Teachers and their impact on children

FEBRUARY 9 — A teacher’s impact on a child’s life is second only to his primary caregivers, that is, his parents or immediate family. 

I was fortunate to have had a few impactful teachers in my life. During my own SPM year, my Pendidikan Agama Islam teacher was especially helpful and understanding in my religious explorations and we were able to discuss issues on such a deep level. This helped nurture my interest which I carry with me to this day. 

Twenty-five years later, I still remember and revere his name. That is what a good teacher does — he or she helps pass down interest in a given discipline to a student, thus awakening a lifelong interest.

Vasanthapiriya’s tragic death last month is the opposite of the positive impact of teachers. 

The 13-year-old SMK Methodist Nibong Tebal student died after being comatose for nearly two weeks.  Her case was not the first where a teacher’s mishandling caused harm to a pupil and nor, I suspect, would it be the last. 

Her teacher accused her of stealing her mobile phone. Vasanthapiriya was allegedly kept in a room for five hours and grilled about the handphone’s whereabouts. 

Together with her husband, the teacher then took the girl home where they told the parents what happened. Vasanthapiriya was understandably distraught and went up to her room. 

Using a scarf, she then tied a noose around an air conditioner pipe and attempted to hang herself. I cannot imagine what her parents and family felt. And are feeling.

Having some teaching experience, I understand that it is a stressful career and especially so if one has a large class and the pupils are less than co-operative. 

There are pupils who are so bored they make it their mission in life to disrupt the class. This is not an excuse for teachers to become aggressive, however. 

No, teachers need to maintain professional decorum at all times. Back in my day (I finished primary school 30 years ago!), teachers routinely hit us but these measures are simply not allowed anymore. 

I am a firm believer that the saying “spare the rod and spoil the child” is wrong. There are ways to instil in a child emotional awareness so that he or she understands the gravity of his or her wrongdoing. Of course, this takes a whole lot more patience than any physical punishment.

In the case of Vasanthapiriya, her teacher should not have been the judge because she was already the plaintiff! The object in question was an iPhone which is not only expensive but also typically contains a wealth of very personal information. 

For the teacher to confine Vasanthapiriya for hours on end in which we can only guess what happened is simply unacceptable. There should have been a standard operating procedure where a discipline teacher steps in. 

He or she should then collect all information possible and a disciplinary committee then makes the final decision. All this should, of course, be with Vasanthapiriya’s parents permission. Alas, this was not what happened. 

I hate to quote a cliché but children are indeed our future. Hence, their nurturing must be our deepest concern. If we fail to understand their delicate psyches, we may end up traumatising them and effectively burden them with emotional baggage which they cannot easily undo. This happens on a daily basis, I think. Only in the case of Vasanthapiriya it went too far with tragic consequences. 

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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