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School CP - May 2004
Sunday Times, Singapore, 2 May 2004
Go ahead, cane wayward students
Majority say so in poll following principal Ng Lee Huat's resignation after hitting a student
By Tracy Quek
MOST Singaporeans think that today's parents are too soft on their children and believe that wielding the rod could do them more good than harm.
A Sunday Times telephone poll of 358 Singaporeans showed that seven in 10 of those surveyed favoured corporal punishment, and an even bigger majority, nine in 10, said parents today were too protective of their kids.
The poll, conducted by the Singapore Press Holdings' research arm on Thursday, was carried out to gauge public opinion about disciplining children, following last week's controversy over then-Nan Chiau High principal Ng Lee Huat.
Mr Ng, 53, stepped down from his post after hitting a Secondary 2 student on her face with a soft-cover book on April 15.
The girl, who is said to have discipline problems, was among five students who were being reprimanded by Mr Ng that day. He has declined to say more about the incident.
The god-sister of one of the other four students reported the slapping incident to the police.
The incident has become a talking point in coffee shops, living rooms and Internet forums with questions being raised about the state of discipline in schools and whether parents today mollycoddle their children.
Mr Mazlan Mohd, 48, an assistant engineer and father of three, certainly thinks that parents pamper their children too much.
'Some parents let their kids walk all over them. I say, cane them if they're naughty! Just talking won't do the trick.'
Mr David Goh, 43, an oil trader and father of two young children, said children have become spoilt because parents don't spend enough time with them. 'Some provide their material needs but leave the rearing to maids. The maids carry their bags and tie their shoelaces. Children have become pampered and sheltered.'
When asked if they thought what Mr Ng did was right or wrong, the opinion poll was split down the middle: 44 per cent supported him while an equal proportion thought he was wrong in hitting the girl.
But an overwhelming 83 per cent thought that Mr Ng (right) should not have given up the post he had held for seven years.
More than 100 readers also called and e-mailed The Sunday Times to voice their opinion and the majority also said Mr Ng should not have stepped down.
Mrs Chan Lay Hua, 50, a housewife and mother of a 15-year-old boy, said: 'Teachers have a right to discipline students. All he did was hit her with a soft-cover book; she wasn't hurt. It's not worth him resigning.'
Mr Ng's sympathisers took note that the student he hit had, in her 1½ years at the school, been disciplined more than 20 times for truancy, being late for school and being disruptive in class.
Accountant Ann Tay, 36, a mother of two young children, said: 'Mr Ng has never hit any student in all his years of teaching. So I suspect she must have provoked him quite badly. I don't think what he did is a serious offence.'
But Mrs Doreen Wong, a housewife in her 40s and mother of two daughters, thought otherwise: 'He should have controlled his anger.
'It could have got out of hand. First a book, what next? A chair?'
When The Sunday Times contacted Mr Ng on Friday, the veteran educator whose career spans 29 years, said that he was moved by the public support.
Students and parents of his former school have been calling for his reinstatement.
He starts work in the ministry's educational technology division tomorrow. He said of the past week's events: 'I've never imagined it would end this way for me. I feel a huge sense of loss. But I want the students of Nan Chiau High to work hard and learn to be better people.
Sunday Times, Singapore, 2 May 2004
Terrors who test teachers' patience
CHILDREN today are a lot more vocal, said teachers and principals, and have no qualms about talking back or challenging a teacher's authority.
Some even swear at teachers and when threatened with punishment, they would taunt the teachers to suspend or cane them.
The feeling among 12 teachers and principals interviewed seems to be that children today generally have less respect for teachers than the children who went to school in the 1960s and 1970s. The educators, some of whom have retired, said they know how it feels to be in Mr Ng Lee Huat's shoes.
They have their own horror stories of students who misbehave and admit that they have come close to losing their temper too.
Mr N. Chew, 31, a secondary school science teacher, summed it up: 'We get angry not because they've not handed in their homework or got their sums wrong. It's when they are rude and defiant.'
