MOE presents definition of corporal punishment

HEATED DEBATE:The head of the National Teachers' Association said that students would not listen to their instructors if uncomfortable punishments were banned

By Loa Iok-sin  /  STAFF REPORTER

Fri, Feb 02, 2007 - Page 2

The Ministry of Education presented on Wednesday a draft definition of corporal punishment that promp-ted a heated debate.

The ministry drew up the definition after the passage last month of an amendment to the Basic Education Act (教育基本法) declaring any "corporal punishment that could cause physical or mental injuries to students" illegal.

The amendment assigned the ministry the task of defining coporal punishment.

In its draft definition, the ministry said that "any punishment executed that causes physical pain or physical discomfort to students" constituted corporal punishment.

"We encourage teachers to listen to, to communicate with and to understand students," said Jenny Ko (柯慧貞), administrative director of the ministry's Committee for Student Affairs.

She argued that the way to deal with misbehavior in the classroom was to find a solution that addressed the cause.

In situations where punishment is necessary, "corporal punishment isn't everything," she said.

Instead, Ko suggested schools that schools take other measures, such as assigning students to perform community service.

Joanna Feng (馮喬蘭), executive director of the Humanistic Education Foundation welcomed the ministry's move.

"Zero corporal punishment is already in the law. We certainly expect to be shown a clear direction," she said, adding that the draft definition was in accordance with international standards and was "close to what we expected."

Teachers, on the other hand, were skeptical about the definition.

Yang Hsiu-pi (楊秀碧), vice president of the National Teachers' Association (NTA), said she believed that banning corporal punishment would be difficult to realize.

"Why would students listen if punishments caused no discomfort?" she asked.

Yang said that understaffing meant that the counseling proposed by the ministry was unfeasible.

"The definition is really blurry. We don't know what to do," a junior high school teacher surnamed Huang said. "I'd like to see a set of clear-defined guidelines or a third-party mechanism at school to make judgments and execute punishments."

In response to the skepticism, Emily Hsiau (蕭慧英), president of the National Alliance of Parents Organizations, suggested that the ministry provide training programs to help teachers readjust.

The ministry is expected to reach a consensus with the NTA by June, Ko said.

Once the consensus is reached, guidelines will be published and distributed to schools, she added.