

We cannot deny there are many good and responsible children, but the small number of those with a vindictive nature makes us worry.

As we rue over the loss of lives, the blame game continues. Too often, we blame the education system without looking at other aspects in teaching and learning.

As a former academician, I resent the argument that schools and colleges are responsible for the unruly behaviour of our children.

Most children spend many hours at home during their growing-up years and many grow up into responsible beings. Perhaps, it’s the small number who lack the attention they need, or have become outcasts of the existing education and family systems that are problematic.

Without the support from family members and the community, these students are exposed to negative activities. Some dropouts smoke and become drug addicts.

This assumption is supported by a recent report quoting Deputy Home Minister Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed, who said the ministry, together with police, had identified 420 schools nationwide as high risk, as some of their students were suspected to be involved in substance abuse.

Selangor police chief Commissioner Datuk Mazlan Mansor said that between January and August, police rounded up 226 students, including some for trafficking in drugs. These students were from secondary schools, as well as public and private higher education institutions.

There were earlier reports that some students were believed to be involved in gangsterism, not just bullying. In my opinion, this is why we should look at our values.

Let us not point fingers at others. We, as policymakers, educators, parents and the community are equally responsible in nurturing the wellbeing of our future generations. We have to admit that our children need help. They have become famous for the wrong reasons.

According to Transport Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai, the Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah religious school tragedy is a wake-up call for social issues to be tackled promptly. Malaysia is developing rapidly, but all that means nothing if we do not grow in terms of our societal and moral values.

Perhaps, we should focus more on values and respect for others. We tend to focus too much on the performance of students. Schools want to produce students who are excellent academically.

Unfortunately, we do not focus much on values. That is why when these students enter the working environment, they get involved in corrupt practices.

Let’s look at Japan, which has one of the world’s best-educated populations. The secret is that Japanese students are exposed to and practise good values from young.

At a young age, Japanese students are in charge of chores, like cleaning and dusting. They even wash toilets. In public and junior high schools, lunch is provided on a standardised menu, and is eaten in the classroom to help pupils and teachers forge better relationships while eating together. They plant their own vegetables at their school compound and take turns cooking. While cooking, they study about food nutrients.

Another model to emulate is Finland’s education policies, which have been also highly praised. Finland has even started to export its model. Finland places a lot of value on free time and play. By law, teachers must give students a 15-minute break for every 45 minutes of instruction.

“Deficit of play” may lead to additional anxiety and other mental health issues, according to Professor Peter Gray, a research professor at Boston College and author of Free to Learn and Psychology.

The writer is a former associate professor at the Language of
Academy Studies, Universiti Teknologi Mara, Shah Alam

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