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Corporal punishment in schools. Take a step back?

The issue of corporal punishment is back in the spotlight after public debate in recent years, following the Government’s announcement that it planned to reintroduce it in Samoa.The controversial legislation – known as the Education Amendment Bill 2019 – was eventually passed by Parliament in January this year, despite opposition by members of the community as well as high ranking judicial officials.Nine months after the passage of the law and a teacher has been reported to the Ministry of Education Sports and Culture (MESC) for allegedly assaulting a Year 13 student with a plastic pipe.MESC Minister, Loau Keneti Sio, expressed concern and said the school principal is being investigated over the incident to verify reports that the student was allegedly struck a number of times on the torso and the face. “The incident is very sad to hear, he said. “The individual should have known much better about the law but I guess they decided to take the law into their own hands.” The Minister said he is disappointed and added that the teacher should not have used an object to strike the student. While we appreciate the level of proactiveness from Loau in relation to this matter, it must be said the Government was warned that reinstituting corporal punishment back into the education system would be detrimental for the community.Let us take a look at the legislation in question. The Bill amended Section 23 of the Education Act, “to allow the use of force by a secondary school teacher on a child, if the force is used in reasonable circumstances, including but not limited to preventing or minimising harm to the child”.The key words are: “If the force is used in reasonable circumstances, including but not limited to preventing or minimising harm to the child.”How can you measure the impact of “force used in reasonable circumstances, including but not limited to preventing or minimising harm to the child”? Would the child be hurt by the impact of the force used? Would the teacher be stepping out of line the moment he or she lifted their hand to use reasonable force? And how traumatised would the child be by such an experience in an environment that should promote learning, life skills and facing the future with confidence?We look forward to the findings of the inquiry that the Ministry has started into the incident, in order to verify reports that the teacher allegedly used a plastic pipe.With the investigation underway, Loau has assured the public that the MESC will run a seminar for teachers in Samoa to ensure they effect discipline in schools in “the right way”.“But our Ministry is having seminars on the use of corporal punishment to discipline a child the right way," he said. Okay so what is really “the right way” to discipline a child? Should it just be a nudge or a tap on the shoulder? Or a poke in the eye or the banging of the knuckles on the students’ heads? Should the teacher use an object or should not use an object? If the student is taller than the teacher how should discipline be effected? And from the teachers’ perspective, why should they be further burdened with student disciplinary issues which should be the remit of a child’s parents? Aren’t they charged with the responsibility to create a conducive learning environment for Samoa’s next generation of leaders?The questions have to be asked as the passing of the amendments to the Section 23 of the Education Act has only opened a can of worms for everyone concerned.Now that the MESC has got its own its inquiry underway, perhaps this is an opportune time for the Ministry to do its own research, on the links between school violence and corporal punishment in other education systems around the world. There are states that banned corporal punishment in schools, in order to create a conducive environment for learning and to protect the rights of the child.The Acting Chief Justice and Supreme Court Justice Vui Clarence Nelson in July last year described the amendments as “a retrograde step” for Samoa. “This law is a retrograde step. We’re going backward. We were heading forward but now we’re going back and this law allows teachers to physically discipline their students in a reasonable manner based on their judgment.”Fast forward 15 months after the Justice’s comments and nine months after the amendments were passed by Parliament, an educator in Samoa has now come under scrutiny for allegedly applying that very law.Just over a year ago the Office of the Ombudsman released details of a two-year inquiry into family violence in Samoa. Its findings were shocking and urgently called for behavioural change.We believe corporal punishment in schools can normalise violence and would not augur well for this country’s next generation and their future.Have a lovely Monday Samoa and God bless. 

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Street Talk

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Newborns being abandoned: How do we stop it?

Poutoa Polutele , 41, TufuleleThe solution is within families. The parents should have a connection with their children and they should also teach their child what to do. For the parents, if the girl gets pregnant they should not beat the girl. They should understand and talk with her, because the girl thinks that her parents might beat her and then she makes the wrong decision. It goes back to good relations.Siloi Reopoamo, 53, Saleia Savai’iI think it's very important that parents communicate with their children everyday. One of the biggest issues today is cellphones because too many children spend time on it.  For my family I talk to my kids every time and day, ever since my kids were young. That's my solution.Lina Leiataua, 64, Fa’atoiaI think the whole country should be involved in a programme to encourage girls to speak out when these things happen. We know we cannot stop so we have to be accomodating when it happens. There are also a lot of parents who cannot have children and I think there should be a programme where these children could be adopted. It's just an idea.Api Tuilo’a, 34, Safotu Savai’iOur country needs to repent and ask God for help. I cannot see any other solution unless God is involved. If girls and boys fear God, they wouldn't do what God wouldn't want them to do - and that includes abandoning babies born outside of marriage. We need to be a prayerful nation. Vaisuigi Malio, 52, Vavaai LotofagaThe issue is not new to Samoa. My solution involves families, the relationship between parents and daughter. The kids also need to understand where the parents stand on issues and why they don't want them to get pregnant. But if they do get pregnant, then the parents need to be patient and still work with their children. That's how we solve this.Le’ale’a  Mataia, 39, FalefaGirls who don't have a relationship with their parents would do this. I think that's the first part of the problem. I also think mothers need to read their daughters body language and find out what is going on. Surely there must be signs so they should not be passive. I think we need to tackle this issue as a community rather than individuals. 

