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School CP - August 1998


The Star, Kuala Lumpur, 12 August 1998

Students get a trimming from their peers

By Derrick Vinesh

PENANG: A secondary school here has appointed students to give free haircuts to those caught spotting [sic] long hair.

SMK Datuk Onn Butterworth, which engaged the help of about 10 student volunteers in Form Three, Four and Five, has trimmed the hair of more than 100 students since the method was introduced in January.

"Our aim is to reduce corporal punishment and instead foster student integration to boost peer group co-operation," said principal Azemi Salim in an interview yesterday.

FRIENDLY BARBERS...Fifth former Shahrul (left) and a friend turned barbers for their schoolmates who were caught spotting long hair.

He said students were usually uncomfortable when the disciplinary teacher cuts their hair as he would not have done a proper job.

"However, students do not mind when their classmates do the job, as most of the volunteer students are experienced since they help their fathers who are barbers or had acquired the skill themselves," he said.

Azemi said students who flouted the school's hairstyle guidelines were usually given warnings for the first two offences and subsequently had their hair cut in public.

The new hair cutting approach, he said was mooted by the school's senior assistant Abdul Waris Darus and disciplinary master Che Hussin Yusop.

Form Five student Shahrul Ridzuan Nazreen, 17, who offered his services said he picked up the skill from a friend six months ago.

"It does not affect my studies as I am usually asked to carry out the task during physical education or art lessons," he said.


The Star, Kuala Lumpur, 24 August 1998


Risky business of disciplining students

By Wani Muthiah

IN AUGUST last year a teacher in Johor Baru was arrested while conducting a class and taken away handcuffed in a police truck by an over-zealous probationary inspector after an angry parent had lodged a report against her.

Apparently, the man's son was one of the five boys the teacher had caned for repeatedly not doing their homework.

To add insult to injury, the teacher was asked to hold up the cane she had used for a picture to be taken by the police. This was done in the classroom and in full view of her pupils.

If teachers are given the due respect and support for their profession once enjoyed, there should not be a reason why they can't give their best in return.

The inspector is also said to have rejected the headmaster's offer to take the teacher to the station in his car as soon as school was over.

This caused a furore and raised the heckles of the National Union Of Teaching Profession (NUTP) which called for its members to only concentrate on teaching and boycott all disciplinary duties.

The union was particularly livid with the fact that the teacher was unjustly treated like a common criminal.

This followed a stern warning by the Education Minister who said that teachers had no right to refuse disciplinary and enforcement duties.

Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak had added:

"Disciplining a student is part of the education process. It is part of a teacher's job."

Shocked by the reaction triggered by his doing, the father retracted his report and appealed to all parties concerned to forget the matter and said that he had resolved the matter with the teacher.

It was reported in a Chinese daily that after the discussion, the father had told the teacher not to hesitate in disciplining his son in future!

The daily also quoted the teacher as saying that the pupils' parents had been invited to discuss the problem prior to the incident but had not turned up as they were busy.

Disillusioned Teachers

The above incident could have been something out of a Monty Python movie, so bizarre was the situation. Similarly, the more recent case of the seven-year-old pupil who was reportedly dragged by her teacher and headmistress to the police station over a disciplinary problem in Kulim, Kedah.

Both are, of course, extremely unusual cases but they underscore a very serious problem festering in our schools -- the issue of student discipline.

Just how and how far are teachers supposed to go before their actions are interpreted as extreme and unacceptable?

Going by the recent spate of letters to Speaking Up by people recounting their experiences with cruel and malicious teachers, the issue is nothing new. In fact, many letters dealt with incidents dating back decades.

Just about everyone can recall having a teacher so feared that it still sends shivers down their spine.

The question is: Has the situation become worse over the years? Has the school, especially at the primary level, become a torture ground for the weaker, more vulnerable children?

Conversely, have teachers been so diminished in their role as respected educators by factors beyond their control that their workplace is becoming increasingly untenable for them?

Jerome Fernandez, NUTP's former deputy president, seems to think that is the case.

He says the good intentions of some dedicated teachers are often put to test when they are subjugated to having their dignities as educators dragged through the mud.

