Responsibility code protects students

Contracts between schools and parents promise to provide a useful new tool against the increasing problem of online bullying.

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Students generally understand what is expected of them when they go to school: attend class, listen and don't interfere with the learning of others. Whether they live up to these expectations is another matter.

But what responsibilities do parents have in the education of their children? And what about schools to students? The Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KDHA), the regulatory body responsible for governing Dubai's schools and universities, has set out to answer these question with legally binding contracts between parents and six of the emirate's private schools. Set to be introduced for the 2013/14 academic year and affect the lives of close to 10,000 pupils, the contracts cover a range of policies including topics such as attendance, punctuality, fees and admissions.

But one element that has been widely reported has the potential to be particularly life-changing for some. Bullying in any form, including cyberbullying, could be cause for expulsion for any student caught harassing a fellow pupil.

The collection of new rules and responsibilities is meant to promote better understanding between parents and schools, while leaving no room for doubt about practices, procedures, consequences and expectations. If enforced properly and prudently, the contract will mean closer cooperation between schools and parents, and ensure parents become more involved in their children's lives.

Parental involvement is the key to stopping bullies from preying. The proliferation of smartphones and social media may have pushed bullying away from the physical space of the playground, but has also created a potentially far more toxic culture in cyberspace, where children can launch a sustained campaign against their chosen victim far away from the school gates. In extreme cases in some parts of the world, the misery caused by cyberbullying has resulted in students self-harming or committing suicide.

It is appropriate for KDHA to introduce such a policy and to do so on a trial basis. Spelling out codes of conduct for students, parents and schools could, theoretically, lead to a better educational experience for every student. If the pilot scheme proves successful it could eventually become a part of daily life throughout the education system.