COMMENT: Many candidates want to champion education issues. But what about bullying?

kirsten han

Participants at Pink Dot pink dot at the Speakers’ Corner in Hong Lim Park in Singapore June 28, 2014. (REUTERS/Edgar Su)

Kirsten Han is a Singaporean blogger, journalist and filmmaker. She is also involved in the We Believe in Second Chances campaign for the abolishment of the death penalty. A social media junkie, she tweets at @kixes. The views expressed are her own.

When the various political parties were introducing their candidates, there was no shortage of aspiring Members of Parliament who promised to speak up on issues of education, such as the Cheryl Loh from the Workers’ Party or Jaslyn Go from the Singapore Democratic Party. 

Educational reform is important. Much has been said about the downsides of rote learning and standardised testing, as well as Singapore’s tuition culture and the practice of measuring individuals merely by their academic achievements.

But one aspect of school life has not yet been examined. 

Project X – an NGO that advocates for the rights of sex workers – recently launched their Ah Boys to Bullies campaign, highlighting the practice of some boys and men to drive around red-light districts to verbally harass transgender people.

Project X’s Marketing Officer Sean Han conducted an interview with four men between the ages of 19 and 24. “Through the conversations it was unanimously agreed that the practice was both commonplace and common knowledge. All of the men knew of the practice, and two had, at some point, partaken in it,” he wrote.

This sort of hazing is not just the problem of transgender people who have to suffer the humiliation and harassment, but an issue we should all be concerned with. If boys in school feel that this is the predominant culture they have to go along with, then we need to start worrying about what values we’re imparting to young Singaporeans in school.

In a country where LGBT people are poorly represented and school curriculum fails to discuss the discrimination and prejudice that they face, we find ourselves cultivating generations of students who lack empathy for the marginalised. This also sends a signal to the queer and transgender students in the classroom, telling them that they are neither valued nor respected by society. 

It would be foolish to imagine that such things don’t affect education – schoolyard culture may not be about books and exams, but is still a crucial part of the learning experience. In fact, the values and principles that are imparted while in school will follow people long after memories of binomial theorems and algebra fade.

This is what we should all remember when we talk about education. Transphobic, homophobic, sexist, racist bullying is not okay, whether in the classroom or out. The values that we pick up in school will follow us into the workplace and beyond, affecting all the people around us. 

On top of reforming the education system to move away from standardised testing and rote learning, we also need to examine school culture and the prejudices that we may be passing on to future generations.