"It is because of this that some teachers have been reduced to carrying out their duties mechanically -- go to school, do their jobs and get out as soon as their day is over," says headmaster Fernandez who is the NUTP's Kelantan branch secretary.

One of the major problems that teachers face, adds Fernandez, is when parents are not receptive to what teachers have to say about their children.

Class of students
Big classes like this are just one of the many things that a teacher has to cope with. Low pay, endless paperwork and meetings increasing activities during school hours and unruly students collectively sap the teacher's morale and energy.

"Sometimes when teachers complain to parents that their children are naughty, the latter disagree and become defensive. They claim their children to be angels. There is no meeting half way here."

Director of Schools Haji Sabri Salleh says that there are cases whereby children are extremely well-behaved at home but are terrors in schools.

"So, when the teachers report this to the parents, the latter can't accept it."

Teacher K. Geevareka, who has been in the profession for over two decades says that the lack of traditional respect is clearly evident in the unsupportive stance taken by many parents towards teachers in the event of their child being disciplined.

"At times there are some parents who come all prepared for a 'fight' when they're called in to discuss their child's problems," adds Geevareka.

She narrates a incident in which she hit a pupil's hand with a six-inch ruler for disturbing her friends and not copying the exercise on the board.

"The girl's father who was waiting outside to pick his daughter up after school stormed into the classroom and confronted me. I was shocked when he said: 'This is how my daughter will do her work and if you don't like it, you can throw her out.' "

Fernandez says that there are parents who are ridiculously over-protective of their children.

He narrates an incident in his school when a father approached him and requested for his Year Two daughter to be transferred to another class.

"The reason he gave me was that his daughter was frightened by the class teacher's loud voice and therefore he wanted me to put her in a class where the teacher had a softer voice!"

The headmaster refused to entertain the father's request and advised the latter to transfer his daughter to another school where all the teachers spoke in soft voices.

The current guidelines

When the NUTP called for teachers to be given ample protection in carrying out disciplinary duties by the Ministry, its Deputy Minister Datuk Dr Fong Chan Onn had said that teachers should not fear taking disciplinary action against students if they follow the guidelines and procedures.

Until the mid-70s, teachers could cane pupils, but under the current rules only a HM is empowered to carry out corporal punishment.

Normally, when a teacher wants to take disciplinary action against a pupil, he/she has to inform the HM and record it in the discipline book together with the child's offence.

If the HM decides to cane the child, it has to be done privately with the senior assistant or discipline teacher as witness.

Pupils can only be caned on their palms or buttocks and the use of force is strictly prohibited.

Once over, the HM records down the punishment and signs the book. The witness is also required to sign the book to verify that the punishment was carried out in accordance with the guidelines.

The parents are also informed of the punishment.

Taking disciplinary action against a student in accordance with the guidelines, says Geevereka, however, is not always practical.

"It means that if one child needs immediate disciplining in a class of 40 or 50, teaching will be disrupted if a teacher takes him to the HM.

"The major disciplinary problems that teachers mostly face are when pupils are destructive in nature, like bullying or disturbing other students, stealing, destroying public property and playing truant," she adds.

Other forms of misbehaviour like coming to school late, untidiness, not doing schoolwork and absenteeism, explains Fernandez, are not usually dealt with using punishment.

"We usually note how frequently it is done. And if the child does these things regularly, we know that he is troubled in some way and hence counsel him and try to help him out."

Most teachers also understand that children who are poor in their studies and are never able to complete their homework or stay attentive for long in class may be facing problems which are beyond their control.

But at times, says Fernandez, dedicated teachers who strive to do their jobs well pay a high price when they are brought to task by parents who simply can't tell the difference between bullying and disciplining.

"Some parents over-indulge their children out of guilt for not being able to spend more time with them. This results in the lack of discipline at home which in turn makes it difficult for us teachers to instil it in school."

In his address at the closing of the Malaysian Teachers' Colleges Student Leadership Convention in Penang in August last year, Najib had asked teachers to view the constraints placed upon them in disciplining school students as a "new challenge".

And a challenge it is indeed.

Teacher's tale of woe

Several teachers who admitted to having resorted to punishing their pupils over trivial matters say that they did so due to extreme work pressure.

