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ruler   :   Archive   :   1999   :   BM Schools Apr 1999



School CP - April 1999

Bermuda Sun, Hamilton, 9 April 1999

Education: The teachers speak


WHY ARE Bermudian public school students lagging behind their counterparts in the U.S.?

What's the reason for their underperformance - confirmed by the Stanford Diagnostic Test, in which the performance of Bermudian students, as compared with Americans, put them in the bottom third?

An overwhelming view, according to teachers interviewed by the Bermuda Sun, is that social problems and a lack of discipline at home are spilling over into the classroom.

Teachers also conceded that some in the profession do not pull their weight. Others suggested young children who are not being read to, and who watch too much television, suffer through not developing their vocabulary.

Another teacher said that as civil servants, "it is almost impossible to fire a teacher for incompetence and there is an awful lot of dead weight at the Education Ministry."

The problems are manifold, and, in the words of former teacher Ronald Lightbourne, "there's no single answer."

TOWARDS the end I just wanted to get out," said Jean Rodriguez, 61, who retired from teaching two years ago after a career that spanned some 30 years. "I got to the stage where I wasn't teaching anymore," she said. "It was more about maintaining discipline."

Mrs. Rodriguez has a catalogue of horror stories, including being grabbed by the throat by a male student at Whitney in 1979, and teachers having their car tyres slashed.

Some teachers said that educating these troubled youngsters was near impossible, without resorting to a "rule by fear" tactic.

"Children are coming into school with huge problems," said one former primary school teacher. "I couldn't teach them because they could not concentrate." And on a daily basis she noticed children showing signs of both physical and emotional abuse.

Most of the teachers interviewed spoke on the condition of anonymity; some still work within the Government system and are therefore bound by restrictions on expressing opinion publicly, while others are foreign workers.

One teacher said: "You cannot have education without discipline. Ironically, some of the most troubled children - although they would be hard pressed to admit it - respond well to heavy discipline."

And, while the overall feeling is that teachers would like to step up the discipline, the support from parents is not there. "I used to hold children back at recess for extra help," said a primary teacher. "But if the parents were not in agreement with this, I would have a hard time. A lack of discipline creates real difficulties for the teachers. Your hands are tied. If the parents and their children disrespect you, what can you do?"

Mrs. Rodriguez said: "The strap is not a bad thing. I don't think caning is going to hurt a child if they really deserve it." But, she argued, "if these kids are getting beaten up at home then the last thing you want to do is cane them. The poor little buggers are getting enough at home. So what do you do?"

Besides, said another retired teacher, half of the students do not respond to the threat of punishment. "They are just not scared of anybody. I think it is because of what they have seen at home."

"What can you do?" It's a common refrain - despite the millions of dollars poured into schools since government embarked on its controversial restructuring programme nine years ago.

While restructuring created the $70 million-plus CedarBridge Academy, it also led to a flight of students from the government system, with the result that a third of Bermuda's student population of 11,000 is now enrolled in private schools.


Bermuda Sun, Hamilton, 21 April 1999

Battle over corporal punishment

By Nigel Regan

NEW EDUCATION minister Milton Scott has underlined his commitment to ridding the school system of corporal punishment, provoking immediate opposition from shadow minister Tim Smith.

Speaking to the Sun on Monday Mr. Scott said: "I feel that corporal punishment must be removed from our system but I'm not prepared to do that without putting in the necessary infrastructure of replacement."

He added the controversial issue would be one of the first items on the education board meeting agenda yesterday but stressed whatever the eventual outcome, it would be a "collective decision" between all those involved in the education system.

Tim Smith, however, said: "If the minister intends to go along the route of abolishing corporal punishment, he should not be surprised there will be a reaction of disorientation, nervousness and uncertainty among principles and students alike.

"I think corporal punishment should remain with individual school principles. Some parents like to send their children to a school where they believe corporal punishment is an effective deterrent. As long as there's a strict code on how corporal punishment is administered, there's no reason why individual schools should not be allowed to administer it."

Mr. Smith added he believed corporal punishment is an effective deterrent for pupils who wonder "how far they can go. Some students test the boundaries of acceptable behaviour," he said. "I just don't think it's the right move."

Mr. Scott and Mr. Smith were speaking after the Sun conducted an interview with Sheelagh Cooper, the director of the Coalition for the Protection of Children.

Shelagh Coopermugshot of Mrs Cooper

Mrs. Cooper told the Sun that Bermudians need to change their approach to parenting if the country is to see a decrease in violent behaviour and reiterated her call for the abolishment of corporal punishment in schools.

She said: "The cycle of violence that we are experiencing in this country has its roots in our child-rearing practices. If you look cross-culturally, areas in which corporal punishment is not used have much lower rates of violence."

