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Corpun file 1853 at www.corpun.com
The Straits Times, Singapore, 1 December 1997
Survey finds discipline in schools not a big problem
Some heartening news came out of the Educational Research Association's conference last week: Discipline in schools is not as bad as it has been made out to be. Braema Mathi looks at a survey which came to this conclusion.
DISCIPLINE in schools is not a serious problem, but teachers may be relying on the cane too much for punishment, judging from responses from teachers in a survey.
More than four out of five teachers from both primary and secondary schools said they approve of using the cane.
They would consider caning students for a wide range of offences -- from telling lies and playing truant to bullying, cheating, stealing and violence.
National Institute of Education (NIE) researcher Esther Tan said this "cane happy" attitude did not bode well for schools. "I find this disturbing that many teachers see the cane as an effective means of punishment.
"While the juvenile courts are going into various counselling schemes, the schools seem to be lagging behind if they see the cane as the solution to most ills. There's a place for it but it will lose its sting if it is used too freely."
The survey also showed that less-experienced teachers found the discipline problem to be serious.
Dr Tan said this was to be expected because learning how to deal with such problems came with experience. A teacher's skills in managing his class were also important.
When asked to identify the reasons for misbehaviour, the teachers cited not only poor parenting and bad peer influence, but also poor classroom management and boring lessons. Some teachers also blamed bad behaviour on affluence.
Dr Tan said: "When children have too much money, too much freedom and are attracted to branded goods, their motivation will drop and their studies take a back seat."
The other highlights of the survey:
The 10 common discipline problems are telling lies, being late for lessons, disruptive behaviour, vandalism, use of abusive language, truancy, stealing, bullying, smoking and physical violence. Teachers prefer to use the cane or counselling, rather than other disciplinary methods, such as detention, warnings, calling in parents and giving demerit points.
Dr Tan said she wanted to find out if the discipline problem in schools was as bad as some reports had made it out to be.
The 1995 Singapore Teachers Union report on discipline in schools said that while the problem had not widened, trouble-makers had become more defiant. They polled mainly teachers who were in charge of discipline.
Dr Tan said that as such, they were likely to see students "at their worst". She wanted to know if other teachers shared the same views.
As it turned out, three out of five teachers in her survey said the discipline problem was not serious.
"This is the good news -- that the state of discipline in schools is not as bad as it has been made out to be."
The survey interviewed 285 teachers over two years.
They were asked for their views on discipline, the kind of bad behaviour they came across and what measures they would use to deal with it.
Dr Tan, who is from the institute's division of psychological studies, also said more serious offences such as extortion, gangsterism and drug-taking ranked low on the teachers' list of common problems.
To nip the problem in the bud, many teachers recommended a long-term approach, such as laying down ground rules clearly, having talks on discipline and hiring a full-time counsellor.
She said: "Inculcating a strong sense of loyalty and raising the self-esteem of students would prevent discipline problems."
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