Why I hated my primary school

CHARLES Dickens once said, “I don’t like that sort of school... where the bright childish imagination is utterly discouraged, and where those bright childish faces... are gloomily and grimly scared out of countenance; where I have never seen among the pupils, whether boys or girls, anything but little parrots and small calculating machines.”

I can draw parallels between the English novelist’s description of schools in Victorian England and my own experiences.

Caning in schools might have been introduced by the British but they’ve abolished it, while some institutions here choose to retain it as a method of disciplining “unruly” children.

I was rarely happy in primary school. Every morning, I dreaded going.

Teachers were allowed to cane us: for answering a question incorrectly, for neglecting our homework, for arriving late.

Corporal punishment was an integral part of my primary school education. It was a necessity, they claimed, to stamp out bad behaviour, laziness included, and instil good morals. Besides, no one else seemed to care.

Who cared about those young, impressionable children and their oh-so-fragile psyches, when there were results at stake?

I started hating school when I was eight. My primary teacher made life there unbearable for me – she called me “too quiet”, singled me out in front of the entire class, and of course used her cane liberally.

I didn’t know it then, but I fell into depression and developed a grudge against the subject she taught due to negative association.

Another teacher made industrious use of his ruler, or should I say rulers? They were rubber-banded together, six in total, to make a scarily thick tool for whipping.

At the same time, I began to distrust authority and question its intentions. I guess that was when I acquired an anti-establishment mindset because how on earth was I supposed to respect authority when it simply stood by, or even condoned, such a condemnable thing?

I felt extremely upset and disappointed in the teachers who were supposed to protect me and my well-being.

I grew very wary and fearful, jumping at the slightest suggestion of a mistake.

Those were the side effects of being on the receiving end of the notorious rattan stick, for no less than five years.

Now, let’s examine the positive effects. My perfectionism stemmed from a deep fear of making mistakes.

Until recently, I always mentally and emotionally braced myself for yelling, insults, or any sort of “retribution” for slipping up. The psychological trauma remains even after all these years.

As a result, my work is consistently excellent, because who knows what will happen otherwise?

However, it would be inaccurate to credit good manners entirely to the fact that my educators held the constant threat of giving me welts over my head.

It might have been due to the culture and environment I was in as well.

Could my present character have been cultivated without the use of the cane? Perhaps.

The effectiveness of the rattan cane is ambiguous. While it may yield outstanding academic achievement and morally upstanding behaviour, it also generates an atmosphere of fear and enforces obedience through causing physical harm. At least, that’s the impression I got.

I don’t know whether my peers were in any way affected by it, whether they cared, whether they hated school but found no safe way to express their feelings, as I did.

At the end of the day, I’d rather schools utilise positive reinforcement instead.

Give students a motive for behaving well, rather than wagging the whip in their faces to keep them in line. There would be a lesser risk of damage done, anyhow.

Hayley, 17, a student in Penang, is a participant of the BRATs Young Journalist Programme run by The Star’s Newspaper-in-Education (Star-NiE) team. For updates on the BRATs programme, go to facebook.com/niebrats.

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BRATs , caning , corporal punishment , discipline , Education ,


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