He recalled the time the principal of his school ticked off a boy for making trouble in class. In the middle of the scolding, the boy turned his back on the principal and strolled out of school.
Sarah, 27, a secondary school English teacher, said she almost lost it when a student failed to show up for extra one-on-one lessons. 'I had invested a lot of time... When I questioned her, she looked like she didn't care.'
A head of department, who wanted to be known only as Peter, 38, recently witnessed a scene that made him see red. A Secondary 3 boy was made to sit outside the staff room as punishment for being rowdy, but he found a football and started to kick it around. A teacher, who saw there was a window with glass panes nearby, asked him to stop.
The student raised his middle finger at the teacher and let loose a string of Hokkien vulgarities. The teacher was stunned and could only tell him to behave.
Peter said: 'I was appalled; we are powerless now.' He called in the police to tell the boy off.
'It's sad that we have to resort to calling the police, but we can't do anything; our hands are tied.'
Mrs Dorothy Leong, 58, a retired primary school teacher, said even young children these days can be tiny terrors. She chided a class bully once and in retaliation, the boy took up his school bag and threatened to throw it at her.
Mrs Leong, who has taught for more than 30 years, said: 'In the 1960s, the kids were better behaved. When they were naughty, we used to hit them on the hand with a ruler. The parents always supported us because they knew that we cared for their children.'
Madam J. Ng, a senior teacher in a primary school, said teachers these days feel vulnerable: 'When we discipline students, we do so because we want the child to turn out right. But now we look at the Nan Chiau principal and we think, when is it going to be my turn? Just one small wrong thing and everything down the drain.'
'Why I reported Nan Chiau principal'
THE person who reported the slapping incident to the police came forward yesterday to give her side of the story.
She said that she was a teacher and wanted 'to let teachers and staff know that they cannot abuse their power and authority. I was led by my own morals and integrity to make the report'.
She added: 'No matter how high your position is, if you commit an offence, it is an offence.
'What Mr Ng did cannot be overlooked and I hope Singaporeans can look at what has happened from a different perspective.'
Mrs Tan would not give any other details about herself except to say she does not teach at Nan Chiau High.
She said that she does not know Mr Ng, 53, personally and that she 'has nothing against him'.
She faxed to The Sunday Times a copy of the police report she made on April 18, three days after the incident took place on April 15.
The report stated that Mrs Tan's god-sister and four other students were called up by Mr Ng.
The girl Mr Ng hit was late.
Mr Ng questioned her, lost his temper and slapped her with a soft-cover book.
Mrs Tan said she agreed with Mr Ng's decision to step down.
'Everyone should adhere to the rules on punishment and discipline the Education Ministry has put in place.'
She added: 'Mr Ng is a principal, not just a teacher.
'He has the highest post in the school and he cannot be allowed to set such a bad example.'
When asked how her god-sister is doing now, she said the girl is sad about the episode but is coping with her work.
Copyright @ 2004 Singapore Press Holdings. All rights reserved.
Sunday Times, Singapore, 9 May 2004
Girls behaving badly
If bad boys can be punished with the cane, why can't schools do the same to errant girls?
By Teo Cheng Wee
THEY skip school, get into fights, take others' lunch money, vandalise school property, smoke in toilets, scratch the principal's car and manhandle teachers.
These days, the culprit might just as likely be a girl than a boy, although statistics are not available.
Coffee shops and newspaper reader forums have been abuzz with this topic after Nan Chiau High principal Ng Lee Huat resigned on April 26 because he hit a female student with a soft-cover book on the face.
She was said to have discipline problems, but with corporal punishment not permitted on girls - and only sparingly enforced on boys - Singaporeans asked: Are we getting too soft on our children?
It certainly seems so as a Sunday Times telephone poll of 358 Singaporeans last week revealed that nine in 10 thought that parents were overprotective of their children while seven in 10 favoured corporal punishment in schools.
Currently, caning is the only acceptable form and used only 'after careful consideration'.