A senior teacher who declines to be named says that pressure from the authorities to produce results is the main reason why teachers resort to corporal punishment.

"When pupils don't do well in exams, teachers are immediately called up to explain. It is worse if the pupils' overall performance declines even a little as many HMs press the panic button and begin pressuring the teachers."

Fearful that their promotions and increments will be affected, the teachers begin to exert force in trying to make their wards perform better.

"Look, I have been teaching for 21 years now and my basic salary is only RM1,500. And that is after being given the melintang (horizontal) increment which is regarded as the best for government servants," adds the teacher.

Naturally, these teachers would do anything within their "power" for a salary hike.

Teachers are especially overworked in Chinese and Tamil vernacular schools -- the Education Ministry is short of about 1,700 Chinese school and 500 Tamil school teachers.

Low pay, endless paperwork and meetings, increasing and unnecessary activities during school hours, huge classes and unruly students collectively sap the teachers' morale and energy.

A bit more sensitivity, please

On top of that, the current generation of primary school pupils are children of educated parents who are aware of their rights and have certain expectations, as Sabri points out.

"Times have changed when people revered and respected teachers and it is necessary for teachers to be aware of this."

He advises teachers to be sensitive and not ridicule or make fun of their pupils' religious beliefs and cultural practices.

Sabri explains that education is not just about the 3Rs but the overall development of a child.

But unfortunately the over-emphasis on the importance of good examination results has created a system which is so exam-oriented that it does not give much attention to the overall development of a pupil. Furthermore, it calls for pupils to do huge amounts of homework.

Excessive homework is especially common in Chinese vernacular schools where students have to complete at least 20 to 30 pages of a lesson every day.

And when these children can't cope, they are punished by the teachers who, in turn, fear being penalised if they don't finish the syllabus by the end of the year.

A system gone wrong?

EDUCATIONAL psychologist Professor Dr Chiam Heng Keng says that even though the well-being of the pupils comes first, parents and the relevant authorities must not be unsympathetic to the problems faced by the teachers.

"Basically our teachers have to handle big classes and are often pressured to produce results in a system which is too performance oriented."

Dr Chiam reckons that the entire education system needs to be reworked to reach the right balance.

She adds that under the current teaching system there is nothing which teaches a pupil to acquire a learning strategy.

"Currently, pupils look upon learning as something boring and hence rebel when they develop hate against the whole system. This is merely a manifestation of their unmet needs."

Besides attention, says Chiam, children need structure such as a set of rules they have to know and follow.

She also suggests another aspect of teacher training that ought to be looked into i.e., providing teachers skills to identify troubled children.

If this is achieved, she explains, teachers will no longer be merely teaching but also guiding.

"At present we are looking at education from a narrow perspective and are training our teachers to merely deliver.

"I suppose the philosophy of training is not correct as teachers are only provided with teaching skills."

She adds that the profession is yet to be humanised whereby teachers are trained to look at every child as a unique individual.

NUTP's Siva Subramaniam suggests that teacher training programmes be revamped to equip teachers with techniques of child management especially in handling those with discipline problems.

He cites the case of a 10-year-old girl who killed a Year One schoolmate Masida Suria Che Pa in Jempol, Negeri Sembilan, last year as the kind of students that teachers have to deal with these days.

Dr Chiam reckons that these students need special attention which the teachers under the present system can't give.

Another major problem faced by the once noble teaching profession, according to Dr Chiam, is the over-emphasis on economic gain by our society.

Because it pays poorly, this has resulted in many people becoming teachers only as a last resort.

"There is a lot of difficulty in attracting people of calibre to take up teaching as a profession because of this," she says.

Most HMs and senior teachers interviewed agree that the poor conditions associated with teaching at present have resulted in the quality of teacher trainees deteriorating.

The current system -- designed to allow teachers to upgrade themselves -- whereby college trained primary school teachers can use their college diplomas to enter universities is also another factor which robs primary schools of potential teachers.

(These teachers are eventually transferred to secondary schools.)

"The relevant authorities must not feel that the education of younger children does not need much qualifications," says Dr Chiam.

She suggests that primary school teachers who make it to the universities must be sent back to the primary schools upon graduation with no loss in pay.

