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    Apr 27, 2015

    Shunned by peers at top school - and again in JC

    ADRIAN (not his real name) was in a top secondary school and in one of the top classes in the science stream.

    It was a major achievement but he never enjoyed it - his time in school was marred by endless bullying.

    The 21-year-old, who is waiting to enter university, says he drew flak for topping his class in humanities subjects like literature and social studies, while performing poorly in the science subjects.

    His classmates began to tease him.

    Adrian says: "The taunts began with requests to score less in the humanities, followed by calling me out as a failure in the science stream."

    They isolated him in class and avoided him during recess and breaks between lessons.

    He eventually joined a prestigious humanities scholarship programme in a junior college which was almost exclusively made up of students from the programme's feeder school.

    The bullying started again.

    "I found myself in an unusual position where my new class dismissed me as a product of the science stream, but my old classmates felt intimidated by my new position.

    "Neither group wanted to hang out with me.

    "There were some exceptions but overall, I experienced a sense of exclusion," says Adrian.

    Just like in secondary school, his junior-college classmates avoided him during breaks. They would not sit with him during lessons either.

    While not fitting into the academic archetype was one reason for the isolation, he admits that his acting strangely may have caused others to avoid him.

    His classmate in junior college, one of the fewer than five friends Adrian has and who does not want to be identified, says: "It's difficult to connect with him because we seem to be on different wavelengths.

    "And sometimes, he may mistake friendliness and cordiality for closeness, and make really awkward remarks that don't sit well with everyone else."

    Adrian was not the only one in a top school to experience bullying.

    Two weeks ago, a former Raffles Girls' School (RGS) student filed a suit naming RGS as a defendant.

    The student, who has since switched to a school in Britain, claimed she was bullied at RGS.

    The competitive environment in these schools means bullying can have an added dimension.

    Some high-achieving students may incite the jealousy of others but often underperforming students are ostracised, says Lim Boon Leng, a psychiatrist at Gleneagles Hospital.

    Does it happen more often in top schools?

    "Bullying can occur in any school and I cannot say that the frequency is higher in top schools," says Dr Lim.

    "However, in a top school, kids may have a stronger sense of, and may bond through, elitism.

    "They may ostracise or bully others they deem unworthy."

    The impact of bullying can be significant.

    Says Daniel Koh, a psychologist with Insights Mind Centre: "In a top school, being in a certain social group, being recognised or being seen to have certain qualities is important. If you are being isolated, it may be more damaging."

    But bullying in top schools is not restricted to Singapore.

    In 2009, an elite private school in Australia, Ascham School, was hit with a cyber-bullying case that saw two students pulled out of the school.

    The bullies had posted personal and malicious information about their classmates on social networking site Myspace.

    A former student, who claimed to have been a victim of cyber bullying at the school, accused it of having a bullying culture.

    She said that a number of students had left the school because of cyber bullying.