Thu, Jan 05, 2006 - Page 8 News List

How to end corporal punishment

By Hsu Yue-dian and Ling He 許育典、凌赫

Go back a few decades. In junior high school, students would receive a slap in the face from teachers for failing to bring textbooks. New students attending high-school orientation would feel dizzy performing exercises under the command of training instructors with military connections. And, once in university, they suddenly realized they had to share tiny dormitories with strangers.

It was not until many students went overseas that they began to feel that corporal punishment should be prohibited, that certain physical exercises were best left with the military and that every student was entitled to a private room in college.

Over the years, Taiwanese students have been pushed through a managerial system in which the goal is to get the highest score.

The educational system has become a mirror image of the military -- the essence of education is discipline, and achieving the highest score in an exam to enter the best school is the basic goal of all students, parents and teachers.

Thus was formed the principle of school-based management, the product of deep-rooted communal nationalism. But this principle is a misapplication of the rule of law in the context of basic human rights.

Since the lifting of martial law, the government has ignored the goal of safeguarding these rights, seeking only to push toward its favored goal of "democracy." The Ministry of Education in particular has failed to fulfill its role of implementing educational reform and failed to provide an educational environment that conforms to the rule of law and the protection of human rights.

As a result, the nation has become selective in its application of democracy rather than adopting democratic principles comprehensively.

The system of managerialism has not been revised, while at the same time there are constant calls for greater rights on campus, which has everyone in a muddle. Now, in the middle of all of this, the government is calling for the "friendly campus," the abolition of corporal punishment and amendments to the law pertaining to education.

If such amendments are made -- albeit through using loopholes rather than correct legislative procedure -- and prove effective in protecting the rights of students, then it is the right course of action.

But judging from the responses from teachers' groups, lawmakers and ministry officials, the proposed amendments are more style than substance.

First, the amendments would not have legal force, which means that even if teachers violate the law, they cannot be punished.

Second, ministry officials point out that there remains plenty of room in the amendments for interpretation, including how the key words "guidance," "reasonable discipline" and "corporal punishment" are defined.

In effect, the amendments have achieved the dual purpose of responding to demands for educational activists to stop corporal punishment, while at the same time placating educationalists who demand "discipline" -- with their fuzzy definitions and room for interpretation unmolested.

The result of pandering to both sides is that the new legislation is little more than a statement of intent, rather than a substantive change.

In fact, opponents can stand up to corporal punishment without resorting to amendments in the existing legislation by invoking sections of civil, criminal and administrative law. Whether opposing corporal punishment before its use, or claiming compensation after the fact, the law can serve as a comprehensive protector of students.

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