Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The question of discipline

Politics aside, I think the recent 'teacher slapping' incident and the Deputy Minister's reaction to it which Tony has blogged about, highlights an important issue in Malaysian schools especially at the secondary level - which is the issue of discipline.

My impression of most Malaysian secondary school classrooms is not a good one - rowdy students who don't pay attention in class, teachers who are disinterested and unmotivated, vandalized toilets and chairs and tables - and this was from my days in La Salle PJ 20 years ago! (I have a confession to make - I was probably one of the students contributing to the general mayhem in school)

I don't think the situation in our classrooms have gotten any better. I still regularly go back to La Salle PJ when I'm back in Malaysia to play basketball. I still see young Form 1 and 2 kids who speak to one another in expletive filled language (especially the Chinese kids). The facilities in school (such as the basketball and tennis courts) are poorly maintained and / or broken. I can imagine that the level of learning in our classrooms has probably gotten worse. Perhaps some of our younger readers can confirm / clarify this point.

One of the consequences of failing discipline (as well as other factors such as perceived Islamization, quality of teaching, facilities etc...) is that many members of the middle classes have 'abandoned' these schools. I see more and more parents, especially non-Malay parents, sending their kids to private schools such as Sri Cempaka and Sri Inai. This trend will probably continue as more private secondary schools are established. Many smart Malays have already left the national school system at the secondary level - they are sent residential schools where the facilities, teachers and arguably discipline levels are better than the average national secondary school.

What I'm describing is perhaps more symptomatic of secondary schools in urban areas where certain factors work against secondary schools - the fact that many families are dual income families and many parents don't have the time to 'take care' of their children (esp. from a nurturing standpoint), the greater pervasiveness of gangs who can and will exploit many of these kids, the greater accessibility of 'distractions' such as internet cafes and shopping malls. I'd be interested to find out of schools in semi-rural or rural areas are any better.

I'm guessing that the situation in many semi-urban / semi-rural schools might be better because the communities are more close knit and there are fewer distractions in these places compared to big cities. For example, I visited a friend in Sekinchan last month while I was back home and found out that the only secondary school in the Sekinchan town area produced many JPA scholars as well as state and national level sportsmen and sportswomen. If one examines the ranks of the best performing schools a the PMR level, many schools in these semi-urban or even rural areas consistently top the charts!

Trying to bring back a sense of discipline and order to our secondary schools, in the urban areas especially, is no easy task. I think bringing back corporal punishment in the form of public caning should be considered. I know that many people think that this form of punishment is outdated but I think there's still a place for the cane as a form of punishment in our schools. I remember how much I was afraid of Cikgu Iskandar who would roam the corridors in school with a cane and was well-known for his penchant for caning students. Slapping a student probably goes too far, in my book, but I'm sure there's a way to ensure that the process of caning a student, in a public arena, to shame this student as well as to warn others can be done in a way which is acceptable to both parents and administrators.

Perhaps something can be said of a 'no tolerance' policy such that students who are caught vandalizing school property can be punished heavily so that a signal is sent out to the other students.

Or volunteer mentor programs can be established with trusted members of the community to befriend some of the more problematic students and help them along the way.

At the end of the day, those who suffer disproportionately from poor discipline in our secondary schools are students in the lower and lower middle classes. Those in the middle class who still send their kids to the national secondary schools can also afford to send their kids for after school tuition, a luxury that many of those in the lower and lower middle classes cannot afford. With a better learning environment, better motivated teachers and better facilities, perhaps some of these kids, who in 'normal' circumstances, would not have learned much in school and probably would not continue to receive education at the college / university level, could find a path towards higher education and a better life for themselves and their families.


Anonymous said...

Your support for corporal punishment may annoy others but I certainly support it. Speaking from own experience, I would even go further to say that there is no great deal about a slap in the face.

Thanks for sharing your story at La Salle. I too have contributed to the general mayhem in another well-known urban school. I was slapped in the face in front of the whole class for being rude to a teacher. However it did not harbour in me any hatred towards the teacher, kill my self-esteem nor stop me from going into Oxbridge and getting my PhD at later stages in my life. Instead the slap made me realise how much I had offended the teacher and caused him to lose temper.

Whenever I pass by a secondary school, I can't stop sympathising teachers who face increasing disciplinary problem in school nowadays but are given decreasing power from parents and society to deal with it.

