By Mariam Mokhtar
Last month has not been good for teachers.
On January 24, a 14-year-old girl in Nibong Tebal tried to hang herself, after she had been accused of stealing her teacher's iPhone. Her teachers had earlier locked her in a room for five hours, to try and extract a confession from her. They had withheld food and water from her. The victim was then driven home and the accusation repeated in front of her parents.
M. Vasanthapiriya fell into a coma and never regained consciousness. She died on February 1. The phone has not been found. The teacher, who had lost the phone, was suspended from teaching and transferred to a desk job, at the Education Department, pending investigations.
Closer to home, a kindergarten pupil from Taman Lindungan Bercham Indah had been injured, allegedly after being caned by a teacher at her nursery school on January 24. A police report has been made by the child's mother, after a doctor confirmed that the injury on the child's hand had been caused by caning.
The Ipoh police chief, ACP Mohd Ali Tamby said, "On the day of the incident, at 7.45am, the victim’s mother had sent the girl to the nursery in Taman Lindungan Bercham Indah. She was in good condition.
"About 6pm, the woman found that there were wounds on her daughter’s right hand, before being told by two nursery teachers that the victim had been scratching her hand."
On Friday, the mother and one teacher from the nursery took the little girl to a clinic in Taman Ipoh Permai, and was told by the doctor that the child's hand had become infected as a result of caning.
The child's mother lodged a report, the following morning, at the Bercham police station. The nursery owner and supervisor had also come forward to give their statements.
It was reported that a 32-year-old nursery teacher had admitted to caning the victim on the right hand, until it became swollen.
The headmistress of the nursery school, sacked the teacher, immediately, to stop similar incidents from occurring.
ACP Ali said that the suspect would be summoned so that her statement could be recorded.
Is that it? The nursery school can continue as before. The teacher will not be punished. Life goes on as normal.
The teacher was only sacked after preliminary investigations were conducted. The headmistress did not want to attract further untoward attention and felt that sacking the teacher would suffice. The nursery school probably thought that sacking the teacher would be seen as taking sufficient action. It was not!
The headmistress must have known about the caning. Why did the teachers and headmistress attempt to cover-up the caning, by claiming that the child had scratched herself and caused an infection in her actions?
Why would a teacher, from the nursery school, accompany the child and her mother to the clinic?
The teacher was only sacked after initial investigations were made. If the child's hand had not become infected, the mother would have been none the wiser.
If the doctor had not confirmed his suspicions, the mother would not have known about the caning.
Will the Education Department investigate if the nursery school has been approved? Are the teachers in the school qualified to teach, and administer justice, even to three-year-olds?
If caning is not allowed in schools, how did this teacher get away with caning very young children? Are any other corporal punishments being dished out at this nursery school?
Why did the headmistress fail to inform the teacher of the rules which govern the establishment? Why did the most senior teacher fail to inform this teacher that caning children is not allowed? How is discipline administered in this nursery school?
After the teacher was sacked, did the headmistress imagine that this would be the end of the matter? How many other caning incidents have been reported at this school? Are the other children at risk, too?
Are the children so cowed by their sadistic teachers, that they are afraid to tell their parents? Have the children been warned not to tell their parents, if they had been caned, or if they had seen their friends being caned?
The nursery school is lucky that the child did not suffer more serious injuries. The little girl was possibly traumatised by the incident and may refuse to return to nursery school. She will grow up with a phobia of teachers, or of schools. Are other children exhibiting signs of refusal to attend nursery school?
How often are these nursery schools inspected by the Education Department or relevant ministry? If cases of cruelty to children persist, some parents may demand that nursery schools instal CCTV to record the teachers.
If teachers are found to have broken the law, what criminal charges will be brought against them? There will be fewer caning incidents in nursery schools if there is a sufficient deterrent.