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School CP - July 2004

Corpun file 13787

PNG National, Port Moresby, 13 July 2004

Spare the rod -- and watch PNG implode

DISCIPLINE in the armed forces, the RPNG Constabulary and the corrective service, remains the subject of public concern.

Members of the "disciplined" forces have on many occasions displayed a total contempt for that quality, and for self-control.

This week, the Prime Minister was in Kokopo, and attended a large gathering of Catholics at Vunapope.

During a speech in which he praised the Catholic Church for its assistance with schools and hospitals, the Chief also made a plea for the Church to reintroduce tough punishment for those school students who break regulations. 

Viewing some of the high school classes in session in the nation's capital, and noting the attitude of their students, we can only agree.

Rudeness, contempt, a total lack of respect for authority, verbal abuse, innuendo, aggression towards teachers, and the possession of guns, knives and drugs at school have become the stock-in-trade of a whole generation of youth. 

Nor do they hesitate to visit the worst aspects of their borrowed behaviour on better-adjusted students and school officials.

Certainly these negatives are not practiced by all students, nor are they the sole prerogative of urban schools.

Indeed, some of our once-prestigious national high schools, most of which are not in urban areas, have been the scene of highly destructive student outbursts. There have been sex scandals laced with drugs, and childish but threatening groups dedicated to the worship of evil and the glorification of the Devil.

Both principals and senior teachers seem incapable of controlling these situations, and their attempts to discipline students often result in physical confrontation between teachers and the parents of some recalcitrant teenager.

Coincidentally, a gathering of NCD teachers at Port Moresby's In-Service College also expressed concern this week at the situations teachers are increasingly facing in classrooms.

Many readers will well-remember the standards of discipline that applied when they attended school. 

The cane and the strap were heavily in evidence, and were used mercilessly on misbehaving students.

Blackboard dusters were flung at students, arms were twisted, and visits to the headmaster for a sound flogging were routine for the more adventurous pupils.

Psychologists will insist that this regimen could only have created enormous mental damage for the students involved.

Yet there appears precious little in the attitudes or the behaviour of the majority of today's older parents or grandparents to suggest that any permanent damage was wrought by the application of corporal punishment. 

This kind of punishment can only be justified by persistent or extreme cases of misbehaviour. To run a school based on a mechanism of terror is not to run a school at all, and the mindless application of the cane or strap cannot achieve a harmonious environment for learning.

But the evidence has long been mounting that the lack of strong discipline leads to a proportion of irresponsible and arrogant young men, and that those traits become violently amplified during their later marriage, and the process of raising a family.

Coupled with the absence of strict traditional family structures, which is fast become the norm in parts of PNG, lax school discipline may well be contributing to individual lawlessness and the cowardly mentality of the pack.

It seems to us that PNG on occasion is too ready to ditch its own way of handling matters such as student punishment, and to replace tried and trusted methods with a hotchpotch of imported soft options.

It also appears that those soft options stand discredited in the PNG schoolroom, and the community beyond.

The gulf between many parents and their children has never been deeper.

This can be partly because of educational discrepancies, where the parents have not had the schooling opportunities now available to their children.

In many cases, this has the unfortunate effect of sapping the confidence of children in their parents. Then it is only a short step to regarding parents as little more than an archaic obstacle that stands between the student and a brave new world.

We encourage the widest possible discussion on the subject of school discipline, in the belief that a better solution than that currently practiced is urgently needed.

Teachers' opinions need to be sought.

Principals and other senior education officials should be consulted.

And above all -- ask the parents.

Copyright 2003 [The National Online]

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