Only boys can be caned, and it should be done with a light cane on the palm or buttock. Caning can only be done by the principal, vice-principal, a department head or senior teacher.
So where does that leave the girls?
While psychiatrists and school administrators have divided views on the issue, a LifeStyle straw poll of 50 people shows that nine in 10 think girls today are less well-behaved than they used to be.
Six in 10 also approve of corporal punishment for girls.
But will corporal punishment actually reform 'bad girls'?
If not, what will do the trick?
LifeStyle speaks to 'bad girls' past and present, school administrators, psychiatrists and the public.
Teen terrors strike
BY THEIR own admission, Lily and Rachel (not their real names) say their peers called them bad girls in school.
Lily's bad behaviour started in Secondary 1 and lasted over three years.
As a student at her secondary school in the eastern part of Singapore, she had cheated at tests, vandalised school property, dyed her hair blonde, and had 11 piercings on her left ear and a stud on her tongue.
Some things she got away with, like hiding her ear piercings with her hair. Other times she wasn't so lucky - she was told to dye her blonde hair black.
Rachel, who studied in the same school, tried marijuana, skipped classes every month and regularly smoked in the male teachers' toilet.
Getting her parents summoned to the principal's office became a routine, twice-yearly affair.
Despite their misdemeanours, they were never threatened with expulsion.
Both described their delinquent behaviour as simply a phase they went through, not caused by family problems or a cry for attention, although Lily feels peer pressure also played a part.
That stage of their lives has passed now, they say.
But the former 'bad girls' have differing opinions of how to control wayward girls. 'I'm for corporal punishment,' says Lily, now a local undergraduate. 'That might have scared us, rather than just sending us for detention or scolding us.'
She says that although students in her all-girl school were regularly summoned to the principal's office for 'screaming sessions', once it was over, they would go back to their old ways.
She herself was hauled up once for vandalising her desk at the science lab by scrawling '(her English teacher's name) is a f***ing bastard' in large letters using liquid paper.
'He was pretending to be friendly to my class, but actually badmouthing us behind our backs,' she explains.
Although the principal's scolding frightened her then, it did not have any long-term impact.
'As girls, we knew we could get away with just a scolding or a suspension. The school used humiliation to discipline us, but the pain of caning would've worked better,' she says.
Rachel, on the other hand, doesn't think any form of punishment is right, whether physical or emotional.
As both have the potential to scar lives, she does not feel that one way is more effective than the other.
'Imagine if someone's pride was based on looking good. Put her down by saying she looks ugly and that might have more of an impact than caning her,' says the marketing executive, who has seen friends' egos shattered by unkind words from teachers.
Counselling is the way to go, Rachel feels, although she is loathe to use that word because 'counselling was more of a monologue than a dialogue'.
'There were many counsellors in my school, but they didn't listen to the students. They used textbook formulae to counsel girls and alienated as many as they helped,' she says.
She doesn't think that extending corporal punishment to girls would make a real difference.
'If certain acts result in corporal punishment, students will just find a way around it and rebel in some other manner. All this talk about whether to cane - it just cures the symptoms, not the cause.' -- Teo Cheng Wee
100 lashes with ruler
MENTION caning to Michelle (not her real name) and she shudders.
Although girls cannot be caned, her teacher delivered 100 lashes with a 1m-long plastic ruler on her bare palms three years ago.
Her crime? Speaking to the female teacher without permission, she says.
As she stood ashamed in front of her Primary 6 classmates in her school in Bukit Batok, the teacher executed the punishment - 50 times on each palm.
Halfway, Michelle started crying because she couldn't take the pain.
At the end of her 15-minute ordeal, her palms were bruised and swollen.
As she walked back to her seat, her friends tried comforting her but the teacher barked: 'Don't care about her.'
During recess, a tearful Michelle called her IT manager father, who rushed to school and took her to a doctor.
'Of course, I was upset,' says the Hong Kong-born Singaporean permanent resident.
'If this happened in Hong Kong, the teacher would be in jail.'
Initially, he let the matter rest after the teacher called to apologise.
