30th October 2012
Mr. Loh Kea Yu,
Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Saint Xavier
Dear Mr. Loh,
RE : PUNISHING A 14 YEAR OLD FOR COPYING IN A TEST WITH ZERO MARKS FOR ALL HIS OTHER PAPERS IS LIKE CHOPPING OFF THE HANDS OF A THIEF FOR STEALING SOME RAMBUTANS :)
I refer to our telephone conversation yesterday with regards to my nephew Erza Faiq Amar who is a student in Form 2 (Anthony) at your school.
While I do not ignore Erza’s act of copying, I find your rule and regulation with regards to this matter lacks wisdom. It lacks a sense of proportion. Teachers and school administrators must have the depth to know the difference between budak-budak yang nakal , budak-budak yang tersilap jalan, and budak-budak yang jahat . To expect a 14 year old not to break rules every now and then shows a lack of understanding of what it is (and what it was) to be a teenager; that is why we must set rules and punishment with wisdom.
As stated above I find your regulation in punishing a 14 year old for copying in a test with zero marks for all his other papers is similar to an act of chopping off the hands of a thief for stealing some rambutans. I find your ruling draconian even if you have set a process of appeal that will overturn the decision.
This rule shows lack of confidence in your team and you in winning the hearts of students to do good without using a very big stick. I see this as an abuse of power: a tendency to use clout simply because it is within your disposal. A projection to students that they should fear you because you have at your disposal enormous power and you are willing to use it at your convenience.
It is such examples of misuse of power that our children will remember and learn from this incident. I worry Erza will forget what he tried to copy but learn that it is okay to create regulations that have little sense of balance. I dread that while Erza remembers not to cheat but at the same time discovers the power of exploiting one’s authority and using it to the fullest.
Please do not get me wrong. I am for instilling discipline. It is your approach that I am questioning. Fear is an archaic tool for education and it is sad that our school system is still using them as the first rule of engagement. Your team did not ask Erza why he did it. They did not even try to understand the reasons behind his action. They did not even bother to have a chat with him after the class. What they did was being quick to slap him with a convenient and sweeping ruling. Overlooking that the Agama paper is not his last paper and thus showing no care that Erza might lose interest in the remaining ones since he will get a big fat zero anyway.
Your officer summoned my brother, Erza’s dad out of bed (as he was unwell) to the school just to tell him that his son will get zero for his entire subjects and will be sent to the last class next year. Remember that Erza was a 4 As 1 B student in his standard 6 assessment. Do you think that this move will make Erza a better student? Did your officer get a kick out of putting down a father’s hope for his son?
Let me paint you a larger picture.
I have two confessions to make because I am a party to the problem. Firstly, a month ago Erza and I had a conversation and we set a goal of him targeting to be in the top 10% of his school by end next year, top 20% this year. He lamented that his Agama marks always pull his results down as he is weak in Arabic, while he is doing okay with his other subjects. Perhaps that was why he tried to copy in his Agama paper. I spoke to him about this last evening and sold him the idea that it is better to fail than to cheat, and the act of copying is not worth it. I also had to motivate him to do his best in the remaining paper, not to copy again and not care even if he is given zero marks.
Secondly, some time ago he once asked me if I have ever copied in school. Obviously I told him the truth; not much, but yes I did it. While we never copied in big exams, my friends and I did share information during monthly tests. Sometimes simply doing it for the fun of it or because we can get away with it, crafting ingenious new approaches and ‘technologies’ and testing it out to see if they work. Once a friend wrote answers on a separate sheet of paper, folded it into a paper airplane and flew it across the class once the teacher in charge had to go for a toilet break, sending the class into chaos and laughter. I told Erza that these were the silly things I did when I was young and foolish. I may have sent him the wrong signals.
You see, I have always told Erza the truth. Perhaps that is why, when his friend reported on him and the teacher in charge asked him if he tried to copy, Erza’s spontaneous response was to tell the truth. He is not even sore with his fellow student the whistle-blower. Other kids would have wanted to keep a score. As a 6 footer at 14 years of age, Erza could have sent the little kid to the other side of the room with a single blow. But did he? He did not. This is because he knew that his fellow student did not do any wrong reporting. As stated earlier, “teachers and school administrators must have the depth to know the difference between budak-budak yang nakal , budak-budak yang tersilap jalan, and budak-budak yang jahat .”
It is not wise to set blanket rules and punishment as though every single kid out there is a potential criminal. Yes, my friends and I were punished when we get caught. It was hilarious to see ‘a rose among thorns’ once at form 6 when a sweet female friend was made to stand in front of the class with the boys when they were caught copying. She now has a PhD in Dance Drama and became an international proponent of a dance genre. Other friends went to be top management of international and local banks, conglomerates, doctors, lawyers, architects, accountants etc. Quite a few of us, like me are now entrepreneurs. Between us we have employed, created jobs, and managed thousands of people over the years. Our silly antics when we were young and playful were not pre-cursors to plagiarism, cheating, and unlawful business. We were not made to feel like potential criminals so we did not become one. Our teachers were strict, but their firmness was tempered with mercy … and sometimes even with humour. That made all the difference.
We love many of our teachers and till today we still send them Teacher’s Day wishes. One of my favorite teachers is a no-nonsense strict lady teacher. Until today I do not miss sending her birthday wishes each year. I cannot remember a single instance when my headmaster flexes his power suggesting that he will fail all my subjects if I was caught copying or anything of this sort. What I remember was a simple warning with a deafening silence after he said, “Boys, if you are caught copying…. BE CAREFUL…” . That’s it.
When I first call you about 1 30 pm yesterday, you did not want to have a dialog with me because I am not Erza’s father. You only agreed to set another telephone appointment at 3 30 pm after I suggested I get a written permission faxed to you. So I hurried my brother out of bed again, got him to type a letter, rushed to a friend’s office and faxed to you the letter before 2 30 pm. I called you at the agreed time but I was told that you were still in a meeting. I left a message and my contact number with a Cik Siti. I called again a little after 4 pm, but she informed me that you are still in the meeting. My calls after 5 pm were not picked up. Till now, 11 00 am the next day, I have yet to hear from you.
As a businessman, if someone copied some of my ideas and makes some money on the sidelines, I am cool about it. In fact I feel a little proud helping a fellow business colleague survive. But I do not take lightly to those who fail to keep to their word. It shows lack of character. I am sure keeping to one’s word is also an important quality of being a headmaster. As a leader in your school you need to show a good example in keeping your words not just to the students but also to parents and caretakers. Unfortunately, you have failed in this area.
I hope you do not have a rule in Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Saint Xavier where your salary for the whole year will be forfeited for failing to keep to your word. That would be too harsh. Or perhaps I need not worry as you may have one rule for the students, but another for you.
I hope you get my point.
“No man can reveal to you aught but that which already lies half asleep in the dawning of your knowledge.
The teacher who walks in the shadow of the temple, among his followers, gives not of his wisdom but rather of his faith and his lovingness.
If he is indeed wise he does not bid you enter the house of his wisdom, but rather leads you to the threshold of your own mind.”
Peace and thank you.
Let us add value,
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