The Malta Independent 19 September 2019, Thursday

Education Commissioner highlights group bullying by ethnic school gangs

Tuesday, 2 July 2019, 11:34 Last update: about 3 months ago

The Commissioner for Education has expressed concern at the rise of group-bullying in schools by ethnic students. Some of the factors that give rise to such forms of bullying, the commissioner said, include the fact that these students do not speak English or Maltese and the fact that some of them come from war torn countries.

In his report, part of the Ombudsman’s 2018 report tabled in Parliament on Monday, Charles Caruana-Carabez says bullying seemed to be rearing its head towards the final months of 2018.

There was an increase in both the number of incidents as well as in the gravity of such incidents in recent months, he writes.

The commissioner said that the Education Ministry’s anti-bullying section has all the necessary structures and capable personnel, though more staff are needed.

In 2018, the unit tackled a little over a hundred cases, with certain hotspot schools recording over 20 cases each.

The commissioner said he was particularly interested in a specific school that had registered well over 20 cases.

“The Commissioner noticed that this school had a strong proportion of foreign students coming from various nationalities, with a couple of nationalities standing out for misbehaviour.”

Caruana-Carabez said that, while bullying is not a recent phenomenon, data shows a link between the number of cases of bullying recorded in a school and the number of students belonging to a particular nationality in that school.

School staff are not trained to cope with the new aspects of bullying, he wrote, especially since these aspects could not have been anticipated when they received their training.

“One such particular aspect which is indeed extremely worrying and dangerous is ‘group-bullying’ by ethnic gangs formed within a school.”

The Commissioner said he is convinced that the formation of such gangs when rooted in ethinicity, was caused by two factors.

“One is curricular dystopia, which means that non-Maltese students are being forced to follow curricula which are tailored for Maltese students but are not considered useful by foreign students. This is complicated by the fact that some foreign students cannot, even with intermediate proficiency, speak or understand either Maltese or English, and this instinctively leads such students into seeking the company of students from their own country. Naturally, the more students from a particular country, the larger, and hence more powerful, the gang will be.”

A second factor is the students’ social background. “The troublesome foreign students seem to come from war-torn countries, and may have been brutalised by being exposed to violence at an early age.

Others may come from countries whose citizens have been rendered ‘soulless’ by political regimes.

Last, but not least, some students may have a family background which is far from ideal. The latter is becoming increasingly applicable to Maltese students, who, of course, form an obviously numerically-important part of the school environment. Vast cultural differences also play an important part.”

The Commissioner believes that the root cause aggravating the problem - and this results from his investigation - also lies in the fact that a school which was conceived and administered as a normal Secondary school, could be transformed into an international school within a few months through suddenly - changed demographic circumstances, without it having the necessary structures, curricula or human resources suitable for it to operate as an international school.

“Malta’s population underwent a significant change in that the number of foreign expatriates increased dramatically and within a relatively short period as a result of geo-political upheavals and economic turmoil in both Europe and Northern Africa, and a sizable proportion of these foreign expatriates who work or seek refuge in Malta have families with children who need educating.

The influx of these families strained the educational system and presented it with the problems outlined above. Whilst the only immediate solution was the absorbtion and inclusion of the children of these foreign students in the local schools, the very fact that assimilation is proving difficult strongly suggests that a more long-lasting solution needs to be found.”

The commissioner said he believes that the setting-up of a centrally-located International School wherein the students would receive instruction in their particular languages and wherein their particular cultures form part of the curriculum would go a long way to eliminate the aberrant behaviour emanating from boredom and subject-irrelevance.

Caruana-Carabez said, however, that he is aware that this solution is fraught with difficulties and would offer a considerable challenge to the government.

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