But when he was told that she taunted Michelle in class the next day, he filed a complaint to the school and the Ministry of Education.
The teacher was reprimanded by the school and sent for counselling. Michelle was transferred to another class.
'But I was still very scared of her. I wouldn't even dare to look at her.'
She is now in Secondary 3 in a school near the West Coast. She is also a class monitor and student councillor.
'The punishment I got didn't make me more obedient because I wasn't doing anything wrong on purpose in the first place,' she says.
And despite her traumatic experience of corporal punishment gone wrong, the older of two siblings feels that it can make a difference to maintaining discipline in school.
'If boys can be caned, girls can be caned too. Girls are getting away with too many things in school, such as smoking,' she says, referring to her own secondary school.
Her father, who was caned as a student in Hong Kong, agrees: 'If it's done following the guidelines, I'll support it.' -- Teo Cheng Wee
Bad rep, but I'm not a bad seed
TEACHERS suspect Janet (not her real name) of being a gangster and believe that she smokes.
Her bad reputation may have to do with her appearance. Her uniform is untidy and her long fringe falls over her face. When she speaks, she tends to gesticulate.
The Secondary 2 student in a school in the north-east has tried talking to her teachers but she says no one listens.
'Come on, I am an Ah Lian, not a gangster. Many gangs have approached me to join them but I always refuse,' she tells LifeStyle.
'To me, those who join gangs are cowards. If you want to take on someone, it should be one-to-one.'
She says she does not smoke either.
She thinks the teachers are prejudiced against her. 'They seem to dislike me for no apparent reason. They show favouritism and assume that I am always at fault.'
Janet admits that she was violent in primary school. When she was in Primary 2, she beat up a boy her age after she got fed up with his bullying.
She says with a hint of pride: 'I think I have some 'guy hormones' as I can take on guys and win, especially if they make me very angry. But I am still very much a girl.'
She switched primary schools three times but is reluctant to say more.
But she maintains that she has since outgrown her violent ways and is also trying to change for the better. This year, she managed to scrape a pass in mathematics, which she had not had any success with since she was in Primary 4.
But her teachers remain wary of her. She claims they often accuse her of misdeeds that she is innocent of, and will not let her explain.
Once, she ran away from home for a day when her form teacher told her mother negative things about her and her Mum believed what she heard. 'I just wanted to scare my family.'
Her parents, who are in their late 40s, are working so she sees them only at night. 'But I know that they care. In fact, they care too much. They keep nagging me.'
She has two older sisters and a younger brother and they live in the Braddell area.
Even though she still gets grief from her current teachers, she accepts the idea of punishing errant students.
In the recent case of the schoolgirl who was hit with a book, she feels that 'if the girl really made the mistakes, she deserved the punishment'.
But she is not sure if physical punishment actually works. 'It really depends on the student's personality. For me, if they cane me, which they did, I will only become more rebellious.'
Teachers should always be fair, she emphasises. 'Many teachers do not know enough about their students, but just punish them.'
Thankfully, not all the teachers she had encountered were unfair.
'I still go back to visit one of my primary school teachers. If the teacher is very fierce but fair, I will still like her.' -- Stephanie Hua
Naughty but still nice
By Tan Su Yin
THERE are bad girls, and then there are extremely bad girls. The former have existed as long as good girls have existed, but are the latter only a recent phenomenon?
Dr Yeo Seem Huat, consultant psychiatrist at the East Shore and Mount Elizabeth medical centres, thinks so.
'In the past, girls were seen as timid. There's even a Chinese saying that girls are made of water,' he says. 'But that image has changed over the last 10 years.'
Citing the perceived increase in juvenile delinquency, he believes these girls have taken on 'male characteristics' which make them as hard or even harder to discipline than boys.
But a check with educational institutions here reveals that girls are still perceived as less ill-disciplined than boys. Mrs Ong Giok Tin, principal of Millennia Institute, says: 'Girls in general are more well-behaved than boys.'
This does not surprise Dr Tan Soo Teng, consultant psychiatrist at Gleneagles Medical Centre.
