Private school system needs relook, say groups

By Jonathan Edward

PETALING JAYA, April 27 — The authorities must look into regulating schools which are not registered to prevent a repeat of a case similar to that of Mohamad Thaqif Amin Mohd Gaddafi.

Yayasan Chow Kit founder Hartini Zainudin said the tragedy was an unfortunate reminder that students at private religious schools around the country were potentially being exposed to unsafe conditions.

“The current system allows unregulated schools to take in students and operate without any streamlining or protection for students enrolled in these schools,” she said.

Hartini said the problem was endemic and would remain so without sweeping changes.

“These unnecessary and tragic cases of abuse and death will continue unless something serious is done to address the problem,” she said.

“Without oversight by some authority or Education Ministry these schools cannot be expected to formulate and conform to a standardised child protection policy.”

Hartini urged the authorities to put measures in place immediately to have these schools report to a central authority under state religious councils or the ministry.

“This must be seen as a first step until more concrete means of checks and balances can be implemented,” she said.

Developmental psychologist Dr Suzana Mohd Hoesni said it was easy to dismiss complaints by children of disciplinary action but this should not give way to complacency.

“It is important to listen to what children have to say and take persistent complaints seriously,” she said.

 Suzana said signs of abuse could be changes in behaviour which can range from subtle to overt as children would react in different ways.

“An abused child who is ignored will learn what hopelessness means and will become quiet and withdrawn,” she said.

“Alternatively, an abused child may become aggressive and rebellious as he or she may feel there is no other way to get their message across.” 

 Suzana also said it was important to give children the benefit of the doubt and adopt parenting styles that would make them comfortable with expressing themselves.

Parent Action Group for Education president Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim said any integration of the schools and the ministry needed to be carefully planned.

She warned that poor integration would increase the existing problems and leave students in even worse conditions.

“The ministry may not be able to absorb the additional costs of overseeing these schools. It could worsen the situation if they cut corners ... low pay will attract misfits such as ex-convicts,” she said.

“What is needed is improved funding and effective monitoring of the schools to ensure teachers and staff employed will be vetted and suitable. The religious departments can be roped in as well.” 

In a tweet, MIC treasurer-general Datuk Seri S. Vell Paari said he felt for the parents of Mohamad Thaqif, who had to endure the sorrow of losing their child and the guilt of not being there.

“This is not an age to die. It’s an age to start understanding the beauty of life,” he said.

“First the guilt of not being there to protect our child when he or she was assaulted and tortured. Now not being able to save him so that he will grow up to see life,” he said.

Vell Paari hoped the “monster” responsible for the death would be made to face the harshest sentence and urged the media to play its part in making sure justice was done.