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Letter to Editor

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China and developments at Mulifanua

Kevin Hart’s letter of 03 September complained about the Chinese being a likely buyer of Government’s shareholding in the Sheraton Samoa Resort at Mulifanua. Which raises the question; what is wrong with Chinese investors getting involved in tourism development in Samoa anyway especially when there isn’t much interest from elsewhere? Virtually every other country in the Pacific and the world including the US and Australia, China’s foremost critics have been enjoying the benefits of Chinese trade, investment, and tourism. So why not Samoa?Whether people like it or not, China will be a major player in the region, and it will only get worse with time for those who wish it otherwise. And in any case, one can’t do business with China as China’s critics do, and then seek to deny the Pacific Islands the same privilege by engaging in fearmongering about China’s intentions.  Samoa’s deputy prime minister called this bahaviour recently, patronizing and offensive. It is also dishonest. One would have thought that with colonialism still fresh in people’s minds, China’s detractors might have tried some more subtle way to make their case about China being a threat to Island nations. After all, these are nations that have only recently won back their own sovereignty from countries that are accusing China, a victim of colonialism itself, of malevolent intent in the Pacific.  Samoa’s prime minister made the point at the Pacific Island Forum that China is not an enemy of Samoa, which adheres to a “friend to all and enemy to none” approach to old and new comers alike to the region. The Pacific islands have legitimate economic needs and environmental interests that the former colonial powers in the Pacific have been unable to meet or in some cases totally ignored. Over the years, the Pacific Island nations have even been blamed for supposedly lagging in economic growth behind other parts of the world that receive similar levels of aid. But more recent work on the subject has confirmed what the Pacific Islands have known all along. And that is when you are small, highly fragmented and horribly isolated, your costs of attempting any form of economic activity are always going to be high no matter what you do.  China’s willingness and ability to help bridge this aid gap is welcomed therefore. It also helps that China has a different approach in its relations with the tiny and insignificant Pacific Island states and peoples. And it happens it’s an approach that the Pacific peoples themselves understand all too well and appreciate. Its an approach that recognizes the inherent dignity of peoples irrespective of colour, money and level of development. The result is that in spite of the fear mongering about China’s supposedly hidden agenda even in the face of evidence to the contrary, the Pacific Islands have seen no reason to believe this crude and offensive propaganda.  There appears to have been a notable increase lately in the number of visits by navy vessels and personnel from the US and Australia doing the usual public relations soft sell with various groups including school children. The visit on board these war machines and the helicopter rides for the children will have been the thrill of a lifetime for many. One suspects that we will be seeing more of these as the West sets out to contain the rise of Chinese influence in the region. The visits bring back to mind the colonial days of gun boat diplomacy in the Pacific when control of native populations was exercised mainly through the firepower of visiting warships when turned on native communities that failed to toe the line   Samoa’s prime minister is reported to have said recently in relation to the stepped-up competition that Samoa’s main interest and focus of diplomacy is to raise standards of living and provide for its people’s needs. In the circumstances, public relations and making friends with young people will only go so far in winning influence especially in the face of China’s hard cash. Airy catch phrases such as Step Up, (Australia), Pacific Uplift, (UK), something about Family? (US), can easily backfire. A meeting between Chinese leaders and Pacific Island leaders being hosted by Samoa in October this year should be quite an event especially at this time. It will most likely see among other things the unveiling of some new aid and trade initiative by China.   And as for Chinese interests possibly helping to bring more air services to Samoa, that too would be a welcome relief from the monopolistic practices of Air New Zealand, Virgin Airways and Fiji Airways, the three carriers that operate services in Samoa today. After being badly burnt in yet another one-sided partnership with an Australian carrier, the Samoan government did the right thing for Samoa in starting up Samoa Airways in spite of the risks and poor timing. When Polynesian Airlines started international services to New Zealand in the late 1970s, it did so mainly on the strength of Samoa’s own ethnic traffic between the two countries. The airline did well even then, until gross mismanagement grounded it with heavy losses. In spite of its inauspicious beginnings, Samoa Airways if properly managed and run, (by professionals preferably), has every chance of being the catalyst for Samoa to have the airline services it so badly needs. But it is helpful as government embarks on this to be reminded that we have been down this very road before. The lessons of history are there and must be learnt and heeded, if their repetition is to be avoided. Incidentally, as for a possible flooding of the To-Sua with tourists from China if direct charter flights were to start between China and Samoa, I have a suggestion. Make the climb down to the water even more challenging than it is now. That should encourage only the young and the brave to take the plunge. Afamasaga F ToleafoaLetava

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