He believes the percentage of delinquents for each gender has remained constant over the years. And as to the degree of behavioural extremity each gender is capable of, he says that 'girls and boys are actually quite similar'.
Females are only perceived as becoming more aggressive because female-incited, as opposed to male-incited, violence tends to leave more indelible impressions on society, he adds.
An example was the uproar over the six teenage girls who locked up a 14-year-old girl in a flat and tortured her over two weeks in 1999.
However, LifeStyle understands from schools that girls continue to be treated as the fairer sex even when their behaviour indicates otherwise.
While boys are caned for disciplinary transgressions like vandalism, theft, smoking and verbal abuse of teachers, girls who commit the same offences are subjected, at most, to 'long detention'.
However, Dr Tan says: 'If girls are committing the same offences that result in caning for boys, they shouldn't be absolved from the same punishment.'
Otherwise, such girls may be emboldened by the fact that they will never receive corporal punishment, he warns.
But Mrs Lee Yin Ling, principal of Greenridge Secondary, thinks corporal punishment should be confined to boys and even then, only as a last resort.
Offences like smoking and bullying result in caning and counselling for the boys in her school, and reflective counselling and in-house suspension for the girls.
'Girls are more receptive to counselling, but boys are more playful and will try your patience,' she says of her school's situation.
Physically, the corporal punishment currently borne by male students can also be withstood by girls, says Dr Tan, because 'how severely is a student allowed to be caned now, anyway?'
But the psychological impact of hitting a girl has to be considered carefully.
'In our value system, females expect to and are expected to be treated more gently,' he says.
In any case, Dr Tan believes caning is never the only option, so it should be 'used minimally'.
This is also the view of the seven school administrators LifeStyle spoke to, who believe girls and boys do not need to be approached too differently.
They believe that the perceived deterioration of female discipline is part of a change in the psyche of Singapore's youth.
'There's a general feeling that kids nowadays are harder to discipline,' says Mr Chua Chor Huat, principal of Ngee Ann Secondary.
But the increased difficulty in disciplining stems from the fact that today's youth are posing a different set of problems. One cause of this is media pervasiveness and its espousal of different values.
Schools thus advocate counselling and parental engagement above all else.
'Parents must start by instilling the right values in their children from a young age,' says Miss Theodora Tan, principal of CHIJ Secondary (Toa Payoh).
'They must teach not simply by speaking of these values, but by living them. From them, their children pick up the set of values.'
But Mr Chua, who believes in discipline anchored by counselling, sums it up: 'At the end of the day, it depends on the child herself. If you find a point of entry to her, she can be turned around.'
Don't spare the rod
By Karen Tee and Stephanie Hua
YES, go ahead and cane misbehaving girls, said more than 60 per cent of Singaporeans surveyed in a straw poll of 50 people.
And almost all also felt that girls were less well behaved these days.
Of the 31 respondents who said 'yes' to corporal punishment for girls, many saw it as a way of instilling discipline.
Madam Frieda Lee, 46, a housewife with two school-going children, said it would 'ensure that the child is law-abiding and respects her elders. In fact, I use the cane too when it is necessary'.
The straw poll involved 50 Singaporeans aged between 12 and 70. They included students, housewives, professionals and retirees.
Interestingly, among the 19 who said 'no' to corporal punishment, 12 were younger than 30, indicating that the younger generation preferred counselling to discipline.
'The school should help the girl change instead of using corporal punishment to embarrass her,' said student Phua Xinli, 13.
However, when it came to the standards for meting out such punishment to girls and boys, respondents were evenly split.
This meant that even among those who agreed to corporal punishment on girls, there were some who feel that more leeway should be given to them.
NS man Teo Han Cheong, 23, said: 'I don't think girls will be able to take so much embarrassment. Guys are tougher and should be more disciplined.'
Those who advocated corporal punishment said that girls should be caned if they were rude to the teacher or got involved in acts of violence.
Fewer people favoured corporal punishment for substance abuse as they felt that it should not be handled by schools.
