Sunday, 14 January 2018

Only the brave teach


Show of solidarity: Fellow teachers and unionists gathering at the Seremban magistrate court last month in support of Cikgu Azizan (centre in white).


ONE tight slap – I still vividly remember that hard, stinging smack across my cheek as my teacher flew into a fit of rage after I did something naughty as a primary school pupil at St Xavier’s Institution in Penang.

I can’t recall which teacher hit me, but there must have been more than one. They pinched my stomach and even my nipples. Many of my classmates can attest to that, even 40 years on.

There was also the occasional caning, which I felt was an act of gross injustice and, perhaps, even one of perversion on the part of our disciplinary teacher. To me, back then, he was an unfair individual, and my opinion still stands. To this day, I have no idea why I was caned and not given the chance to defend myself.

But, bless his soul, because he has passed on. Most students from back then would have forgiven him by now, for he probably knew not what he was doing.

However, one thing is certain – as far as I know, none of us returned home and complained about this disciplinary action to our parents.

Comedian Harith Iskandar always reminds his audience that if one complained to their parents, they can expect to get another tight slap that “would burn your face and send an electrifying chilling effect to all parts of your body,” and consequently, leave a lifetime’s reminder.

So, the smartest thing to do, as most older Malaysians can testify, was to keep quiet. Of course, we also warned our classmates, some of whom were our neighbors, to swear to keep things under wraps and not tell their parents about the drama at school.

The caning and slaps, by disciplinary standards, were the “final” punishments. We surely remember the use of rulers, feather dusters, belts, black board dusters and in my case, even a shoe that flew in my direction.

And I wasn’t even in the naughty boys’ category. I didn’t get into fights or was caught loitering with the bad hats after school.

As one writer, Adrian Lee Yuen Beng, wrote in Aliran: “The teachers were our ad hoc parents who taught with joy and passion, and like their predecessors, never demanded any recognition. They customarily stood at the back of the class, silently rejoicing as the students celebrated their exam success.

“We received an education steeped in tradition as mission schoolteachers took teaching seriously; it was not a mere job, but a vocation, nay, a calling.

“Our teachers were proud of their lessons and believed in their form of education. They shaped us into intellectuals, sportspersons, politicians, educators, religionists, physicians and other important societal figures.”

Fast forward to today – and it’s the total reverse. The guilty party – the student – runs home to complain to his parents.

Now, the father and mother fly into a rage and decide to confront the teacher at school the following day. What unnecessary drama!

Adding insult to injury, the parents then seek the help of a politician, who has likely been deprived of the media’s glare for a while. Then, all three confront the teacher.

Lodging a police report is, of course, the next thing they do, and to embarrass the teacher and school further, they call for a press conference.

This is modern Malaysia. Perhaps, today’s family is smaller. There are only one or two children in a family, and they are, invariably, pampered.

During my time, there were at least four or five siblings and even so, we were still regarded a small family. Dad was always too busy earning a living, trying to put food on the table, so, he was thankful that the teacher played surrogate father, at least during school hours. The lesser-educated father would have been equally respectful of teachers. After all, it’s accepted that teachers mould the character, calibre and prospects of their students.

However, the modern-day father thinks he’s smarter and earns more than the teacher, his condescending and confrontational attitude not boding well for the situation.

He probably thinks the teacher has a dead-end job or is too busy distributing business cards to pupils for after-school tuition.

But, for an old-school type like me, I find it difficult to accept news of teachers being hauled to court for purportedly hurting their students.

Honestly, don’t the police and prosecutors have better things to do than to charge these teachers who were merely trying to discipline the children – responsibilities which may have been neglected by their caregivers?

In December, a teacher facing the charge of hurting his student, was given a discharge not amounting to acquittal by the magistrate’s court.

Magistrate Mohd Zaki Abdul Rahim delivered judgement after the prosecution told the court that they wished to withdraw the case.

Azizan Manap, also known as Cikgu Azizan, claimed trial to the charge of slapping an 11-year-old male student on the left cheek in April for indiscipline, the misdemeanour including sniffing glue, bullying and playing truant.

He was charged under Section 323 of the Penal Code for voluntarily causing hurt and was left facing a jail term of up to a year, a fine of RM,2000, or both, upon conviction.

Leading up to his discharge, several hundred people, including fellow teachers, gathered at the court in a show of solidarity for Cikgu Azizan.

By all means, go ahead and Google it: there are numerous reports of teachers threatened or roughed up in schools, and surprisingly, we seldom hear of offensive parents charged in court for criminal intimidation or causing bodily harm.

We have now been made to understand that the old ways don’t work anymore. The children need counselling and their hair needs to be stroked to motivate them. Have these methods worked better? That remains to be conclusively proven.

One thing’s for sure, though, the tight slap was unbeatable in my time in instilling discipline. Now, when I enter a lift, the millennials are too busy looking at their handphones, so don’t expect them to address you as “sir” or even greet you.

You’d be lucky if they called you “bro” and gave you an enthusiastic high-five, instead.

Would the proverbial one tight slap work today in curing disciplinary ills? Hardly likely.

By Wong Chun Wai

Wong Chun Wai began his career as a journalist in Penang, and has served The Star for over 27 years in various capacities and roles. He is now the group's managing director/chief executive officer and formerly the group chief editor.

On The Beat made its debut on Feb 23 1997 and Chun Wai has penned the column weekly without a break, except for the occasional press holiday when the paper was not published. In May 2011, a compilation of selected articles of On The Beat was published as a book and launched in conjunction with his 50th birthday. Chun Wai also comments on current issues in The Star.