If someone like you and me also contributed to mayhem in school, tell us what teachers can do to discipline those real 'bad' students who may be triad members or VIP's daughters and sons?

Anonymous said...

Ah Foo, aper yang ko buat kat cikgu tu? Ko ngorat dia ker?

English translation:
What did you do to that teacher of yours? Did you try to seduce him/her?

Anonymous said...

Teachers should not be allowed to touch the students physically because there are too many instances of teachers who are really abusive. Slapping and punching are assaults no matter what dictionary you want to refer to. There are many other ways to punish a student with expulsion and criminal prosecution for repeat or serious offenders as the final options. Only principals should be allowed to mete out capital punishment. My wife and I still remember the abusive teachers we had in Malaysia and after all these years she still cusses at the teacher who used to hit her head with the edge of a ruler; not the flat side but the edge of the ruler. Many students suffered in silence and they still do. Just because we experienced being wacked by teachers in our school days should not mean it is OK for teachers to do that today. Schools should have no place not only for bullies but abusive teachers as well.
I may not like this minister, but in this particular instance, he did what govt officials should learn to do - pick up the freaking phone and deal with the problem. In many instances, govt officials always have an excuse for being slow to respond to problems --"wait for report" is what they always say.
I realized sadly from my recent experience as a member of a grand jury that different people from different backgrounds have different views of what constitutes proper punishment and what constitutes abuse. What I considered to be child abuse was considered OK by some people. After doing some reading, I realized that blue-black bruises inflicted on a child by a parent may not be considered abuse in many southern states in the US but is considered serious abuse in the north-east. Is it because people in the north-east are more intellectual?
Condoning violence in school whether by students or teachers is just a sign of a society that is still lacking in intellectual maturity, civility, and respect for human dignity and self-esteem.

Anonymous said...

I should have said corporal punishment not capital punishment in my comment above. Sorry.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with anonymous above. There should be no place for corporal punishment in our school system. Whichever way you look at it, corporal punishment is assault and why would you wish that on our children. I think the problem lies more in the way children are brought up these days. There are many different ways to punish school children which do not involve physical punishment. I have to say i was never hit in school and am much the better for it. Besides, violence breeds violence. Children instead should be taught to respect others in a dignified manner rather than being subjected to degrading physical punishment, worse of all, in front of others. Parents and teachers should sit down together and discuss 'difficult' children and come up with strategies to deal with them rather than meet out corporal punishment. Therein lies the problem today, the apathy of teachers and parents.

Corporal punishment is a means of trying to solve the problem without adressing the issues behind the problem. It makes no difference to serial offenders who will continue to offend. They just grow bitter and angry. And corporal punishment gives and absolute power to the teacher, an unquestionable power, which is unfair.

Anonymous said...

It is easy to say, what are ideal and what are not, more so if you are not in the teaching profession. Let see how long you burning desire to be a good teacher will last. We grow up in environment where our full time mother will take care of us at home after school, today with both parents are working and struggling to make ends need, the kids are left alone on their own, with so much distractions from the rat race society, kids pick up more bad habits outside the school gate, more than what the school are able to overcome let alone teaching them the good one. If you are a doctor, you attend to a patient at a time, as for a teacher, 40 pupils in a class that need your attention and bear in mind these are not patients looking for cure of their sickness, but some of the kids that are forced to attend class with no desire to learn, and this is the main problem. Even you have one that has no desire to learn out of the 40 in the class, you are distracted by one, trying to discipline will divert your energy away to teach the rest. Now, what is your priority? Trying hard to save one at the expense of the majority, well the big stick will carry the day. Ad the Chinese says, you control and teach, not the other way around, that is teach to control. I am not advocating that corporal punishment is the only solution in dealing with students with disciplinary problems but it is one of the most effective ways, at time, other soft approach will be more effective, but at the end of the day, it will be the wise judgments of an experience teacher to overcome the disciplinary problems in the classroom, be it the harsh or the soft approach. There is no magic bullet for disciplinary problems in the school, you can only minimize it but you can not wipe it out.

Anonymous said...

If you have lost your motivation to teach, then quit your job instead of taking it out on the students. Just like if a doctor has lost his compassion and value for human life, he should just quit instead of having a "tidak apa" attitude when he sees suffering patients and worried relatives in the hospitals. Malaysia has corporal punishment for ages and if that has been effective, why do we keep hearing about indiscipline problems in schools? I would rather that I punish my own children myself than to give outsiders the liberty to hit them at their whims and fancy. Child and education psychologists have long agreed that physical punishment does more harm than good and only teaches children that resorting to violence is OK to solve problems.

