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School CP - April 2012

Corpun file 23959

Kuensel, Bhutan, 16 April 2012

Zero tolerance to indiscipline

Having strict polices to handle indiscipline does not mean corporal punishment is back in schools

BySonam Pelden
Additional reporting by Namgay Tshoki

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The education ministry is revisiting its way of handling disciplinary problems in schools and has asked schools to frame strong penalties for students who do not abide by the school's code of conduct.

The decision to relook the policy comes at a time when corporal punishment is banned and schools in urban Bhutan are grappling with a growing indiscipline problem among its students, who many a times come in conflict with the law.

The revised discipline policies will be implemented next month.

Schools in Thimphu have already met with education ministry officials and discussed ways to handle indiscipline and criminal problems by its students.

Education secretary Sangay Zam said it's high time the society inculcates a culture of law-abiding citizens. "Until and unless this is dealt with seriously and firmly, we might reach a situation where things may become unmanageable," the secretary said. "Disciplinary problems will be dealt firmly, uniformly and consistently without any fear or favour and if it's a criminal act then the law should take its course."

While soft disciplinary actions such as counseling work for some students, education officials said some students continue to think that they can get away with anything.

"So I think we need to make children realise that there is a consequence to their action and if they have done something wrong, then they should face the music," Sangay Zam said.

A principal of one the schools in Thimphu said that there are discipline problems everyday in his school such as pushing the teacher or bullying students or fighting.

"Now students are not afraid to come to school after drinking and going against the teacher has become a trend," the principal said. "There is no fear at all."

Counselling and detention, which replaced corporal punishment in schools, do not work in Bhutanese schools and students, the principal said. Students use their broken families excuse to "emotionally blackmail" teachers during counselling.

"May be there were weaknesses among teachers to go about implementing them that these strategies did not work," he said.

To handle indiscipline problems, Bajothang high school and Punakha higher secondary school, for example make their students take an oath every morning about the norms, visions and expectations of the school.

If a student is found misbehaving repeatedly or more than twice, these schools suspend the student and give lot of assignments and projects with a strict deadline.

Schools will now have written down polices, making distinctions between indiscipline behaviour and criminal acts and categorise them accordingly. The degree of offenses and sanctions for each indiscipline act will also be framed and punishments may range from giving additional assignments to detention to suspension and depending on the severity of the case, may be even expulsion. The school will deal with these problems.

Changangkha lower secondary school feels that their revised discipline policies would work. "I feel it should because it's not made to spoil the children and parents should understand that its done in favour of their children," the school principal said.

Among others, the school is planning to have a "character" subject that the student needs to pass to go to a higher class. The subject would have about 10 components such as punctuality and behaviour. "If the student fails in this but passes academically, he would still be considered failed," the principal said.

Schools said these changes in handling indiscipline problems would also alert parents who so far have not given enough support to schools in handling their children's behaviours.

But if it's a criminal act like assaults and battery, then the case will be handled as per the law. The education ministry has taken a stand to have a multi pronged approach to handle disciplinary problems.

"Now we have to take a serious stand otherwise we are becoming too accepting and complacent," the secretary said. "The ministry has empowered the schools, teachers and from our side if all these things are done in a transparent and fair manner, we'll not entertain any appeals from parents."

The education ministry has also decided to stop transferring "problem students" from one school to another, as is the practice today. Now, if a school asks a student to leave, the student or the parent will have to find another school.

"The ministry will not facilitate any transfers due to disciplinary problems," the education secretary said. "Its not working because everyone is taking it very easy and they can get another school."

Education ministry however made it clear that their stand of "zero tolerance to indiscipline" does not mean corporal punishment is back and that teachers can go back to caning students.

"We believe that if discipline improves in our schools, academics performance would also improve because attendance will be regular and children will pay attention in class," the secretary said.

Doing away with corporal punishment was a drastic change leaving teachers inadequate to handle discipline problems in schools, said education officials.

"What we found during our interactions with teachers was that 'no corporal punishment meant no punishment'," the secretary said. "But that is not the case, we're not allowed to beat but there are other ways of penalising bad behaviour."

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