A 15-year-old boy in Chennai stabbed his science teacher to death. It was a pre-meditated murder as the boy carried a knife wrapped in paper for three days, waiting for the appropriate time to kill the teacher. The reason, as per the newspapers reports is, the teacher had been scolding him for his poor performance in class.
Are teachers too harsh in dealing with children. Are students too sensitive? Is there something wrong with our schools which still follow corporal punishment? Are children more aggressive and violent? What should be done so that incidents like this can be avoided.
Dr Lakshmi Vijayakumar, one of the well known psychiatrists in the city and the founder-trustee of Sneha, a voluntary centre for suicide prevention, answers some of these questions. She spoke to Shobha Warrier.
As a psychiatrist, what will be your reaction to the incident of a school boy stabbing his teacher to death?
My first reaction is, it is a heinous crime. There is no excuse for an act like this. I have to look at the incident psychologically in terms of the person, situation in the context of the wider society.
If I look at it from an individual's perspective, normally two types of personalities commit such a violent crime. One, a boy who is very quiet, very shy and withdrawn.
That is exactly how this boy has been described by his friends...
When a teacher makes such a child a scapegoat by repeatedly scolding him for his lapses, passing snide remarks, making fun of him, and picking him for incidents on which he has no control, resentment builds up within him. Because he is a quiet and withdrawn kind of a boy, he will not know how to effectively express his anger.
Then, there is another kind of boy who is extremely aggressive and impulsive who can never take a no or a simple admonishment. He can also behave this way.
If a child witnesses violence at home, will he behave this way?
Yes, that is the environmental factor. A boy who witnesses violence, both physical and emotional at home can behave this way.
If he is exposed to violence from teachers in the school also, he may become violent in his behaviour. For example, if a boy is admonished or insulted or caned in front of girls or other boys, it can cause shame and rejection in a child. This can result in violent behaviour.
All these can have an added effect on the behaviour of the child.
Do you feel there is a lot of violence in the society also?
I feel that acceptance of violence among youngsters has increased tremendously. They see violence in the media, video and internet games. There are many instances to show that the longer a child plays violent games, the more violent and aggressive he becomes. The media these days, shows that most of the problems can be solved through violent methods.
All these have an impact on a growing child.
Most importantly, at home or in school, we don't teach children how to solve interpersonal problems.
Do you think in most Indian schools, teachers are not compassionate and not sensitive towards students?
I feel it is wrong to blame the teachers alone. By and large, teachers are held in reasonably good esteem.
In this case, for a child to commit a crime like this, either the teacher must have been quite awful in her behaviour or the child must have been really sick.
In many schools, even today physical abuse like caning and cruel punishments like making students stand in hot sun, etc. take place...
All that can also result in this kind of behaviour. That is because when they witness violence, their response also will be violent.
Teachers must remember to treat each student as an individual. But it will not happen when there are 80 or 100 children in a class and a teacher has to go from one class to another.
You mean, the understanding of students is not there because the classes are huge?
I feel the understanding is not there because of three issues. One, the size of the class. Two, many times, the teachers are not happy being teachers. Three, the teacher may not have the ability to get the attention of the student.
A teenager is at a very sensitive age and doesn't a teacher have to be compassionate to him?
Yes, it is very important for teachers to understand that this is a very sensitive age. So, limiting the class size and improving interactive sessions are important. Just coming to a class and taking lessons is not enough, there should be interaction between teachers and students in a non-academic way.
A teacher has to be more approachable for the students. If you are a stern teacher who is interested only in teaching, no student will approach you with his or her problem.
Most importantly, teachers should be trained in identifying children who probably need more support and attention. Most of the time, teachers can pick up students with problems. Then, the teachers can guide those students to counsellors. It is necessary for schools to have counsellors who can help students solve their problems. Counselling should be done in a gentle way and privately and not in front of the class.
Do you feel in most of the Indian schools, there is a lack of understanding between teachers and students?
It is lacking but compared to a few years ago, it has improved tremendously but only in the higher income group and middle income group schools. It definitely is not there in the lower income group schools.
Do you blame teachers for this lack of understanding?
It is unfair to blame the teachers alone, children are also very aggressive and difficult to handle these days. They don't listen to teachers. They chat on the cell phone in the class. If they don't like a teacher, they blog about him/her
As adults, do you feel teachers have to more understanding?
Yes, we expect the teachers to take more responsibility.
When abused, some children commit suicide. In the incident that happened in Chennai, do we see the other extreme?
Yes. Anger directed inwards result in suicide, and anger directed outwards end in homicide. The anger must have been inside the boy for a long time. It is a very rare case and the child needs psychiatric treatment.
What kind of changes do we have to bring about in the education system so that such incidents are not repeated?
As the problem is three dimensional, the change also has to be three dimensional. Each child should be taught to solve problems. We call this life skills. Life skills are more important than educational or academic performance. Life skills can be taught in schools.
It is necessary to stop violence both at home and in school.
It is also important to reduce the number of students each teacher has to handle. There should be a provision for teachers to interact with children at a non-academic level. There should be school counsellors. Teachers have to be trained to identify students with problems and there has to a referral mechanism for such students.