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Monday with the Editor: Of students and video recordings

Hi everyone

Those of us in our late thirties or older have left school some twenty years or longer and as such are not privy to the habits of students at school nowadays. In our time at school, there weren't any pagers or handphones yet. 

But, I am sure that those who are in their early thirties can recall showing off their pagers in their classrooms of the 80's. Teenage students now have the best that modern technology can offer - mobile phones. These playthings have become sort of a status symbol, with every kid that doesn't have one yet yearning to own one soon. By my own estimates, more than three-quarters of secondary school students in every class carry a personal handphone.

Schools are free to decide whether to allow their students to use handphones during curriculum time. Some schools let their students use their handphones in public areas, such as corridor and study areas, as well as the canteen. But, no school has allowed handphone use in the classroom yet. 

Students, however, have been known to breach the limits. Some play games on their handphones while others sms their friends. It is difficult for these chaps to be caught as the teacher has about 35 - 40 students to keep an eye on, in addition to teaching duties. 

That's perhaps how a student managed to get away with recording on video a General Paper teacher scolding her charge - a RJC student - in the classroom a month ago. In addition to other remarks, the teacher was caught on video apparently calling the boy a "sly, crafty, old rat".  

The whole thing would have gone unnoticed if not for what I would label "youthful exuberance". Yes! Indeed, the student who video-taped the incident published the recording on a Web site and more people knew about it. The local news channels which learnt of the incident played part of the clip on their nightly news and of course then the whole of Singapore got wind of the happening.

There are two sides to the story - those supporting the student's posting of the video online, and those against the act. We can go on and on expounding the merits of arguments on both sides of the fence, but we won't. Enough has been said in the local papers, and in the grapevine.

As bystanders who were not a party to the incident by virtue of the fact that we were not there when it happened, we cannot and should not pass judgment on the student who recorded the incident or the teacher who did the scolding.

In June 2003, another incident made news. Six secondary school students were seen in a videotape beating up their classmate in school on 8 & 9 May 2003. That video recording went its rounds in the school courtesy of MMS. It also appeared on the Internet. Apparently, three of the attackers were expelled and the other three caned.

I don't think we have seen the last of such video recording episodes. On the contrary, I think it marks the beginning of more to come. As a result of technological progress, our students have in their hands a veritable tool, which can be a blessing or a bane to the rest of us, depending on the owner of the tool. 

As with new things, we all need to grapple with new situations which hitherto were non-existent. We have to set up ground rules and hope students will abide by them. But, we can never circumvent "youthful exuberance", for as long as youngsters think they need to hammer home a point, they will do so. At the very most, we can only do situation management after the fact.

I am sure that in the years to come, as technology puts more such cool gadgets into the hands of our students, there will be more situations arising that our school administrators haven't even been able to brain-storm about today. 

So what you say, we ban mobile phones and other such gadgets in our schools? That's a silly way out indeed. We parents need our children to be contactable and these gadgets have proven their usefulness beyond doubt.

What I would suggest is that we educate our charges on the privacy rights of individuals. If teachers and parents can inculcate in these teenagers the virtue of respecting the privacy of others, I am sure we can reduce the probability of more video recordings surfacing in future. I don't think it is difficult to get teenagers to understand the issue of privacy - they are in that adolescent phase of life where their own privacy is more important than anything else on this earth, I am sure. 

Have a good week ahead!

Comments on this article can be viewed at the following Web page: Letters To The Editor You can add your comments there too.



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28 July 2003

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