JUST before Chinese New Year, a group of secondary schoolboys from Limbang, Sarawak, ganged up on two students and "rained blows and kicks" on them in their dormitory.
Their action would have been kept a secret if not for a video showing the victims - cowering in pain and fear and begging for the beatings to stop - which had been circulated via mobile phones. The assailants have since been suspended and are facing the possibility of expulsion after the clip recently came to their parents' knowledge.
If this incident sounds familiar, it is because 10 students from SMK Oya in Dalat, also in Sarawak, had assaulted a Form Three student only a year ago.
The Dalat incident, which took place in a dorm, was recorded on a mobile phone and uploaded to YouTube. As history repeats itself, it is only a matter of time before another case resurfaces in another school.
The Sarawak state education director Datuk Julaihi Bujang says that half a dozen cases of assaults in Sarawak schools were reported last year. However, he notes that the majority of them are not serious.
National Union of Teaching Profession (NUTP) secretary-general Loke Yim Pheng agrees, adding that "disciplinary problems in schools are under control". But small things can turn big, says National Council of Parent-Teacher Associations (NCPTA) president Associate Professor Datuk Mohamad Ali Hasan. "That is why we have to nip the problem in the bud," he says. There were at least four disciplinary cases involving school students reported in the media last year.
Disciplinary problems in school range from absenteeism to bullying, and drug- and gangster-related activities (see table). Mohamad Ali believes "students today lack respect for teachers and some show blatant disregard for them". The worsening of disciplinary problems in schools had led NCPTA, as a governing body of all PTAs in Malaysia, to organise a conference late last year with the theme PTAs' Role in Addressing Disciplinary Problems in Schools.
PTA representatives who attended the conference reached a consensus on various measures to curb disciplinary problems in schools.
Among the recommended actions are police visits to high-risk schools. "There are schools which invite police personnel to join monthly PTA meetings," Mohamad Ali says, but refuses to name the institutions. "The idea may not sit comfortably with parents.
They wouldn't want others to know their children attend schools that are associated with disciplinary problems," he adds. PTA members also believe discipline should be on the agenda of monthly school meetings. "This will allow school administrators to discuss the matter and come up with solutions," he says. Whatever the outcome, says Parent Action Group for Education chairperson Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim, it should be creative to reflect current times.
"While disciplinary problems have always existed, some which occur now - such as recreational drug abuse and (unsupervised) Internet use - were non-existent in the past," says the mother of four teens. Ketuk-ketampi (squats) and writing multiple lines on the blackboard, which are popular measures of disciplining may no longer be relevant. There may be a need to go back to implementing corporal punishment.
Currently caning is only prescribed for serious offences, witnessed either by the school's principal and/or a parent, but done in private and only as a last resort. That teachers are discouraged from caning, spanking or putting students in a corner to discipline them has made students become more brazen about their actions, says Noor Azimah. "Children's rights are emphasised now more than ever," she adds.
Loke agrees. "But these rights are not tempered with a sense of responsibility," she adds. There have been suggestions to keep tabs on students by introducing closed-circuit television cameras, swipe cards, biometric devices and even information boxes for them to anonymously tell on their peers who have misbehaved. "Such measures are useful but the effectiveness is questionable.
Students who want to play truant can find means of doing so.
Those who have something to say should be able to air their grievances (against bullies) to teachers, which is a more effective channel than information boxes," says Mohamad Ali. Simple approaches can drastically reduce disciplinary problems.
Loke and Mohamad Ali share the view that smaller class sizes, especially in urban schools, enable more teachers to pay personal attention to students. "Students are less likely to misbehave in this atmosphere," says Mohamad Ali. "I would also abolish the term "discipline teacher" because all teachers should deal with students and disciplinary cases accordingly," he adds. "It will help if senior teachers can assist younger ones to deal with such problems.
We also need more male teachers (to deal with discipline).
Of course, they must be qualified," says Loke on suggestions to curtail disciplinary problems in school. At the end of the day, parents must take responsibility for disciplining their children.
"Modern parents tend to be more permissive and often get defensive about their children's behaviour," he says.
Having said that, he sees more parents "making time to attend PTA meetings" despite their busy schedule. Parental role is most important when they are busy, says Noor Azimah. "When parents feel they are unable to play their role well, their responsibilities get pushed to teachers, and this creates a vicious circle," she adds. Of arsonists and bullies ABSENTEEISM, bullying, drug- and gangster-related activities are among discipline problems in schools.
Cases highlighted in the media include: Oct 18, 2008: A Form Two student was suspended for a week to allow police to investigate a case where she allegedly kicked her Physics teacher.
March 29, 2009: In Muar, two Form Three students were injured and another fainted when a group of students from the same school entered their classroom and hurled objects, including stones, at them.
April 22, 2009: A school in Shah Alam had its administrative unit burned by four masked arsonists, believed to be students of the institution.
Jan 16, 2010: In Nibong Tebal, two students were detained for attacking their teacher after she reprimanded them for being noisy and disruptive.