Mrs. Cooper defined corporal punishment as "using physical harm as a means of extracting conformity from a child". She said: "It's very much a part of our child-rearing methodology here; the community is very supportive of corporal punishment and so are the schools."

Mr. Scott, however, said the reason why corporal punishment still exists in schools can be traced to the UBP. He said the Education Act 1996 kept the provision on statute but that as far as he was aware it was only used in some schools as "a last resort".

But while the education matter is out of the Coalition's hands, Mrs. Cooper is making waves by focussing on parents. As part of Child Abuse Prevention Month, the coalition has come up with a package detailing informative alternatives to physical reprimanding: She is adamant that if they were employed, parents would have "much better relationships with their children and children would grow up learning conflict resolution skills rather than amassing levels of anger."

She said: "Although corporal punishment is a powerful fix -- you can usually extract compliance in the short term -- it's not teaching values of respect and dignity that we want to engender in our children."

Evidence of this can be found by looking at the country's prison population. Mrs. Cooper, who also sits on the Treatment of Offenders Board, said: "I know that most people serving time for violent offences have been subjected to a significant amount of corporal punishment throughout their childhoods. It's rare to find an inmate who has grown up in a nurturing environment in which corporal punishment was not liberally handed out.

"The best way to make changes is to provide realistic alternatives," said Mrs. Cooper, "and that's what we're trying to do."

The scenario/response pack includes suggestions like: To discourage name calling and cursing: Don't overreact to bad language just give a very firm no, ignore harmless words and discuss the meaning of the forbidden word, for example, a bitch is a female dog -- what's wrong with that?

Other suggestions include: If your child spits or bites another child, have her brush her teeth and wash her mouth with mouthwash (not soap) and wipe up the spot where she spit. Apply these measures consistently.

The pack also addresses problems such as sibling rivalry, arguing and fighting, bullying, stealing, telling lies, not cleaning up, and misbehaviour in public.

Bermuda Sun, Hamilton, 23 April 1999

Education minister caned for decrying corporal punishment

By Nigel Regan

EDUCATION minister Milton Scott should be booted out of office following his comments about corporal punishment, it was claimed yesterday.

In an interview with the Sun on Wednesday Mr. Scott had said: "I feel that corporal punishment must be removed from our system but I'm not prepared to do that without putting in the necessary infrastructure of replacement."

The remarks left Reverend Leonard Santucci, the president of Northlands primary school Parents and Teachers Association (PTA) and former chairman of governors at Delwood School, furious.

(Left) Milton Scott; (Right) Revd Leonard Santucci
mugshot mugshot

He said: "Jennifer Smith should recall him and, if at the end of the day she doesn't, the party should recall the two of them."

Speaking to the Sun yesterday, however, Mr. Scott dismissed Rev. Santucci's comments, saying the issue was bigger than him: "Bermudians must keep in mind that all discussion may just be an academic exercise because the U.K. Government has made it quite clear that if Bermuda does not remove corporal punishment they will do it by Order of Council," he said.

He denied this could be interpreted as a sign the government was planning on playing ball with the White Paper, adding comments of that nature were in the Premier's domain and that he had long been in favour of abloshing corporal punishment.

But Mike Charles, general secretary of the Bermuda Union of Teachers was also concerned. He said teachers were being robbed of authority on a daily basis and as far as he was aware, bleeding-heart liberals who call for the removal of corporal punishment are never able to come up with effective alternatives.

Mr. Charles said: "What is this replacement Mr. Scott is talking about? In all my years no one has come up with a proven alternative."

He stressed corporal punishment was only ever used as a "last resort" but for a government minister to announce his determination to remove it from the system, and hence the power it holds as a deterrent, was bound to cause concern among the country's educators.

Rev. Santucci, meanwhile, said: "Milton Scott is a trained educator and former leader of the teachers' union. It's my opinion that his stand will not enjoy the support of the teachers he once represented nor would it have the support of principals."

He said he did not necessarily think corporal punishment was the best form of punishment but said without it there would be an increase in "hooliganism" within schools.

"Corporal punishment should remain a part of the education system and each school and PTA should be given some degree of power as to how best to apply it in their situation.

"Every school and school body is different in terms of size and environment and by removing the deterrent of corporal punishment we would remove the power of discipline from teachers."

Rev. Santucci also took exception to comments made by Sheelagh Cooper in Wednesday's Sun. Mrs. Cooper, the chairperson at the Coalition for the Protection of Children, warned against any form of physical violence being used against children saying it may provide quick-fix solutions but in the long run caused untold damage.

Rev. Santucci, who remembers being caned as a boy when he went to Sands Secondary, said he was grateful for the experience and that he felt it did him no long-term damage.

"The only thing I can conclude about Milton Scott," he added, "is that he's been out of the classroom too long."

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