Little Bear said...

I think corporal punishment is not the way to go because of the propensity for abuse as highlighted in some of the cases above. However, not taking a stand is not the way either as we might end up with an education system akin to the developed countries. The teaching profession will end up being a "high risk" job as the teachers get little or no protection from the system and have no means to take charge of their students.

I would advocate punishing the parents for their children's indiscipline as i think the problems stems from home. Maybe some form summons can be issues to parents with delinquent children so that they will take notice and work the solution out at home.

Anonymous said...

Schools in the developed countries are not as violent as some in Malaysia like to think. I think the US is probably the only country in the West that still has corporal punishment in some schools. But corporal punishment is gradually being abolished in many states in the US. Suspension and expulsion are two very effective tools for the serious offenders and these get the attention of the parents very fast if they are slacking in their parental responsibility. In many school systems, there is zero tolerance for violence of any kind whether by teachers or students. In my local school system, any teachers that lift a finger to hurt a student would immediately face disciplinary action. Obviously the same applies to the students. Even the wrong language that a teacher uses on a student would land the teacher in trouble. Students learn by role model and if they are taught certain behaviors are wrong they would expect that to apply to teachers or adults as well.

Anonymous said...

Haha...Iskandar and his cane, and also Mr. Ang and his slap...and the customary breaking of chairs and tables after PMR/SPM...Yes, it brings back memories. It's now alot noisier during class hours since I left 10 or so years ago...and that's earshot from Raju's Corner.

Just a question. If corporal punishment was to be instituted, who's going to protect the teachers from triads exacting revenge on behalf of their many members now prevalent in Malaysian schools? I think teachers are quite practical when it comes to their car tyres or personal safety.

Anonymous said...

But our students were merely following the example of our rowdy Education Minister.

Remember how he pulled out his keris and frightened the shit out of everybody? Or how he led his mob at the Ijok by-elections?

Was he sent to detention class or punished during his school days and developed a psychological problem?

Why pick on our Mat Rempits? They should be idolised.

Anonymous said...

I don't support corporal punishment because its been misused by teachers in the past to instill fear in students, to the extent that students dare not voice out their opinions/ask questions. Some teachers have punished students (including myself) for asking questions and suggesting ideas which they disagree with.

Anonymous said...

It's hard to face difficult children, but I don't agree with the act of slapping student. No matter how angry a teacher can be, the danger is there. Once you touch (slap) the students, you'll be accountable for physical abuse. There're proper ways through the prescribed punishment procedures (by people who are in authority - diperturunkan kuasa). Parents are often called up for negotiation. If parents are unwilling to cooperate and blame the school. It's not the loss of the school, but the parents instead. The school will only face the student for a maximum of 3 - 5 years - the parents - for a whole life. Let them ponder.

I wouldn't comment on all circumstances, but in most cases, there are genuine interest among teachers to help improve students' behaviour. Instead of being over protective on their child or their own 'face', parents should instead appreciate that teachers/schools are still taking interest in their child's behaviour. Imagine a school where teachers are TOO afraid to say anything. I think that's more like a playground than a school. The customer is always RIGHT.

Anonymous said...

The principal who slapped the students, warden who ordered the students to stand in a pond, teacher who caned the students excessively. These are the ones that got into the news. What about those cases where students suffered silently at the hands of sadistic teachers and principals? All these cases show that the school teachers had nothing but utter contempt for the students. They had clearly lost their dedication and motivation as teachers, and should just be asked to leave. It is just as disappointing to see politicians trying to find justifications for the teachers' actions telling people not to over-react. Probably the politicians and govt officials are still waiting for the reports. It does not matter whether the water is filty drain water or not. Asking 200 girls in get into the pond goes way beyond normal disciplinary actions. I cannot think of any mitigating circumstances that can be used as an excuse for such punishment. The minister should act more decisively and just pick up the phone and fired the teacher and the principal. Physical punishment by teachers should not be condoned because justifying their actions only encourage rogue and sadistic teachers to prey more on the students. It is too sad to see even principals cannot be entrusted to use their powers of corporal punishment wisely. What to do? Semua pun boleh - everything also can, because nobody is accountable.

Unknown said...

The best method for a teacher is to reason with the student.

However, class sizes in M'sia is not conducive for such methods.

enough said,..

