Eureka! I think I have discovered the solution to a lot of disciplinary and other problems in schools. It came to me while I was having my shower.

Before I share it, perhaps I should tell you about…

…the problems – the things that happen in schools that may astound some of you. Some of the incidents are common based on feedback from my friends from various institutions.

Mischievous acts seem to be “popular”. Some of the stories I heard include spitting on the tables of classmates the perpetrators do not like, hiding personal belongings, writing profanities on the board, and putting their “friends” in trouble with false allegations.

In one “brand-name” school, mischief was taken to another level. Some students hid library books required for project work or tore out important pages to prevent others from getting their hands on them. It was driven by plain selfishness. But, I was told, they justified their acts in the name of academic competition.

Theft seems to be another “favoured sport” in many schools. Handphones are stolen. Wallets have gone missing. And unattended bags have disappeared. Some students even break into lockers, in search of bigger loot.

Another “popular” activity seems to be vandalism. School property has been defaced with graffiti. Equipment has been damaged – some repeatedly. Teachers’ cars have also not been spared by enraged students.

How can schools solve the problems?

Educate the students. Teach them moral values. Punish them if all efforts to guide them in a civilised way fail. Well, all these have been done and the problems still persist or are getting worse.

Recently, my father was discussing with his friend, a teacher, the challenges schools face in disciplining some of their wayward students.

His friend said that, in many cases, it was no use investigating. He added: “In the first place, you can’t do anything about it because you do not have the evidence. What’s more, the more you investigate, the more it will happen.”

His remark set me thinking. It struck me that that can surely be easily solved. Install closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras in every room, nook and cranny! They will serve as useful tools for the detection of “crime” and the prevention of anti-social behaviour.

Surveillance cameras can also support the anti-bullying programme. The risk of bullying in the classrooms and canteens can be significantly reduced as “someone” is always watching. Anyone caught bullying cannot deny their wicked act.

When a fight occurs in school, the discipline master will have no problem identifying the people involved, including the instigator or the initiator. Witnesses to the fight can also be hauled up for not stopping it.

The surveillance system can effectively monitor students in the absence of teachers. This will make relief teachers who think that their job is only to “babysit” redundant.

Furthermore, the CCTV cameras can compel some teachers to be more circumspect in the way they discipline the students. I am sure all teachers know the best practices. But old habits die hard. That is why some teachers still use the old and ineffective punishment methods. These teachers will think twice if someone in “authority” is watching them.

The CCTV cameras can also be used to monitor the conduct of teachers – their punctuality, teaching methods and rapport with the students.

Teachers and students should not be afraid of the “eyes” if they do not plan to do anything unacceptable. They can use the recordings to support their claims that they have been exemplary teachers or students.

I would also like to suggest that all meetings in schools – of counsellors and students or principals, teachers and parents, for instance – be recorded. This will make all parties concerned conscious of their behaviour and words. The recordings can also help to prevent misunderstandings that may arise after the meetings.

I can understand if teachers and students are not comfortable with the introduction of CCTV cameras. However, I am sure after a while they will get used to it. It is like CCTV cameras installed in shops.

The customers do not think of them nor are they bothered by them. They just go about doing the right things.

(This journal entry can be found in TODAY of 27 June 2006)