Mr Thio Thian Ho, 70, a retired teacher, said: 'Substance abuse is a very serious matter. You have to call in the police and let them handle it.'
Respondents were also split on the location where the punishment should be carried out.
If the girl's acts affected a large number of people - for instance, vandalism and assault - the punishment should be carried out in public for the offender to serve as an example.
Otherwise, it would be better to cane her in private to prevent unnecessary shame.
However, an overwhelming number felt that corporal punishment should be meted out only by the discipline master or principal so as to reduce the potential for abuse of this form of punishment.
Still, an overwhelming majority - 47 out of 50 - felt that the responsibility for a girl's discipline should lie with the parents, and not with schools.
As Benedict Lo, a 20-year-old NS man, said: 'The best way is for parents to punish them when they are young so that they know their boundaries.'
Copyright @ 2004 Singapore Press Holdings. All rights reserved.
Straits Times, Singapore, 15 May 2004
Schools here managing discipline fine: Tharman
Situation better than that 15 years ago and also when compared with schools in many other countries, says minister
ACTING Education Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam yesterday set out to pull together the broad elements of school discipline to give a focused response to a recent hot issue: corporal punishment.
At the heart of the problem, he said, was the need to groom students with strength of character and relevant values, a responsibility he described as 'our most difficult task'.
But Singapore schools are doing fine, he said, noting that discipline today was far better than the situation 15 years ago and certainly superior to that in many countries.
Mr Tharman was giving his perspective on the situation in a speech before 200 parents, church and community leaders and students attending the opening of the redeveloped Presbyterian High School in Ang Mo Kio.
He told them that principals and teachers had his unequivocal support in the way they maintained discipline.
In turn, principals fully backed the current Ministry of Education (MOE) guidelines which gave them the autonomy and flexibility to cane a child, when necessary.
How students are punished became a controversial issue recently when the principal of Nan Chiau Secondary, in accordance with MOE rules, stepped down last month after he hit a female student with a book.
But many parents and students opposed his departure, pointing out that he had been a good principal.
Yet others berated schools for resorting to corporal punishment to maintain discipline.
In addressing these views, Mr Tharman said: 'We've to avoid swinging to either extreme. We don't want a complete ban on corporal punishment.
'Some countries have this ban and it restricts quite severely the school leader's ability to take sensible action. Neither should we take the absolute that anything goes.'
Reiterating the MOE stand that the principal had to step down, he said: 'It was done with a very heavy heart.'
However, the public had to know that some things were out of bounds, he added.
'We're sending a strong signal that we're inflexible on those limits in order to preserve the stability needed in schools.'
The guidelines, he added, were clearly defined and had been around since 1981.
He also dispelled the popular notion that discipline had worsened.
According to school leaders, there are fewer serious offences such as theft, vandalism, violence and gangsterism than there were 15 years ago.
Also, discipline here is far better than in most other countries, not just in the West but also in places in Asia such as Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan as well as countries nearer home, he said.
'In Japan and Hong Kong, violent bullying is rampant,' he said, adding that violent abuse of teachers was going up.
'We should, therefore, maintain a sense of perspective as we address the challenges we face,' he said, dwelling at length on the various strategies and programmes schools had introduced to change the ways of problem kids.
But parents also needed to play their part, he stressed. They have to take more responsibility for the discipline of their children at home.
Noting that their attitude towards teachers also shaped their child's views, he said: 'Parents should respect teachers and let them do their job.'
Copyright @ 2004 Singapore Press Holdings. All rights reserved.
Straits Times, Singapore, 20 May 2004
Wield the cane? Our students are not that bad
Records show number of offences in primary schools declining and that in secondary schools holding steady; arrests are below 1%
By Jane Ng
THE hot topic of discipline in schools surfaced again yesterday with Acting Education Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam providing figures to show that the situation is 'stable'.
Based on records maintained by schools, disciplinary offences have shown a downward trend in primary schools and remained stable in secondary schools.
