This is the fourth part of the series on “How to Select an Appropriate Secondary School”

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What Discipline really Means? 

It doesn’t take a lot of research to tell us that discipline in school is different today than it was in the 1950s. The Ministry of Education also noticed the spiralling trend of good discipline in school and brought back the necessary Discipline Committed where it would be headed by a Discipline Master. Parents are also in the spotlight for the spiralling discipline trend (as noted by these letters here) but this issue will not be addressed here.

Discipline is more than a Discipline Master walking around school with a cane to install fear. Discipline always starts with the classroom teachers as teachers who are unable to manage a class will not be able to teach their subject matter well.

Why do Students Act Out?

There are many reasons why students act out:

  • Some students think that teachers don’t care about them.
  • Disrespect towards teachers
  • Others don’t want to be in school at all.
  • Students are unaware that their adolescent behaviors will result in punishment they won’t like.
  • Discipline enforcers have to go through long procedures of due process: hearings, specific charges, witnesses, and appeals.

When Discipline Goes Wrong

Most of the time, the discipline of a school usually slackens due to the following reasons:

Lack of Enforcement

This is a no brainer. When teachers are burnt out or when there are just too many internal administrative problems or lack of procedures, many school officials fail to enforce the rules or punish students for infractions. Some fear lawsuits from parents; others just don’t care.

Time Out and Suspension is abused

In-school suspensions, time-out and detention have been age-old solutions for troubled students. Yet today, many students don’t mind detention, preferring it to going home to an empty or abusive household.

Teachers are Bullied

There are some students who wolf-whistle at female teachers and continue this degrading behaviour despite being told off several times. Other teachers are intimidated by their students. Out of fear of retaliation, they fail to report problems or ignore them hoping that the students responsible will quit the bad behavior by themselves.

How Can We Identify the Discipline Culture of a School?

Interestingly, the best way to observe discipline of a school is to watch how students behave outside of school. If you notice that its students are often hanging out under void decks or making inappropriate noises or actions on many instances, you can gauge how students usually behave in school.If you happen to meet the the discipline master during Open House, ask how do they handle cases of inappropriate behaviour and any success stories. Better still,meet the principal directly and ask for their personal approach towards discipline in school. Ask of various success stories to see if they personalise the approaches towards individual students and their views towards public caning or caning in school. If all else fails, ask any current student of what they have heard or witness.

There are schools that take the “love” approach and believe in constant counselling. Usually called ‘Restorative Approach’, the cane is hardly used as this approach believes in counselling the child several times. Students who usually benefit from such discipline will be those who come from poor family backgrounds or face personal issues. This may also result in over-protectiveness where self-esteem is emphasised over and above everything else. Some teachers are afraid to discipline or demand good behavior because it will hurt the child’s self esteem. This, this approach will take a few years to see an effect on the students’ behaviour.

There are a few schools who dare to take the “tough love approach” by enforcing the ‘cane’ or even by having a ‘clean-up’ daily where they take disruptive students aside to call them ‘trash’. While enforcing some tough love can be a positive complementary approach, some schools take it to the extreme by enforcing harsh and high-handed punishments on these students. Needless to say, while the students will be generally quiet in school, they tend to be repressed somewhat and this may escalate into other negative behaviours outside of school or after they graduate from school.