Singaporean students are some of the smartest and also some of the most bullied in the world

Singapore has the dubious honour of having the 3rd highest rate of bullying among students in the world, according to a study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) with Latvia and New Zealand coming in 1st and 2nd respectively.

This analysis came from the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) 2015. Yes, that same study that showed our local students taking top place for academic prowess.

In December 2016, when the OECD released the results of Volume I on Excellence and Equity in Education, Singapore and many news agencies were quick to highlight the fact that our students took top place globally in Math, Reading and Science.

The little known fact is that Pisa doesn’t just measure and report on the academic performance of 15 year olds in its study that is conducted every 3 years. Additional volumes were published – Volume II on Policies and Practices for Successful Schools (also in Dec 2016) and Volume III on Students’ Well-Being (in April 2017).

News agencies and social media seem to have paid a lot less attention to Volume III with hardly any reporting on the study and it’s concerning findings. That in and of itself is rather concerning as far as it reveals where adults focus their attention and priorities.

In Volume III, data is reported on motivation to achieve, expectations of further education, schoolwork related anxiety, sense of belonging at school, relations with teachers, incidence of bullying, parental involvement, the home environment, and students’ time outside of school.

Whilst I laud the efforts of the study to shine a light on a number of very important topic and I wish others will also pay more attention to it, I feel that report falls short especially around the topic of bullying. Macro-statistics aside (and there is a lot of data for you data-geeks out there), what is extremely hard to measure, quantify and express is the impact of the bullying at the micro-level.

The OECD report was macro-statistically speaking highly clinical in its analysis and report (example of a statement in the overview: “On average across OECD countries, around 11% of students reported that they are frequently (at least a few times per month) made fun of, 7% reported that they are frequently left out of things, and 8% reported that they are frequently the object of nasty rumours in school.”), and the authors are probably doing the report right, considering the target audience of the report.

BOECD PISAut doing the thing right is not the same as doing the right thing.

We are missing the trees for the forest in this case. I wondered how are we to convey the impact on that 11% of students (or 19% if you considered OECD and partner countries as shown in the infographic) who needlessly suffer poor self-esteem, have lower life satisfaction, are isolated and find school a place of torment, are fearful of telling their parents or teachers, and ultimately may find solace in the worst possible ways including deciding to end their lives? These children are our silent trees that die off quietly from the inside out in what would seem like otherwise generally a healthy forest.

Statistically speaking, 25.1% of the students in Singapore who took part in the study reported that they have been bullied at least a few times a month. That is 1 in every 4 kids. It could be your kid that is being bullied or it could be your kid that is the tormentor. Whichever your child may be, I think we as parents have a duty to find out and take the necessary steps to heal our kids and support them (Yes, even bullies are hurt inside). This isn’t about trying to unseat South Korea who is at the bottom of this ranking and trying to become the country with the lowest incidence of bullying. Let’s not reduce this problem to one of statistics. One child being bullied is one child too many.

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