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Spare the rod, spoil the child: Are teachers losing respect of their students?

Corporal punishments in school.

Ask any adult and most likely you'd receive a reply with an anecdote of what discipline was like in the olden days, including being caned in front of the entire school, impromptu haircuts by discipline masters and standing on tables and chairs.

Last week, forum writer Sherman Prescott Shotam wrote in to the Straits Times pointing out that students and parents these days are not showing teachers the respect they deserve

"I remember my school days when teachers could discipline students by any means necessary. I remember how students wouldn't even tell their parents when we got slapped, because our parents respected the fact that our teachers disciplined us," Shotam wrote.

The writer believes this does not apply to the current generation of students as "those disciplinary methods are no longer considered acceptable in class".

He shared about how his teacher friends told him stories of students rolling their eyes at or shouting back at teachers.

"They follow the examples of their parents, who talk to teachers and treat them as if they don't matter. I am appalled by the way parents treat teachers these days. Is this what Singapore has come to?" he asked.

Antiquated disciplinary methods

In response, two Straits Times forum writers shared their views on this subject two days later. 

Forum writer Terence Lim disagree with Shotam, that it's too simplistic a mindset to blame parents.

"So yes, I feared my teachers then but no, I did not respect them. There is probably a good reason why antiquated disciplinary methods are no longer considered acceptable in class," he added. "And perhaps parents today are just trying to protect their children from what they themselves had experienced in school."

Another forum writer Liu Fook Thim wrote that teachers in the 1970s had complete authority from parents to manage students as they saw fit. And this authority, he added, has to be kept intact in current times as well.

"Teachers must have the authority to have disrespectful students removed from class and, if necessary, removed from the school if their parents are equally disrespectful," Liu said.

It seems some Reddit users are unaware of how different the student-teacher landscape is today compared to the past.

"Wait they can't remove disrespectful students from class? Not gonna lie, I feel really bad for teachers if they can't do this," one netizen said.

A couple of Reddit users agreed with Liu that the involvement of disrespectful parents does not bode well for educators.

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Other netizens shared about how school discipline during their growing-up years seemed to have worked out just fine.

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In a separate Reddit thread posted on May 30, a user, who said he's a teacher, pointed out that while students these days are more demanding than those in the past, not all are entitled and self-centred.

"They defend teachers who are criticised and that means the world for us, really," he wrote.

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No public caning

The Ministry of Education (MOE), on its website, said it provides schools with guidelines to formulate their discipline policies and school rules based on the student profile and needs.

And disciplinary consequences such as detention, suspension and corrective community service are considered in combination or separately, depending on the circumstances of each case.

In a 2019 article on Schoolbag, an online publication from MOE, some principals and disciplinary heads talk about the different ways they mete out discipline.

Chua Choon Guan, principal of First Toa Payoh Primary School, said in that article that they do not do public caning in the school.

If caning is required, it would be done in his office with only the child, teachers and his parents involved to safeguard the dignity of the child.

In this way, the child will come out of this experience knowing they made a mistake, he added, and can return to his circle of friends without suffering from low self-esteem.

"We also help the child see the link between their actions and the consequences. If we do not do that, they will feel a sense of injustice, and may develop long-term resentment," said Chua, adding that the counsellor, discipline master and teachers will continue to engage the child after the caning.

Mohamed Sayadi, then head of department (student management) at Meridian Secondary School, explained in that article why there has been a decline in corporal punishment.

"It's not because of fear. It's because society has changed. Gone are the days when a teacher could hit a student for being disobedient. Now family sizes are smaller. Children generally get more attention, and they are able to speak up and negotiate with adults," he said.

In September 2019, a mother made a police report after her Primary 6 son was caned by his school's discipline headmistress, as reported by Today.

She also filed a complaint to MOE.

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amierul@asiaone.com