And in the last seven years, the number of students arrested for various serious offences made up just 0.3 to 0.5 per cent of the student population.
His overview of the situation was a reiteration of a point he made last Friday that schools are managing discipline well and that the situation is better than it was 15 years ago - and when compared with schools in many other countries.
The twin issues of discipline in schools and corporal punishment made headlines in the wake of last month's decision by the principal of Nan Chiau High School to step down after he hit a female student with a book.
Mr Tharman said yesterday the most common problems reported in primary schools have been pupils coming late to school or not doing assignments. These together account for more than half of all the offences.
In secondary schools, being late, truancy and improper attire or grooming accounted for more than two-thirds of the offences.
The proportion of students below 19 arrested for serious offences, like theft, has remained relatively stable over the last seven years. Those arrested accounted for less than 1 per cent of the student population. These figures included students in the Institute of Technical Education, polytechnics and private schools.
'There have been more boys than girls involved in disciplinary cases. Girls account for 19 per cent of offences in primary schools and 34 per cent of offences in secondary schools,' Mr Tharman said in response to a question from Dr Warren Lee (Sembawang GRC).
The proportion of girls arrested over the last few years has also decreased.
As for Nominated MP Braema Mathi's query about abusive students, he said there were 14 reported cases of teachers being physically abused by students in the last two years.
In those cases, schools took disciplinary action against the students, including corporal punishment and suspension.
The Education Ministry (MOE) also handled a total of 29 cases in the last two years where teachers inflicted corporal punishment on students outside of MOE guidelines.
The New Paper, Singapore, 23 May 2004
'Discipline has not improved much'
By Santokh Singh
THEY agreed that discipline has not become worse when compared to the past.
But the two senior education officers The New Paper spoke to had some criticisms.
The two, who retired in the last three years, have together put in about 65 years in service.
They were asked for their reactions to recent comments by Acting Education Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam.
The minister had said at Presbyterian High School last week that there are fewer serious offences like theft, vandalism, violence or gangsterism now than 15 years ago.
He said in parliament on Wednesday that discipline had improved in primary schools and remained the same in secondary schools.
Not improved much
Said one who was a former school principal who has also held various teaching posts and served in the Ministry of Education (MOE): 'I would say that even in the primary schools, discipline has not improved much.'
This year, he had to help a friend find another school for his daughter.
'For six months she was unwilling to go to school,' said the retired principal, 58, who is on the pension scheme and requested anonymity.
'After a long discussion, we found out that she was being harassed to join a gang. She had refused and was threatened on numerous occasions.
'After the transfer, she is much happier and is willing to study.'
He accepted that gangsterism and bullying were present in the 80s and into the early 90s.
'But those students did not bring their problems to school. They did not involve innocent students. Most of these problems were out of school. And they did not involve teachers.
'It was the good teachers who made it their business to get involved. The students had that much of respect for the teachers.'
Part of the problem today is that teachers are too bogged down with paperwork to really care for and discipline their students.
Mr Chia Hern Kok, 63, a head of discipline and teacher-in-charge of NPCC at two neighbourhood schools, had similar views.
'We used to cane our students and we never sought parental approval. Parents were told of the school's rules and requirements right from the start,' he said.
'Coming late to school for the fifth time would result in strokes, smoking was straight strokes as was bullying. No questions asked and the parents accepted it.'
He pointed out that pupils now try to escape punishment with the threat of reporting the teacher to the MOE, or even worse, of suicide.
Cool and calm
Mr Chia had once witnessed a discipline master 'coolly and calmly' handling a mother's threat to report him to the MOE for keeping her son's pager.
'All he said was that she was free to do so. Like I said earlier, we had nothing to fear as we had made our position clear from the start.
'He was not intimidated and won the respect of the staff and students.'
Then there was this case of four boys from his school who went over to a neighbouring school to steal pipes and sell them as scrap metal.
Said Mr Chia: 'The next day, three of the boys came to school and received three strokes each. The fourth boy was absent. His brother came and said he was suicidal.