Anonymous said...

just want to share my own experience as a victim of corporal punishment system. I'm not sure about now, but in the 80/90s teachers caning students scenarios in elementary school seems nothing extraordinary. Well I'd like to believe teachers only carry out punishment when they encounter unruly students who deliberately ill behaved. Unfortunately I still vividly remember my abusive standard 4 class teacher who caned me almost every week because I was the assistant class monitor. Our class monitor was a popular exemplary student in school, therefore the punishment fell more on me when the class went out of control. Our class consumed 6 really thick canes throughtout the year. Before that I was a jovial kid who loved to tell stories to my parents about school and proud of my grades. But all the caning experience made me lost my confidence and ashamed of myself even though every one knew the teacher was a lunatic. I communicated less to my parents because I didn't want them to find out I was always beaten by my teacher. My grade dropped drastically because I had so much to deal with in the class and that crazy teacher. You may ask why I didn't report it. But as a vulnerable 10 year old average kid, I doubted the school authority will do anything to her for me. Luckily after that year I was no longer taught by that teacher and subsequent teachers never cane any of us. I gradually gained back my self confidence and became a jolly kid again.
Some may argue it's only my bad luck to have had this lunatic teacher, but admit it there are a lot of similar abusive teachers out there who were never reported. I strongly oppose corporal punishment as the solution simply because the teacher doesn't know how to manage the class discipline. It has been banned in most developed countries because there's better way to discipline and counsel the troubled students these days. With physical punishment, the teachers only instill fear in the students without properly educating them.

robston63 said...

Student problems in school is not a problem actually. I see two factors:

1. Teacher in charge loses cool.
2. Parents too picky.

For number ONE, teacher should be more mentally alert rather than emotional.

For number TWO, parents should not be over-supportive of their children.


1. Like it or not, teachers should have the freedom to handle students to the best of their knowledge but not to the students detriment. Getting soaked in the pond or a few slaps is okay ( NOT getting soaked where you may drown, slapped till face is swollen or canned till have to be hospitalised).

2. Parents should understand the complication of taking care of their children, because there is no one of the same kind - yet certain students can get together to infuriate a teacher! A teacher is not God, they have their limitations too, but tend to forget themselves in the service to mankind and may end up being wronged for a good cause.

Yesterday and Today
**I remember not very long ago, there were students who feared to tell their parents they were punished at school - cause they would get more bashing at home ( meaning they did not know how to take care of themselves).

***Now, parents come to school and demand an explanation. Good riddens - I would not advice anyone to take up teaching profession. It's not so much of a profession, a mockery.


Think twice, count to ten b4 u give any form of punishment. Make sure the students will repent from it, otherwise, forget it - let their parents take care of it. To play safe:
- keep calling their parents for every small stupid thing until they know what type of child they
have, get fed-up and transfer elsewhere. One problem less for you!
- if it involves many of them, invite all the parents involved and ask their opinion- repeat it
often, let them know how much the school has to do all these years without troubling the

AJCN said...

i think corporal punishment is one of the solution to solving disciplinary problems. i mean look at kids these days. they are so rude and uneducated. What our country and the world is going to be like next time if we're not strict enough to keep the students grounded? i'm a student myself and i think corporal punishment is the answer. we can punish them but also take them into counselling classes so they would understand that what they did is wrong. if students fear then they wouldn't break the rules!

Anonymous said...

parent must educate their child before they keep blaming those teacher whom carry their own responsibilities and duties to discipline their student. don't put blames on teacher, lack of supervision from their own parent might lead to discipline problem among student in school. Students are tend to imitating what their parent did.

Richmond Sudin said...

student should be punished to give their a lesson to behave well. but the most important is, their parent not to put blame on those teacher whom punish their child. if their parent always defend their child, until when they do that? at school are not same as at home by the way, teachers are given the permission to monitor and supervise their student. that is the responsibility for teachers, meanwhile at home, parents are responsible to educate and give a lesson to their children to behave well. back to the punishment, teachers can punish the student if they did something wrong, that is not a blame for them to discipline the student.

Teacher Izy said...

No one is perfect, so if one of your students make any mistake try to advice them 1st then let it go. Dont keep it in ur mind n heart.Making a mental note or keeping tabs on who did what to you when is a complete waste of your energy and it says more about your being petty than it says about them being inconsiderate. If someone's repeat behavior makes you feel as if they are never going to change, then you are the one who needs to change or move on.