x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 13 December 2017

Schools warned over classroom violence

Dubai education watchdog investigates 89 cases of violent behaviour by teachers and pupils in 16 months.

DUBAI // The emirate's private education watchdog has investigated 89 cases of violent behaviour by teachers and pupils in the past 16 months.

The Knowledge and Human Development Authority received 80 complaints about teachers ill-treating children and nine cases of pupils intimidating other pupils.

"Some schools have been pulled up for serious issues related to teacher abuse and violence," said Mohammed Darwish, chief of the Regulations and Compliance Commission (RCC) at the authority.

"Schools that regularly have issues are notified, instructing them to rectify the problem at the earliest."

The authority takes action against schools that fail to respond. Despite warnings, several schools have not adopted child protection methods. At least six were criticised by inspectors this year for tolerating unacceptable behaviour.

The English Language Private School was asked to urgently address the issues of corporal punishment and emotional abuse. Pupils complained of unreasonable punishment, including being made to stand in a corner of the classroom for lengthy periods.

Dubai American Scientific School was asked to address unruly behaviour. The principal, Dr Amy Robertson, said changing the system was a challenge but it was working on inspectors' recommendations.

"We are getting away from all the negativity and have established a reward system where we commend good behaviour."

Dr Robertson who joined in February, said they were hiring 25 new teachers from the US who would be qualified and certified to adopt the new and modern methods of teaching while retraining existing teachers as well.

Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec) and the Ministry of Education have a code of conduct that teachers and pupils must follow, and all schools are required to draw up a behaviour-management policy that reflects zero tolerance of any verbal, emotional and physical abuse.

Teachers found guilty of breaking the code face salary cuts or dismissal. Pupils who do not adhere to the guidelines can be suspended, prevented from sitting exams or made to perform community service, depending on the severity of the offence.

Adec is also working on an electronic system that will record and monitor pupils' behaviour at all state schools.

A spokesman for the authority said the system would be able to produce reports on isolated behaviour problems including verbal and physical intimidation, and harassment.

"The collection and analysis through this system will provide valuable information for the planning and development of education and social programmes for all pupils," he said.

Lamya, a Year-10 Emirati pupil in the capital, said there were a few bullying incidents in her school every year. "It's not uncommon," she said. "But when it becomes extreme then pupils have been given detention or are suspended."

Sawsan Essa Al Kashf, head of the legal affairs unit at the Sharjah Education Zone said boys grow up to be aggressive because they are raised that way.

"Every year we have several cases of teachers using physical punishment, especially in boys schools," she said. "It not only makes them hate school and behave worse, but they may also start to consider it the right way to discipline when they are parents."

Aisha Beljafla, principal of Al Hesn Private School in Dubai, where 90 per cent of the pupils are Emirati, faces discipline issues, and inspectors asked her school to develop more effective systems to manage pupils.

"It's ongoing, like the other day a boy pushed a child and broke his hand. We need to get to the root cause of their bad behaviour," she said.

"Most of the children at my school come from broken homes and lack self-esteem."

She said their "collapsing homes" were affecting their attitudes. "When they come to school, they are imbalanced, they begin comparing - like, 'he has no father', 'he is poor'."

She said the children crave attention and behave badly to gain it.

But Ms Beljafla is determined to turn things around. "I am working with the Dubai Police and other associations to promote good values among them," she said.

She said she has also involved the parents in her initiatives.

Aisha Salim Al Mansoori, a Year-2 teacher at Khor Fakkan Public School in Sharjah, said boys always play rough. "It starts with screaming and then before we know it they are punching each other and rolling on the ground.

"A lot of it comes down to the environment they are raised in. If they see someone hit at home or school they consider it right, and imitate."