SINGAPORE: Teachers and counsellors are given "very extensive training" to handle bullying targeting gender identity or sexual orientation, said Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Education Low Yen Ling in Parliament on Wednesday (Sep 4).
Ms Low was responding to a question from Nominated Member of Parliament Walter Theseira, who had asked about the measures in place to combat bullying based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression at educational institutions.
"The NGOs (non-governmental organisations) have documented bullying against LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) youth in the schools and this bullying takes the form of humiliation punishment when youths don’t conform to the gender stereotypes," he said in his supplementary question.
"What I’m worried is that teachers and staff sometimes inadvertently reinforce the bullying by requiring youths to conform to stereotypes, or by disclosing their stigmatised identity to their peers."
He asked whether teachers, staff and administrators receive training to handle such cases sensitively.
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Ms Low emphasised that "no bullying of any form is tolerated at any time" in Singapore's schools and post-secondary educational institutions (PSEIs).
"When working with students with sexuality-related issues, our school counsellor understands the sensitivity and they adopt an objective approach to ensure the overall best interest of the students," she said.
She added that school counsellors will facilitate continued family support “where relevant, and when the timing is right" to prevent ostracisation and mental health issues from emerging.
“When these parents are eventually engaged, the school counsellors also facilitate discussion that enhances the parents’ understanding of the student’s concerns and issues," said Ms Low.
"And the counsellors, where relevant, will also share suggestions to help the parents talk to and better support the children,” added Ms Low.
Teachers are also taught at the National Institute of Education (NIE) ways to foster a positive classroom culture without imposing their own prejudice.
The teacher's preparation programme in NIE equips all teachers with "strategies to address actions that are mean or hurtful" and "manage behaviour such as those that are targeting gender identity or sexual orientation", added Ms Low.
After NIE, the teachers are supported in student management matters by senior school staff, who "encourage peer support amongst students".
"In the PSEis and schools, we have now percolated the peer support group because sometimes it takes the best friend or close friends to approach the teacher and share observations that their friend is suffering," said Ms Low.
In so doing, the teachers will make sure that they protect the identity of the person who came forward to share the information, she stressed.
"The Ministry of Education will continue to look at how we can improve our systems and measure to make sure that we provide a safe and secure conducive environment for all our students."