Corporal punishment ban toothless

By Hsu Yue-dian 許育典  / 

Thu, Apr 08, 2010 - Page 8

The other day, a boy in the second grade of elementary school was slapped a total of nine times in front of the whole class by a male teacher. He was being punished for mucking around with some other boys after class in a game which involved touching one another’s genitals.

This appalling scene was played out, astonishingly enough, in a school that claims to be a caring institution founded on the principle of human rights, a school which claims it abides by the principle of “zero corporal punishment” as outlined in the Basic Education Act (教育基本法).

A 2006 amendment to the Basic Education Act made Taiwan the 109th country in the world to prohibit corporal punishment. So why are we still seeing corporal punishment in our schools?

It seems that both schools and individual teachers still subscribe to the old adage that if you “spare the rod, you spoil the child” and that governing bodies tend to kick up a stink at first but then let it go.

Unfortunately, it appears that teachers feel they have the support of their superiors for this kind of behavior.

When a teacher dishes out corporal punishment to a student they can be prosecuted under both civil and criminal law, but there is also something known as administrative liability.

Under civil and criminal law, it is up to the individuals involved to actually take the case to court and, although the teacher responsible for the abuse does receive some form of sanction, they cannot be stripped of their teaching credentials as a result.

Consequently, yet another student will be exposed to psychological or physical abuse next time the teacher in question loses their temper. This is where administrative liability comes in.

The Regulations for Evaluating Teacher Performance in Public Schools (公立高級中等以下學校教師成績考核辦法) stipulates that “if a teacher punishes a student in contravention to the law or disciplines a student in an inappropriate manner such that it causes that student physical or psychological harm,” the teacher will receive a demerit, although in “severe circumstances” they will receive a serious demerit.

In addition, the school has the option of initiating procedures to proclaim the individual in question unfit to teach.

What happens after that, after the teacher is deemed “unfit”?

I fear that after the storm has blown over, the officials will migrate to their natural tendency to cover each other’s backs, and again let it go lightly.

The Teacher’s Act (教師法) states that should a teacher’s conduct be “deemed detrimental to the teaching profession, as verified by the relevant bodies,” or the teacher proves “not to be competent in their position” or seriously contravenes his or her employment contract, they are to be dismissed or suspended, or the renewal of their contract declined.

At first glance, you would think that any serious act of violence against a student on the part of a teacher might well be met with the dismissal of that teacher and for them to be blacklisted and unable to work in the profession again.

This, however, is not how these cases turn out, and this is why we still see corporal punishment.

The problem is that if one is to seek the dismissal or suspension of a teacher that hits a student, or to refuse the renewal of their contract, you need to first secure a majority vote by a teachers’ evaluation committee in which at least two-thirds of the committee members are present.

This committee is made up of both ex-officio members and elected members, the former being the school principal and a representative of both the parents’ association and the teachers’ association, and the latter being individuals nominated by the teaching staff as a whole.

As you can see, with the exception of the single representative of the parents’ association, all of the committee members are either representatives of the school or the teaching staff.

This means that all the teacher in question needs do is get the support of a third of the committee and they will be home and dry.

There is another element to this, however. The fate of the teacher is completely in the hands of the evaluation committee, which can opt to use the lightest form of discipline available to them, that of suspension, and still be complying with the Teacher’s Act.

During the suspension period, the teacher’s basic rights are protected and they may well be reinstated at the school. We can see, then, that the very composition of the evaluation committee, and the power that it holds, contribute to the teacher’s confidence that they can get away with using corporal punishment.

This is why the problem refuses to go away, despite the Ministry of Education’s constant efforts to stamp it out.

Even as this piece was written, news broke of a female ninth grader who was “only” caned a few times across the buttocks for taking cigarettes to school, which “only raised a few welts; it was certainly nothing uncalled for.”

Taiwan is supposed to be a country built on human rights, governed by the rule of law, so what is this talk of “certainly nothing uncalled for”?

The Basic Education Act stipulates “zero” corporal punishment: Nowhere does it say corporal punishment is okay so long as it is deemed “appropriate.”

This country has a number of deep-seated cultural problems. When the government is walking on tenterhooks around the electorate, the teachers’ evaluation committees are reluctant to replace teachers who are unfit for their jobs and no establishment figure wants to be seen as the “bad guy,” it’s no wonder there are so many bad guys running around.

Until the teaching institutions are whipped into shape, teachers will continue to whip students around. And until unsuitable teachers are replaced, we will continue to have these stray elements teaching our children.

Hsu Yue-dian is a professor of law at National Cheng Kung University.