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School CP - October 2002

The New Paper, Singapore, 4 October 2002

Sec 2 student, 17, who punched teacher

Does boy deserve a second chance?

By Michael Lee

THESE are some questions being asked. After all, it was a disturbing incident.

On Sept 21, a Secondary 2 boy, 17, hit his teacher during a school excursion at East Coast Park. It happened in front of about 150 schoolmates, other teachers and passers-by.

The excursion was meant to be a beach-cleaning trip. But while his schoolmates were busy picking up rubbish, Steve (not his real name) went swimming instead. His form teacher scolded him for that.

It is understood that the teen got angry and punched the teacher once in the chest, despite being restrained by another teacher. In the ensuing scuffle, Steve also accidentally hurt a fellow schoolmate.

Steve was punished last Monday during a special school assembly.

The New Paper understands that he has a history of violent behaviour.

His parents were notified of the punishment and appealed that the school not expel him.

He was caned twice in front of the students who saw the incident, as well as the teacher who was punched.

Steve and his parents couldn't be contacted. The school (which is not being named at the principal's request) and the teacher involved declined to comment. [It is now known that the school was in fact Bishan Park Secondary School. - C.F.]

The principal would only say: 'We are giving the boy a second chance.' He wouldn't elaborate.

It is understood that transferring the boy to another class is not an option since the same teacher is involved with both classes available at that level.

But the big question remains: Does such a student deserve a second chance?

Does caning curb the rebellious streak in him? Or should he have been expelled instead?

The New Paper put those thorny questions to a few school principals.

They all agreed a student cannot be shown the door just because he is a 'problem child'.


Said Miss Chong Hoi Neng, principal of Yuan Ching Secondary: 'What constitutes an offence which calls for expulsion is very subjective.

'Each case is different. We have to work with all the parties concerned.

'There are various processes and procedures we have to go through before such a decision is made.'

Mr Adrian Cordeiro, 54, principal of Teck Whye Secondary, agreed it had to be well thought through on a case-by-case basis.

'Would expulsion compound things further? Maybe he just needs to be transferred to another school to start afresh and grow,' he said.

None of the principals made any comment on Steve's case as they were not aware of the background.

But Mr Cordeiro said that in such incidents, a civil case might have been 'a fairer approach' if charges were brought against the boy by the teacher.

'We are in a line where a teacher is supposed to be a role model. Meting out punishment is therefore a very delicate issue,' he said.

But how difficult is it to expel a student?

To most of the principals, sending a student packing is still an option - but the very last option.

The principal of a secondary school in the east said the Ministry of Education (MOE) gives principals full autonomy in the running of their schools.

'If there are sufficient grounds to take drastic action against a student with discipline problems, then it is left to the school to do whatever it takes. MOE won't interfere,' he said.

Whether it is caning or expelling, they agree some corrective action must be taken.

Said Mr Cordeiro: 'In doing our part as educators, there must also be some recourse to some protection and correction.

'Such actions like caning are not a matter of being vengeful, but a course of action which must be taken to try and change the person as much as possible.

'It would hopefully make him turn over a new leaf, get on with his life and become acceptable to society.'

Another principal, who declined to be named, agrees, but would rather use a softer approach.

'Every student is precious to the school and the parents. Whatever punishment is meted out, it must nurture and correct, and not destroy the child,' she said.

She herself had never caned, let alone expelled, any students. She prefers 'not to punish but to go by consequences'. For instance, she would tell her students what is in store for them should they go astray.

The principal of the secondary school in the east said: 'In my case, I would first call the parents to try and solve the child's problem together. I keep caning as a last resort.'

Mr Cordeiro, who has been a principal for eight years, and canes errant students 'when necessary', has this to say on the punishment: 'Before making a decision, we need to determine whether the act was done on the spur of the moment or if it was premeditated.'

He added: 'Some people might think 'such punishment may spoil the young kids' future' and 'teachers as adults should be more understanding',' he said.

'But nobody ever spares a thought for the teacher who sometimes works in a hostile environment - albeit rewarding too.

'We must then ask ourselves, 'how do we strike a balance between the needs of our teachers and children'.'

It is a tightrope many principals have to walk every day.

Expulsion stunts growth of students, says MOE

EDUCATION is all about helping a student grow, says the Education Ministry (MOE).

Expulsion, on the other hand, would only stem that growth.

Said an MOE spokesman in an e-mail reply: 'Our objective is to encourage pupils to stay in school and progress through the education system as far as their abilities take them.

'Our schools adopt appropriate measures to ensure that our pupils do not leave school prematurely.'


Such measures include counselling from trained teachers, social workers and even retired teachers.

Parents are also involved, both for their assistance and to be assisted, as the case may be.

Expulsion is therefore only considered when these measures have been 'exhausted'.

Similarly, caning in schools is used only as a 'last resort', in compliance with strict guidelines.

'The pupil who is to be caned would be well aware of the reason for the caning before it is carried out.

'If necessary, after the punishment, the pupil would be counselled and parental cooperation sought for follow-up actions,' said the spokesman.

Copyright 2002 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. All rights reserved.

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