Fix the issues at home and there will be no need for teachers to discipline students

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

Let’s talk about the Ombudsman Maiava Iulai Toma and his Office. They have become the latest public officials to call on the Government to slow down with the plan to bring back corporal punishment for disciplinary reasons. 

For those who do not know, the Government is working on an amendment to the Education Act 2009, which proposes that teachers in schools are allowed to use reasonable force to discipline children. 

Since the plan was revealed, it has met a lot of opposition. And in Maiava and his Office lending their voice to the call, they have joined a long list of highly respected public officials who have called for caution. Which is extremely important.

The call from Maiava was revealed in a front page story titled “Defer reasonable force law,” says Ombudsman published on yesterday’s Samoa Observer. The story points out Maiava has asked to defer the amending of the law until Parliament and the Government have considered the Inquiry Report and its recommendations.

In the meantime, Ombudsman Maiava has reminded Members of Parliament that they have the responsibility to protect the children.

“It’s everyone’s responsibility and obligation to ensure that our children are protected from any form of violence. There has been an increasing number of teachers being brought before the courts because of assault.”

Maiava is correct there.

We have said this time and time again. We must warn the government that they need to proceed with caution. 

We accept that the issue of dealing with problematic students is complex and there is no one-size-fits-all kind of solution, but we caution that greater care is needed to ensure that in our haste to fix a problem, we do not unknowingly create more problems. 

The question is how does one measure reasonable force? What is reasonable force anyway? Reasonable force in the eyes of an abusive teacher could kill a student? And what is a reasonable circumstance? Who is the judge on what is a reasonable circumstance and what is not?

Getting back to Maiava, he said it is not clear how the amendment will address violence in schools and teachers “who enjoy” disciplining children.

“The link is unclear of how the amendment will resolve the issue of violence in schools – the only thing the new proposed change will do is to empower those teachers who enjoy disciplining children,” said Maiava. 

“The impact to violence on children will be grave and this amendment will not help at all – both violence and reasonable force cannot be treated in isolation.

We couldn’t agree more. See, unless someone in the Government can clearly define what reasonable force and reasonable circumstances are, we believe the Government needs to proceed with absolute care.

In other words, the government needs to think carefully and consult widely about its plan to allow teachers to smack students again, under the guise of discipline and correction. 

If it didn’t work in the past, it is unlikely to work now, especially given the time and age we live in. Folks, this conversation believe it or not is happening in 2018 – yes this is the 21st century. It’s sad, isn’t it?

And this comes after all those thousands of tala spent on workshops, meetings, conferences where our leaders travelled the world to get ideas on how to change behaviour and get rid of violence in the community. 

So on one hand you are telling people to stop violence and on the other hand you are encouraging violence by reviving something that had been outlawed?

In our opinion, this is a poor attempt to solve a problem that has many roots – with the main root leading back to what happens within individual families and the relationship between parents and children.

Let us remind our readers again today. Discipline comes from the word disciple. The art of discipleship in a nutshell is to follow the examples set for us. When it comes to children, discipline is not the job of teachers and the education system. That is the job of parents and families at home where attitudes and behaviour should be shaped.

The problem we’ve seen is that when the job of discipline is left to teachers, they do not know where to stop. A slap turns into a whack. A simple cane suddenly changes to a 4x4 piece of wood so that discipline becomes an all out assault. We have seen this happen before and there is no guarantee that it will not happen again.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe, like all Christian parents, that there is a place for discipline. But discipline means a lot more than smacking our children. It means a lot more than the rod and the cane. It means to spend quality moments with them, communicate with them, love them and tell them why we do the things we do. If we have to slap them on the wrist, it’s got to be done with love.

I’ve seen parents whack their young toddlers across the face in the name of love and discipline. That is not discipline, it is assault and they should be held accountable for it by the law.

The fact of the matter is that charity begins at home. If children are brought up in a peaceful environment and taught the right lessons about discipline – including those verses from the Bible about love, respect and good behaviour -they will find it very hard to stray from it. That’s what we think anyway. What about you?

Have a wonderful weekend Samoa, God bless!

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