SINGAPORE - A case of bullying at Mee Toh School involving Primary 5 pupils picking on a classmate that was shared widely on social media "is wrong and cannot be tolerated anywhere", said Education Minister Ong Ye Kung.
In a Facebook post on Tuesday night (March 10), Mr Ong said he was "dismayed and troubled" after finding out that a group of pupils at the school had picked on a Malay classmate, and written her "nasty notes".
"This is bullying, is wrong and cannot be tolerated anywhere, especially in schools," he said.
The case first came to light when Twitter user @4YSLZ posted on March 6 that her sister's classmates had thrown some notes at her.
She uploaded photos of these notes, which had insults written on them such as "you are dumbo the elephant" and "you look so ugly and you really turn me down, you make puke".
She wrote: "My heart broke today. It was my sister's birthday yesterday and one of her classmates threw this to her face as 'birthday present'."
This post has been retweeted, or shared, more than 4,000 times.
According to the Twitter user, this is not the first case of bullying involving her sister, and she said her sister's uniform had been scribbled on with markers in the past.
She alleged that her sister, who is one of "only a handful of Malays" in the school in Punggol, has also been called other names and been cyber bullied.
In his post on Tuesday, Mr Ong said the school will ensure that the pupils understand the seriousness of their actions and will follow up with appropriate disciplinary actions.
"Our values of kindness, respect for others, cohesiveness as a multiracial society must be inculcated from a young age, with the collective effort of families, schools and community," he said.
"This should be a lesson for all students to learn from."
The incident goes against "very fundamental values of what we stand for as a society", said the minister.
"It does not matter whether the students might have done it out of mischief or that they are only Primary 5 students; the fact is that the victim felt that it was a racist act, and that makes it even more unacceptable," he added.
Responding to queries from ST, a spokesman for Mee Toh School said that it is aware of the incident and has met the pupil's mother.
The school completed investigations into the incident three working days after being informed about it.
The Primary 5 pupils responsible, except for one who was on sick leave, were counselled and disciplined.
"They regret their actions and have apologised to the victim. We have spoken to the parents of the (pupils) involved in the incident and they understood the seriousness of their children's actions," said the spokesman, who called what the bullies did an "unacceptable act that goes against the values that the school stands for".
"Together, we will work with the parents to ensure that the children learn from their mistakes. We have also had a long discussion with the victim's parent, and assured her that the school takes the incident very seriously."
The spokesman said that the school does not condone bullying of any form, including racist remarks made at any individual.
The Ministry of Education, in turn, said that it works with schools to put in place various prevention and intervention measures.
"Our teachers cultivate positive teacher-student and peer relationships so that there is a culture of care and mutual respect in our classrooms. Schools have also put in place peer support systems where peer supporters look out for their classmates, and report or seek help from their teachers when they observe situations that affect the safety of their classmates," it said.