x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Code of conduct sets out specific school discipline measures

Document divides offences into five categories and provides explicit courses of action for each.

DUBAI // A new code of conduct for public schools in Dubai and the northern emirates will ensure teachers know what action to take when dealing with rowdy pupils and undesirable activities.

The recently released document sets out disciplinary actions including community service and expulsion for serious offenses by students while highlighting a non-violence policy when teachers address misbehaviour.

The list of offences is divided into five categories and explicit, step-by-step measures to address them are laid out for educators to follow. Violations including skipping school, vandalism, carrying weapons, smoking and drugs use of drugs have associated actions that must be applied and documented in consultation with education zones.

The code “does not allow teachers to resort to corporal punishment in any form and manifestation [or to] cruelty, psychological abuse, insult or humiliation,” said Kaneez al Abdolli, the director of the Ministry of Education’s student counselling department.

Depriving students of food or toilet breaks was unacceptable, as was assigning additional homework or lowering a pupil’s grades, she said.

Less serious offences such as not attending lectures or failing to complete homework would receive verbal warnings and their parents would be informed, the code document said.

Third-, fourth- and fifth-degree offenses include possessing sharp objects and arms, stealing, smoking, sexual harassment, indecent public displays and blasphemy. In such cases community service of up to five days and suspension from classes can be implemented.

Expulsion from the education system is an option in extreme cases, the document said. Criminal offences must be referred to the local education zone’s investigation authority by the school committee.

“The new rules on student discipline aim to enhance a positive and constructive paradigm of values, principles and trends and provide for a proper learning ambience,” said Humaid al Qattami, the education minister.

Having specific guidelines in place to deal with particular incidents would prove useful to staff across the affected area, said Yousef al Shehhi, the principal of the Al Rams Secondary School in Ras al Khaimah. He said he has had cases of misbehaviour and the “occasional smoker” at his school, which can now be dealt with in a uniform fashion.

“We have been following similar rules in school but this document is a good initiative by the ministry,” he said. “If students misbehave we try to find out the reason and take the help of social workers to deal with the problem. We also keep the parents informed about it.”

Mr Shehhi said most issues arise from inconsistency between institutions when students from other schools transfer into his. He said he was in favour of the ban against corporal punishment.

“Some schools still use the stick and use bad words to manage students but I think this makes them worse,” Mr al Shehhi said.

All measures taken against a student must follow a written investigation into the facts and parents can contest the decision by filing a complaint within a week of the action.

Particular misbehaviour patterns tend to be more prevalent at certain types of schools. For example, absenteeism and destruction of property were issues mainly in boys’ schools, said Dr Natasha Ridge, a research fellow at the Dubai School of Government who has studied the quality of government schools in the northern emirates.

“Not coming to school is a big problem among boys and this also leads to issues of dropping out as well,” she said. “Some other problems include students being disrespectful to teachers, answering back or not doing their assignments.”

Most teachers had adopted physical means to correct improper actions out of necessity because they had not been taught alternative ways of dealing with students. Dr Ridge said the code would help while adding that more guidance would also be of value to educators.

“There is not enough training in classroom management,” said Dr Ridge. “So along with guidelines, which are a good first step, teachers need to be trained as to what should be their response if a situation arises and that they should report matters immediately.”

Students caught defacing school property or bullying other pupils can face having their parents notified and being assigned community service should the school district recommend it. That might change the situation at Grade 12 student Rami Jawad’s school in Ajman, where he said teachers often resorted to verbal abuse amid what he called “normal” offences such as scribbling on school walls and furniture.

“It happens every day and they are shouted out or taken to the principal,” he said. Asking students to clean up the messes they created might better help deter them from repeating the practice, he said.