'Later, the culprit went to class and said no-one could touch him.
'I counselled the boy and told him to take the punishment like a man. I told him he would be deemed a coward if he escaped punishment.
'He accepted the strokes and I shook hands with him, telling him to take me along should he decide to commit suicide, for it was certain death for me as well. He smiled and said, 'Sir, don't talk like that'.
'Teachers and parents are emotionally-blackmailed too easily and held to ransom.'
Schools are also transferring discipline to operations managers. Some of them sometimes treat students like NSmen.
'But today's children are not so easily subdued. In the end, it still has to be the teacher who will do the job,' said Mr Chia.
Copyright © 2004 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. All rights reserved.
The New Paper, Singapore, 23 May 2004
Student thieves strike during PE
Five boys caned after confessing to handphone thefts
By Desmond Wong
IT was a well planned, carefully executed operation to steal handphones and wallets.
And it happened at one of Singapore's top Special Assistance Plan (SAP) schools in the East.
A group of up to five students would slip away from Physical Education class to prowl the empty corridors and classrooms.
While some would act as look-outs, other would swoop in on the loot.
And they would sell the handphones and split the cash.
This came to light only last week, when the school was tipped off by students about the identities of those involved.
The school authorities questioned one of the boys.
The other four in the group confessed after the instigator, Carl (not his real name), revealed that they were also involved.
The other boys had initially denied having anything to do with the thefts.
But as soon as the school discovered that they had taken a share of the loot, they too confessed.
At least five handphones and a wallet had been reported missing, a school spokesman said.
However, after some students spoke to The New Paper, it appears that there may have been as many as 15 thefts, with both handphones and wallets being taken.
All the culprits were punished by the school. It decided to handle the matter internally instead of calling the police.
Said a student: 'They called an assembly in the middle of the day for a public caning in front of the school.
'They got two strokes of the cane each.'
Some of the stolen handphones were recovered from Carl, and were returned to their owners.
It was not known exactly how much money was lost. But no cash was recovered.
'In the end, we had no choice but to accept the punishment.
'Our friend (Carl) told the school everything,' said Jeff, one of the five involved.
Jeff said that Carl, he and another boy would sometimes work as a team to steal.
'Sometimes, I wasn't there at all, but one of the others would be,' he added.
Jeff also said that Carl would keep most of the loot for himself, giving Jeff only around $20 of the haul from each theft.
Carl could not be contacted for comment.
The school administration insisted that there were many measures in place to prevent such thefts.
Said the principal: 'We have provided lockers for the students to lock their things away in, and for times like PE lessons, we tell them that they can leave any valuable items with the PE teacher.
'In the end, we always stress to the students that they should not bring expensive items to school.'
The parents of the culprits have also been supportive of the school's actions.
'The parents of the five were very surprised that their children had been going about stealing, but are now working with us to help counsel them and bring them back onto the right path,' said the principal.
He added that the school had not received any negative feedback from the parents of the victims.
Copyright © 2004 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. All rights reserved.
Today, Singapore, 29 May 2004
When hands are tied by defiant girls
Union: Teachers on the verge of giving up on those who commit serious offences
By Derrick A. Paulo
WHEN it comes to student indiscipline, girls can be, and are at times, naughtier than boys.
Last week in Parliament, Acting Education Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said that fewer girls than boys are involved in disciplinary cases, especially serious offences. Girls at both primary and secondary levels commit only 11 per cent of serious offences.
Copyright MediaCorp Press Ltd. All rights reserved.
Today, Singapore, 31 May 2004
Punishment rules won't change for defiant girls
Despite calls for sanctions, MOE guidelines to stay: Tharman
By Lee Ching Wern and Tay Tsen-Waye
Despite the Singapore Teachers' Union's (STU) strongly-worded call for sanctions to deal with rebellious girls, the Ministry of Education (MOE) will stick to its current guidelines on corporal punishment.
However, he said he would discuss the issue in an upcoming dialogue session with the STU.
Copyright MediaCorp Press Ltd. All rights reserved.
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