School violence endemic, piecemeal solutions won’t do: experts

By Ngoc Dinh   April 2, 2019 | 11:53 pm PT
School violence endemic, piecemeal solutions won’t do: experts
Violence is endemic in Vietnamese schools, whether is between students, between students and teachers, and between parents and teachers. Photo by Shutterstock/Tom Wang
Frequent instances of violence in Vietnamese schools point to a societal problem, but it is yet to be recognized as such.

A traumatized ninth grade girl is in a mental hospital. She was put there by her own classmates who stripped her and beat her mercilessly, for no apparent reason than she refused to do a bully’s bidding.

The hospital has recorded that the girl was shivering with fear when she was admitted, six days after the violence happened. To add to the trauma of being beaten, she had learnt that a video of her ordeal, showing her naked, was doing the rounds of social media.

The school administration tried to downplay the incident, telling the family that she was only "slightly beaten." They did not tell the family that video of her ordeal was circulating online. The administration also dealt with the matter lightly, suspending the perpetrators of the violence for just a week.

The girl named Hanh said she cannot bear to think of school now.

"I felt traumatized. I couldn’t face them every day," she’d said, explaining why she had not reported the violence right away, expressing her fear of further violent retribution.  

Hanh’s ordeal is not an isolated incident. Judging by reports over the last few years, violence is endemic in Vietnamese schools, whether is between students, between students and teachers, and between parents and teachers.

There were over 18,500 law violation and school violence cases involving teachers and students between 2011 and 2018, and more than 11,800 fights resulting in injuries, according to both the Ministry of Education and Training and the Ministry of Public Security.

A 2014 survey of 3,000 Hanoi students showed that 80 percent of students faced gender-based violence at least once and 71 percent faced school violence in the six months preceding the study.

Despite all these incidents, authorities have done nothing to analyze and deal with the scale of the problem, apart from predictable rhetoric about the need to punish the guilty, and stricter, tough punishments.

The strongest evidence that no strong step has been taken to tackle the problem is that many cases of violence have been captured on videos, showing that people watching others get beaten haven’t intervened to stop the violence and help the victims.

Four months ago, a teacher in the central province of Quang Binh assigned the whole class to slap a student a total of 230 times in the face for using swear words. Not a single classmate refused to obey the order.

Nothing has worked

Each time a violent incident is exposed, there is a storm of public outrage, officials and leaders step in, make their pronouncements, some people are punished, and some education campaigns are launched. These peter out after sometime, and the package comes out for the next incident.

"I feel lonely in class. I have a group of friends who sympathize with me, but they will not speak up," said Hanh.

Other experts have said that the current education curriculum fails to inculcate humanistic values in children.

"It is unacceptable that ninth graders are not aware of moral values, love and respect," Lam told local media.

Tran Thanh Nam, lecturer at the University of Education, Vietnam National University, said children are exposed everyday to violent content from various media sources, specifically the blockbuster hero movies, and this influences young people into thinking violence is normal.

This is dangerous, Nam added.

"We have raised awareness and put forward many solutions for school violence, but the situation has not improved, because we are not consistent in separating children from materials (violent content) that are prevalent in the society, schools and families," Nam told local media recently.  

The urgency

If the issue of endemic school violence remains unsolved, a new generation will not believe in the humane values of their people and in the world, and will use power and violence to advance and solve problems, school psychologist Le Nguyen Phuong told Tuoi Tre. 

Both Lam and Nam noted that each instance of school violence is closed with negotiations, warnings and suspension, but such punishments do not seem to be strict enough to create an apparent impact. They said the punishments have to be tougher to deter further violence.

School psychologist Phuong said that if there is evidence that a school and local authorities have covered and nurtured such a problem for a long time, the principal and others involved must be suspended.

Numerous discussions have been held to prevent school violence, but its incidence is still on rise, thus the existing solutions are ineffective, said Lam. "After such incidents, it is not only the schools where they happen, but also schools all over the country that need to review their curricula."

Nam said students should be educated on basic values like love, respect, cooperation and solidarity.

Following the public outcry, Phung Xuan Nha, Minister of Education and Training, asked local authorities to conduct a thorough investigation and punish everyone responsible.

"The teachers who did not do their jobs must be dealt with. Students lacking morals and behaving indecently also need to be dealt with properly," the minister said.

Meanwhile, after three days of treatment in the mental hospital, Hanh has been able to sleep and communicate with others, but she is prone to anxiety attacks.

"I hope the teachers will be strict," she said, sitting in the hospital room with her back facing a reporter’s camera. "Please expel the five students or have them face stricter punishment."

*Victim's name has been changed.

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