By Chandra Devi
KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA: He was new in school and spoke with an accent.
Some students found Azim, who had studied abroad, "weird" and he was teased and ridiculed for being different.
Months of teasing and taunting took their toll on Azim who broke down and was admitted to a psychiatric ward.
Psychological bullying is rife in schools, say educationists.
It has caused some bullied students to stay away from school. All psychologically-bullied students are left with a long-lasting emotional scar.
Sadly, psychological bullying, although a daily occurrence in schools, is rarely reported.
Teachers view teasing and taunting as a "normal" part of growing up.
"It is not. It affects children for a lifetime," said an educationist. In Azim's case, it would have helped if teachers had intervened. This is the problem in our schools. Teachers do not know how to deal with such a situation."
This is set to change with the introduction of a bullying intervention programme in schools.
A workshop was recently held by the Education Ministry, with the cooperation of HELP University College and the United Nations Children's Fund, for 100 participants from the ministry.
Among them were disciplinary supervisors from state Education departments, wardens from fully residential schools, senior assistants of student affairs, school counsellors, and disciplinary teachers and lecturers from teacher training institutes.
Educationist and psychologist Professor Datin Dr Noran Fauziah Yaakub said there has so far been only knee-jerk reactions to bullying incidents.
"School authorities only react when an incident is reported and the focus has always been on physical bullying.
"This is because there has never been a comprehensive training programme for pre-service or in-service teachers on how to handle (mental) bullying problems."
Noran, who is an adjunct professor at the Department of Psychology, Faculty of Behavioural Science at HELP University College, facilitated the workshop with Fatimah Haron, a senior lecturer in the same department.
Noran said the intervention programme would equip teachers with the right approach to handle bullies.
The approach, which covers bullies, their victims and bystanders, is based on the Pikas Method of Shared Concern, formulated by Swedish psychologist Anatol Pikas.
The aim is to change the behaviour of the bully and improve the situation for the victim.
The method is opposed to punishment as it sees bullying as a "relationship conflict". Mediation is used to resolve the problem.
"Discussions are held on the incident. Every student involved in the incident will be involved, starting with the bully. Attempts will not be made to reconcile the bully and victim.
"The mediator (teacher) shares the victim's concern with the bully and does not blame anyone. No threats or any warnings are given. No punishment is meted out."
According to Noran, the method has proven to be effective in reducing aggressive behaviour in schools.
"Every state and district will have a group of master trainers who know how to deal with bullies and they are required to disseminate the knowledge to others in their schools. Their activities will be monitored by the ministry."
Noran said with the programme in place, students would know there is support for those who are bullied.
She said teachers would also no longer sweep the problem under the carpet because they would be equipped to deal with the problem.