Teacher first and soldier last

  • Nation
  • Monday, 17 Jan 2005

A FORMER serviceman, who became a teacher after he quit the forces, was put in charge of discipline in a Seberang Jaya school which had serious disciplinary problems. 

When he first walked into the school several years ago, the state of affairs there shocked him into numbness, as he put it. His heart was in his mouth when his colleagues told him how the previous disciplinary teachers had fared. 

It was a challenge he did not expect but the school head chose him for the job after learning of his military background.  

Looking at it objectively, he was the perfect choice for turning around the school. His 12 years of absolute discipline in the service and his nine-month diploma in education training appeared to be the ideal credentials to handle indiscipline among the students. 

And after six years, he thinks there has been a marked improvement in the school but says it was not solely because of his military experience. Of course, it helped a great deal, he adds. 

“I did not apply my military leadership style crudely. You cannot be regimental as school is not a boot camp. This style of disciplining methods has to be applied selectively, only doing so when situations demand. 

“My emphasis was on the psychological approach, using counselling as a key element. I also engaged with parents directly as well as the parent-teacher association quite a bit,” he said. 

This is one fine example to cite when supporting the Education Ministry’s latest proposal to rope in ex-servicemen and train them as disciplinary teachers before posting them to schools. 

But lets remember that this example is of someone who got his head screwed on the right way. He had also taken a psychology paper during his university training. 

In addition, he was also entrusted with training his unit in the armed forces. He had more than what it takes.  

The idea is noble but getting the right people to do this onerous task is very tough. It is not going to be easy as all it takes is for a handful of rotten apples to destroy the Government’s noble intentions.  

And going by past experiences, there are many bad hats in the armed forces. We have to be forewarned of this reality as the plan involves five million students and probably twice the number of parents. 

The sheer enormity of this group should be enough for the Government to seek feedback from as many people and groups as possible before enlisting the help of former soldiers. The people must have their say. 

And if at all it is implemented, everything from the selection to appointment has to be absolutely transparent. The screening of candidates must be thorough, their integrity beyond question and their past spotless. 

Questions had been raised over a small number of teachers being racists and also others who indulge in religious bigotry.  

An ex-soldier given the task of moulding the students into a disciplined lot must be above all these. 

We have seen far too many poor choices for many jobs in the teaching profession, from running education departments to schools.  

Education Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein repeatedly says he would not compromise on discipline in schools. 

Likewise, he should also not compromise on the selection of quality people to lead schools and take charge of discipline. There is simply too much at stake. 

A specially thought out professional training module for these ex-soldiers must be formulated. It should not merely be to instil fear among students.  

The fear factor alone is not sufficient to tackle indiscipline in schools, a holistic approach involving the strong support from PTAs and good parental upbringing are also vital. 

The illnesses in our developing society, advancement made by science and technology and emphasis on acquiring materialism too contribute to the decadence of discipline among our students. 

Malaysia is not the only country facing this problem; news reports in Britain, France and the United States too face similar problems in schools. 

So, having a trained ex-soldier to take charge of discipline is not the panacea to all ills in our schools.  

However, its a proposal worth considering, many think.  

And if it faces too many objections from people who matter, the ministry should put aside its pride to make an about turn. 

Like one parent said when commenting on the proposal: They must be teachers and gentlemen first, soldiers last. 

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