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Inappropriate punishment for an inappropriate dress - Editorial

5 November 2013 04:32 am - 1     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Occasionally, there have been reports about teachers of government schools treating students inhumanely, in the guise of or in the name of punishment for misdeeds or misbehavior. The latest report comes from a school in Denipitiya in Weligama where a female teacher had allegedly slit the trousers of a schoolboy with a pair of scissors, from the hem to the pocket. The reason given was that the garment was too tight and the teacher had wanted to discipline the student in such a manner that he would be dressed appropriately to school in the future.



" Education disciplines a person and it helps a person to understand the world. Free education, in some form, reaches all Sri Lankans whether they are haves or have-nots, irrespective of caste, creed or ethnicity "



The garment, according to the 16-year-old student had been his only pair of white trousers.  He wore it as his school uniform, since his family was said to be very poor, with his father being a labourer. These facts would definitely add emotions to the story, but are least relevant when it comes to the discipline of the students as well as the teacher concerned, and the principal of the school who reportedly had attempted to defend the teacher. 

Discipline, including the accepted or agreed upon dress code, is no doubt very essential and important in any institution for its smooth functioning. At the same time, the negative approach or penalisation for wrongdoings is as vital as the positive approach by way of allowing one to understand the mistake. Hence, the teacher, one may argue, has the right to punish the student if the trousers worn by the student, in her view, was inappropriate to wear in school.

However, it also goes without saying that the penalty for the offence of inappropriate dress also should not be inappropriate. The right of a teacher to penalise a student does not necessarily mean that the teacher can do anything to the student. The number of trousers the student possessed and his  poverty-stricken family are emotional factors here and are irrelevant, as the teacher has no right whatsoever to cut the dress of a student even if he had one thousand properly-stitched white uniforms.

The embarrassment and the public humiliation caused to the student by the action of the teacher, no doubt has the potential to have a life-long bearing on him and sometimes on his family. What the teacher had really done was nothing but breaching of her own discipline in remedy of the breach of discipline, in her eyes, by the student.

The case then had been taken to the principal of the school by the sister of the boy and he, who was in charge of discipline not only of the students but also of the teachers of the school had reportedly grabbed the garment from the relatives of the student and had kept it under lock and key, until the police who rushed to the place had taken it into their custody. He has the right, now to say that he had done so in order to settle the matter another day amicably when the emotions of the relatives had subsided, but others too have the right to assume that he had attempted to suppress the matter in order to defend his subordinate, by way of depriving the relatives of the boy of the relevant evidence, which is another violation of discipline.

There are reports in the media, time and again, about harsh punishments meted out to students by teachers of various government schools, of which injuring the children by hitting had been very common. We were so unfortunate to hear a female student of a leading school committing suicide a few years ago for fear of teachers after a prefect had accused her of bringing a mobile phone to the school with improper photographs in it, an allegation not proved so far.

Punishing the students or anyone, for that matter, and instilling fear of punishment is fine, so long as it is done with proper understanding and within its limitations. Punishments are a deterrent and a way of correction but not a means get revenge or give vent to one’s anger and ruin the life of a person or cause lifelong stigma in the name of punishment, which is unacceptable. The deafening silence of the teachers’ trade unions on this matter too, is appalling!
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  • Dr M L Najimudeen Tuesday, 05 November 2013 11:26 AM

    When a student faint in the class, the teacher should differentiate whether he faints due to drug addiction or starvation. Similarly when a students wears a tight trouser the teacher should know whether the student has only one trouser or misbehaving.


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