Elite school in Singapore publicly punishes class
Primary 2 girls in a prestigious Singaporean school were recently punished for making too much noise. Did the parents over-react or was their reaction justified? Find out what happened, what 'effective discipline' is, and also if schools are blurring the boundaries between discipline and punishment.
Punishment in schools happens whether parents like it or not. Recently, a report in Lianhe Wanbao about a class of 29 students at Raffles Girls Primary School who were ‘punished’ for being too noisy, was doing the rounds in Singaporean news and social media circles. The heading implied that the teachers were ‘abusing’ the children.
The Primary 2 students’ punishment consisted of having to stand and read during their morning assembly for 15 minutes every day in front of other classes, for the past 3 months.
Ever since then, the class would automatically stand from 12.30pm to 12.45pm, before they were allowed to sit down and hear the principal’s announcements.
A father, who wrote to Lianhe Wanbao, said he had asked his daughter about her day at school one day and she let slip about the punishment. So he accompanied his daughter to school and was shocked to see that her classmates were all standing, while other classes remained seated.
Following this, other angry parents and made complaints to the Ministry of Education (MOE). A spokesperson for the school has said that the incident is currently under investigation by the MOE.
The public opinion: is punishment in schools too hard on our kids?
The Real Singapore highlighted this incident on its Facebook page, which attracted 242 comments from people. Most were of the opinion that this couldn’t even be considered as ‘punishment’ compared to what they had endured when they were in school.
Here are some of the comments:
- whats the big deal about this? students are too pampered and spoilt these days… they deserve it… its time they learn about consequences… the hard way.
- 15mins of standing reading = abuse?? Parents of these kids need to get real. I know a bubble wrapper supplier, he should make good business from these parents.
- Compare to the past – scotch tape over the mouth, wooden ruler punishment and flying chalks… I do not see people from my era under such punishment grown up as mentally deformed individual. We are tough to take any challenge in life as compare the the younger generation.
In this day and age, no one should condone wooden ruler punishment or scotch-taping a child’s mouth. But were the parents of these children over-reacting when they complained to the MOE? It depends on what your understanding of punishment and discipline is.
Inappropriate punishment or effective disciplining?
The Raffles Girls School incident draws our attention to the issue of punishment in schools. In this particular incident, the girls were punished for being too noisy.
As one commentator points out, perhaps the school just wanted to help positively convert the girls’ excess chatter into constructive reading practices. Nothing wrong with that, right?
The questionable part of this ‘punishment’ is that the girls were publicly humiliated in front of other classes for 3 consecutive months every single day. Was this really necessary to teach them the simple lesson of keeping quiet?
Also, does the fact that the ‘punishment’ became automatic behavior defeat the purpose of disciplining the kids in the first place, and what effect might it have on these girls at a deeper psychological level? After all, no one likes to be embarrassed in public…and for 3 months in a row at that. And let us remember that they girls were in P2, so they are only 8 years old.
The word discipline means to teach knowledge and skill. However, it is often equated and confused with punishment and control.
To be effective, discipline needs to be:
- Given by an adult with a close bond to the child;
- Consistent and close to the behaviour needing change;
- Perceived as ‘fair’ by the child;
- Developmentally and temperamentally appropriate; and
- Self-enhancing, i.e., ultimately leading to self-discipline.
Effective discipline should not instill shame, negative guilt, a sense of abandonment or a loss of trust. Instead, it should instill a sense of greater trust between the child and the adult disciplining them.
Any school must have a clear set of disciplinary procedures for various situations. These procedures are usually set out by the school principal and are agreed upon and followed by the staff.
While everyone is entitled to their own opinion, it is not possible to completely understand the reasoning behind why Raffles Girls School decided to punish the girls for such a long period of time. Obviously it was a decision taken and agreed upon by both the class teacher and the school principal.
But what happened has nevertheless raised important issues around discipline and punishment in Singaporean schools and what is appropriate or not for our children.
Effective discipline for school-aged kids is crucial to teach them important values and life-skills that will help them be responsible adults one day. But at the same time, we need to think about where to draw the line with school discipline. Understanding where punishment stops and effective discipline starts is key to this.
How do you think discipline in Singaporean schools should be implemented? Take our poll and let us know.