|www.corpun.com : Archive : 1999 : MY Schools Oct 1999|
The Star, Kuala Lumpur, 24 October 1999
Standing in the way of discipline
By S. Indramalar and Hariati Azizan
LAST month, a 54-year-old teacher was assaulted by three students when he attempted to prevent them from breaking into an empty science laboratory. The boys hit the teacher on the head with a knuckle-duster.
Two months ago in Kepong, two boys were detained by police for their involvement in secret societies. They were also charged with offences such as disobedience, once considered serious student offences, pale in comparison to some of the discipline problems today.
Theft, extortion, gangsterism, smoking, drug abuse and sometimes even minor sexual misconduct among students are problems teachers have to deal with everyday.
However, with most teachers trained to teach and not counsel, they are ill equipped to handle the problems that arise in an increasingly complex society.
Bogged down by a heavy workload, many teachers are at their wits end when it comes to enforcing discipline at schools.
"These days, if you even tick off a student, let alone cane him, you face the possibility of being challenged by his parents," says a secondary school teacher who declined to be named.
Primary teacher Meera Vasudevan shares her recent experience.
"This happened about three months ago. I scolded a group of boys from Year Four because they just refused to do their work. They were talking, passing messages and laughing when I asked them, several times, to do their work.
"After a few reminders, I raised my voice and scolded them. I was so angry as they are always disruptive in class.
"The next day, one boy's father came up to me after school and shouted at me . . . he claimed his son was disturbed by my scolding and that I was 'unfit' to teach," she said.
Such a reaction from the parents today is no longer uncommon. It is an indication of the "new" breed of students and parents teachers have to deal with.
Says P. Ramanathan, deputy secretary-general of the Malaysian Education Association: "Nowadays, even if teachers are allowed to cane their students in class, most won't because they are too afraid of the consequences.
"There are cases of teachers being sued by parents or at least threatened . . . and after a while they feel it's not worth it (enforcing discipline)," he says.
Adds Meera, "We have one discipline teacher and one counsellor-cum-teacher per school. However, it is not only they who are faced with students with discipline problems.
"Every class teacher has to deal with these problems," she says.
SJK (C) Lai Meng headmaster Ng Eng Hooi says that students of today are very different from those in the 70s, or even 10 years ago.
"Nowadays, they are very bold. They are unafraid to tell their parents anything. When I was a student, if I got a beating from my teacher, I would be petrified to tell my parents as I would most likely end up getting another beating from them.
"Now, however, students complain to their parents, sometimes for the slightest thing," says Ng who has been teaching for 26 years.
Parents too, he says, are of a different breed.
"Years ago, anything a teacher said or did was regarded as being 100% correct.
"Now, parents are more educated. They have set their own standards for their children and if a teacher is perceived as going overboard, for example by using the cane, they get angry," says Ng.
Hence, he adds, teachers have to take note of the "evolution" in parents' expectations and perception.
"You cannot punish a student the way you used to anymore. For example, corporal punishment, which has been disallowed, used to work very well to maintain discipline.
"But now, the emphasis is on creating a 'caring society'. Teachers have to be more conscious of their actions. Therefore, I always advise them to be careful with their words and actions," he says.
Dealing with criticism
Teachers are in a catch-22 situation, says Meera.
"If a teacher disciplines a student, say by beating or scolding him, he or she will, in many cases, face the criticism from parents, psychologists and the press.
"The teacher may also get threats, or worse, end up finding her car scratched or its tyres without air.
"If we decide to leave the student alone, the class will be disrupted. So what do we do?" she asks.
Psychologist Dr Edward Chan says teachers should listen to their students and find out why they behave in such a way.
Teachers should never beat, hit or even shout at their students, he says.
"You should not beat a child. What teachers should do is find out why their students are misbehaving.
"Listen to your students, find out what is motivating them to act in such a way and then either counsel them or punish them accordingly, without resorting to violence.
"Teachers need to be more creative in the way they mete out punishments," says Dr Chan, adding that to cane or beat a student is to advocate violence as a means of solving problems.
He cites an example of a student who is disobedient and has no regard for rules and work set by the teacher or school.
"There has to be a reason behind the student's misconduct. If the teacher does not get to the root of the problem but instead reacts by shouting or hitting him (or her), the student would most likely retaliate," says Dr Chan who is the principal consultant psychologist at the Taman Desa Psychology Centre.
However, getting to the bottom of each student's problem may not be very feasible for teachers who have to deal with big numbers in class.
"In a big class, teachers cannot afford to pull a disruptive student aside and try to solve his or her disciplinary problem. "This will leave the other 40-odd students unmonitored," says secretary-general of the National Union of the Teaching Profession (NUTP) N. Siva Subramaniam.
Meera says that Dr Chan's advice is ideal but "not feasible for teachers who deal with many students in a class."
"If I had only two or three students to deal with each day, I could counsel them for every offence. But I have many, many students.
"It's not easy to stay calm and 'get to the root of each child's problem' when you have 10 students who are being impossible in a class," she says.
Forging an alliance
Enforcing discipline should be a collaborative effort between both parents, teachers as well as the student concerned, says Ramanathan.
A good rapport between teachers, parents and even the students will reduce the likelihood of serious disciplinary problems in schools.
"Parental involvement in school is very important. In rural schools, for example, the classes are not as big as those in urban schools).
"In these schools, you'll find that teachers actually know their students and often even the parents. Because a relationship exists, if a problem crops up, the teacher can depend on the parents for help and vice versa.
"In urban schools, you often have to compel parents to come to school by introducing events such as the 'report card day' or something like that," he says.
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