Children come first

INSTEAD of picking on each other, parents and teachers should learn to work together since both have similar goals -- to nurture and educate our future generation.

Parents must understand that instilling discipline is part and parcel of education which is all about building a pupil's intellect, character and values.

Teachers, on the other hand, must realise that true discipline is something positive and developmental.

In the event of a problem, Sabri advises both parties to be willing to listen to each other.

"It must not come to a stage where parents and teachers end up arguing and fighting. They must instead find a solution to make things easier for the child as it is the child who matters most at the end of the day."

NUTP's Siva suggests that the revival of the long-overlooked Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) be used as a platform for both parents and teachers to get together and work collectively in educating children.

"If there is this kind of interaction between teachers and parents, problems can then be discussed at the PTA meetings."

(There has been calls by the NUTP for regulations governing PTAs to be amended to give it more clout to play a more effective role in helping to check indiscipline in schools.)

Dr Chiam reckons that if teachers are given the due respect and support for their profession once enjoyed, there shouldn't be a reason why they can't give their best in return.

Investing for the future

The Education Ministry is sympathetic to the plight of teachers and NUTP's call for a separate salary scheme for teachers. As long as teachers are paid comparatively low salaries, the profession will fail to recruit those who seek teaching as a first choice but only those who see it as a last but "safe" resort.

But to put teachers on a separate and higher scale would throw askew the entire civil service as each group would agitate for a similar privilege, explained Education Minister Datuk Seri Datuk Najib Tun Razak on the matter.

Not only are teachers taken for granted, so is primary and secondary schooling provided by the government. Expectations from parents are high despite minimal school fees paid.

In urban areas, there is a stark anomaly -- parents are willing to fork out many hundreds a month for their children's private pre-school education and tuition but balk at contributing generously to the school fund.

Surely those who can afford it should be made to pay more towards their children's public education and the funds channelled towards a special allowance for teachers.

If more teachers could be hired, the classes would be smaller, the work load reduced and there would be fewer frustrated teachers venting their anger on the children.

If the overall salary of teachers became attractive, the profession would be able to draw the better qualified. Is this too much to ask for a workforce that is responsible for the emotional and academic education of 4.5 million schoolchildren?

Says Dr Chiam: "At the end of the day, what is important here is for everyone to regard the education of our young as an investment for the future."


The Star, Kuala Lumpur, 28 August 1998

Letter To The Editor

Judicious use of cane can solve indiscipline

Yeap Cheng Hock of Penang writes:

LATELY, there have been many reports of gangsterism, extortion and other forms of indiscipline in our secondary schools.

As a retired teacher, who have taught for nearly three decades, I wish to comment on this important matter, that is discipline.

To solve indiscipline problems in secondary schools, we must start at the primary level.

There is no other way except to allow caning in the primary schools.

When primary school teachers are authorised to use the cane, parents will gradually come to accept this form of punishment to discipline naughty children.

As parents, we are aware that at times, no matter how much child psychology we use to discipline our children, it does not seem to work. Nothing works better than the cane.

A talk with my neighbour, Pakcik Rahman, convinced me that the cane must be reintroduced.

According to my neighbour, a wise saying among the Malays is: "Sayang anak, tangan-tangankan, sayang isteri tinggal-tinggalkan" (If one loves one's children, don't spare the hands, if one loves one's wife, leave her if one has to go elsewhere to seek a livelihood.)

Pakcik Rahman is strongly for the using of the cane.

Let us use this wise saying to discipline our children. Perhaps it will work.

Primary school pupils, especially those in Year 5 and Year 6, know quite a lot about their rights, especially on the regulation prohibiting teachers from caning them.

If they are caned, they will tell the teacher concerned about the infringement.

The child being caned would 'warn' the teacher and there is a lot of 'face losing' on the part of the teacher.

There were many instances when we teachers had to 'bribe' our pupils with money (a few ringgit) to stop them from reporting the canings to their parents so as to avoid trouble.

There might be a few cases of sadism where teachers for no reason use the cane. But these are very rare and isolated cases.

Do not be unduly worried that our teachers will be 'cane-happy'.

