Recently there was a report about 27 secondary students who were caught playing truant by the police at a cyber café near Kampong Rapat Police Station. Is truancy rampant? What are the actions taken by the Education Department and Police to curb truancy? With these questions in mind, I set out to investigate.
A counsellor from Students Affairs Unit in Perak Education Department, who did not want to be named, informed me that only about one per cent of the 500,000 students in the State are involved in truancy with the same repeaters every time. The Unit does not have a special team looking for truants and only takes action if complaints are received. It conducts programmes and activities to help students refrain from truancy.
Some of these programmes involve representatives from the police, State Welfare Department, local councils and other agencies. Some 5,000 students from the state participate in the ‘Heart to Heart’ gathering to address disciplinary problems. The ‘My Talent’ programme brings out creativity in students and helps to prevent them from going astray while the ‘Legal Literacy Course’, for teachers, teaches ways to handle students. Other programmes include ‘No to Rempit’, ‘Anti Bully’ and specific programmes based on identified needs.
These programmes keep the students occupied but do they help to curb truancy?
An officer, from Public Affairs Division of Ipoh District Police Headquarters, said they do not go after truants. They only act on complaints received. The police are sensitive in dealing with the students and do not want to spoil their future. If students are caught, they are handed over to the schools which would then contact the parents who have to deal with the problem themselves as most of them usually do not want their children to be exposed to public censure.
All primary and secondary schools, totalling 153 in the state, have been assigned a Police Relationship Officer (RO) with a rank of Corporal or above who visits the school at least once a month. This RO works with the Principal and Parent Teachers Association to discuss disciplinary problems and gives talks on personal safety, crime prevention and other relevant topics.
The police have asked the state government to review the licensing of cyber cafés and to impose stricter guidelines for such premises. If stricter conditions are imposed it would reduce the truancy problem to a certain extent.
At the end of the day, despite programmes and all the assistance from the police, it is up to parents to play a vital role in ensuring that their children attend school including extra classes. Parents should make spot checks to see whether their children are really in school. It is a collective responsibility and parents should not think it is the responsibility of the schools and police to discipline their children. The bottom line is, however busy the parents are, they are responsible for the behaviour of their children.