SINGAPORE – I was on particularly good terms with a schooling kid by the name of Jeremy (surname with-held to protect identity) who lives within the vicinity of my neighbourhood. He was a sporty child, albeit with a rebellious streak. However, he didn’t show his rebellious nature when I interacted with him, I guess because a certain type of chemistry that cemented our friendship and amicable respect for each other was there.
Jeremy was a talented footballer; I noticed his talents during our frequent kickabouts. Thus, I didn’t find it surprising at all that he made it into the first eleven of his secondary school team. When we met up one day by coincidence in a park, I asked him how he was doing at school. He told me that he was given one week suspension from school because he shouted at his headmaser. I could see that coming given his rebellious streak. The next bit of his story was an interesting one. The week of his suspension coincided with the schools’ nationals soccer tournament. Jeremy was slated to be in the starting line-up for the match that was to be held at his school field. However, moments before the match, his headmaster appeared and prevented him from playing, citing the fact that he was still suspended from school. Thus, Jeremy was sent back packing from his school. Apparently, I learnt from Jeremy that suspension from school also meant suspension from extra-curricular activities at school, which explained his headmaster’s last minute intervention that prevented him from playing in that match.
Subsequently, I asked Jeremy what he did after he was sent away by his headmaster from the soccer field. He told me he hung out with some friends. I bumped into Jeremy’s friends weeks later; they struck me as a bunch of delinquent teens with punky hairstyles who smoked cigarettes. They were the typical “ah bengs” as we used to call them. It didn’t take long for Jeremy to pick up smoking at his age.
As most of us know, Hindsight is always 20/20, and the main question which educators should grapple with is whether suspension from school is an appropriate punishment that can achieve its intended effect of rehabilitating errant students. Let’s analyze certain details of Jeremy’s suspension once again. Jeremy was suspended from all classroom and extracurricular activities, i.e. he is not allowed to be in his school grounds at any time during the term of his suspension. He is not allowed to take part in soccer training sessions, neither is he allowed to represent his school. Thus, one may question if it is too much to extend the suspension to extracurricular activities.
If Jeremy was allowed to participate in his extracurricular activities, there is still some level of engagement or contact between him and the school. At least, the people involved in Jeremy’s extracurricular activities would be in the know of how he is coping throughout the period of suspension. A total suspension would result in the school losing contact with the student during its duration. This loss of contact would mean the school will not be in the know of the student’s current status. Another arguement in favor of allowing Jeremy to engage in his extracurricular activities is that there will be at least a positive outlet in which he can channel his energies into. Regrettably, this was not to be and he ended up hanging out with an unsavory bunch when he could have been enjoying a great workout and the competitive edge of a soccer match.
We have discussed thus far about the benefits in allowing the suspended student to engage in his extra-curricular activities during the period of suspension, but now the question is whether the student’s suspension from classroom curriculum can really rehabilitate him? Let’s analyze the downsides. For one, depending on the length of the suspension, the errant student may lack behind in his studies, particularly if course materials are based on incremental knowledge built up progressively during curriculum time. His subject teachers will experience inconvenience in attempting to bring him up to speed with the rest of his classmates. For the student himself, especially if he is a rather lazy one, he will face a mental barrier in attempting to hit the books again especially if a period of suspension is substantially long (about a week or more). This is the same phenomenon that we working adults experience when we go on a long break and the first day back at work, we find ourselves trying to scale a high barrier wall in psyching ourselves to go back into “working mode” after being on “holiday mode” for some time.
Thus, the last question that educators should grapple with is what alternatives are there in attempting to reform errant students as opposed to suspension? One alternative is to impose mandatory community service, whilst at the same time engaging the student in his extra-curricular activities. Whilst maintaining a positive outlet for the student to channel his energies through his extra-curricular activities, he has to spend for instance, two hours of his free time during weekends or other occasions at an organization to render community service. He may pick up important skills during the period of his community work, and his interaction with lesser fortunate ones would lead him to self-reflect on himself in what could turn out to be a life-changing experience.
To conclude, there are definitely alternative approaches to rehabilitate an errant student. That is why the practice of suspension from school as a form of punishment should be discouraged.