By the way, Pakcik Rahman, who constantly used the cane on his eight children when they were young, has now eight successful adults.


The Star, Kuala Lumpur, 30 August 1998

On The Beat

It's time for teachers to take out the cane again

By Wong Chun Wai

THERE'S nothing like a good smack on the face and a whack on the buttocks when dealing with a school gangster.

Stick to the 4Rs -- reading, writing, arithmetic and rotan -- and you'll never go wrong.

Growing up in Penang, I attended the St Xavier's Institution, a Catholic school run by brothers in long, white robes.

One disciplinarian in particular, Bro Michael Paulin, terrified the students as he was always holding a cane.

One wrong move and it's a stroke or two on the buttocks -- then you were supposed to thank the lau hor (tiger), as he was commonly called.

There was no such thing as running home to complain to your parents, unless you want further punishment.

Besides Bro Michael, there were those big-sized discipline masters who never seem to know how to smile.

It was pointless for delinquents to consider retaliating against these teachers, such as vandalising their cars. Somehow, their cars were fit for the junkyard or they didn't drive to work.

Those days are gone -- thanks to bleeding-heart liberals who seem to blame society for everything except the criminals themselves.

These softies often demand reforms in school. Counselling, they argue, is the best approach in dealing with "sensitive and misguided" children.

But we often forget that these pampered children are much bigger than their teachers these days. The fact that there are more female teachers doesn't help either.

Teachers are so underpaid and overworked that many consider disciplining students as another burden to shoulder.

They do not want to face over-protective parents who are quick to run to the newspapers and their wakil rakyat every time their children are punished.

Our schools have not reached the stage of some American schools which have installed metal detectors but we seem to have come to a point where police enforcement is required. Surely, the resources of our police force are needed more urgently elsewhere.

Last week, National Union of Teaching Profession deputy secretary-general Abdul Karim Majid said some teachers were reluctant to discipline students involved in gangsterism in schools for fear of being targeted for attack.

He said several teachers had lodged police reports after being threatened by students.

Following reports of gangsterism in schools, the Education Ministry has issued a circular to state directors recommending 11 measures which schools can take to curb this problem.

It's still not too late for our schools. We should bring back the old ways of meting out punishment.

However, we should be wary of extreme cases, the most recent one being a headmaster who took a Primary One pupil to the police station over a misdemeanor.

Another time, a boy was made to sniff the insides of his shoes and wipe the teacher's shoes with his white shirt.

We have heard of such mad men or women in our schools. These people are obviously not fit for the profession.

By and large, our teachers are a dedicated lot. Until the mid-70s, teachers could wield the cane. Now, only a headmaster is empowered to carry out corporal punishment.

To whack a child, a teacher now has to inform the HM and record the incident in a log book.

Pupils can only be caned in private and in the presence of a witness. They can only be hit on their palms or buttocks and the use of force is strictly prohibited.

Gone are the days when punishment is swift and immediate. If caning cannot be done in front of the class, there is really no point.

In my schooldays, caning was carried out during assembly. I doubt that my peers who were humiliated openly suffered any psychological scars from the ordeal.

Judging from the camaraderie between these former teachers and students at an Old Xaverians' reunion in Kuala Lumpur recently, many probably laughed at their experiences.

None of us harbour any ill-feelings against our stern teachers. We all felt they had helped us become what we are today.

And a surprising number of us, who are parents now, would want our children to be disciplined if they go astray.

Parents should stop being over-protective. The problem now is that many parents have only one or two children. They find it hard to reconcile the possibility of their little angels behaving devilishly.

Guilty of spending long hours at work, they pamper their children with monetary rewards instead of quality time.

They send their children to music, computer and tuition classes during weekends. When these classes end, it's off to the shopping mall for meals and shopping.

Many hardly talk to their children. They don't even know when their angels are up to no good. Many take no interest in the background of their children's friends.

So, when teachers call them up to complain about their children's delinquency, they find it hard to accept the fact that their children had been naughty.

They react negatively and some even confront teachers and headmasters.

The role of teachers as educators should not be allowed to diminish. They should be given some flexibility.

It's time for teachers to take out the cane again. Like all good medicine, what is bitter and painful initially may do good in the end.

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