I was hospitalised again recently. Although it was nothing out of the ordinary for me – I have been a regular “client” since I was a few months old – I still found the experience stressful. It was not so much the needle or the prognosis…

…but the waiting.

I had to wait almost three hours to be discharged, despite my mother hounding the staff for my release.

I was perturbed by the apparent lack of concern. To add insult to injury, my breakfast was not served.

I almost fell off my wheelchair when my mother was asked to complete an In-patient Feedback Form, as if nothing had happened. It makes me wonder if the feedback really makes a difference.

In my piece “The hospital waiting game” (May 20), I wrote, among other things, that patients ready to be discharged should be allowed to leave more quickly.

This way, incoming patients would not have to wait for an available bed in order to be admitted. My experience shows that nothing has changed.

To be fair, my first visit after the article appeared was a pleasant one, though I cannot say if it had anything to do with my comments and suggestions.

If it did, then I have to say it is human nature to act when there is a complaint. But it’s also natural to lapse into old habits after a while.

Habits can be difficult to change. Therefore, I can understand why some good suggestions fall on deaf ears.

I was elated to be quoted by Education Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam last year at the Ministry of Education Work Plan Seminar 2004.

He said there should be “a conscious effort in our schools not to overload students with homework.

“As Jeremy Lim wrote in Today: ‘If students have so much homework to do, the quality of the work may suffer. Learning can be difficult as work is done perfunctorily to meet the deadline’.”

But based on what I read and hear in the media and from friends from various schools, there has been no change. In fact, my friends tell me they have more homework now.

Nor were they spared during the recent June school holidays. Some even had to prepare for tests scheduled immediately after the “long break”.

That is the way it has always been done. That is the way it will continue to be done. It does not matter if a change is for the better. It does not seem to matter what the Minister, parents or anybody else says. Habits dictate behaviour.

Dr David Peat, a psychologist based in Alberta, Canada, wrote to this newspaper in response to my article, “Discipline students, but in a productive way” (March 18).

He said: “‘Experts and policy makers listen to Jeremy Lim. His reasoned article on discipline is refreshing and insightful. Incidentally, his thoughts are consistent with what research says about effective discipline.”

The article also prompted many readers to express their unhappiness over the punitive disciplinary methods employed by teachers. Has there been any change?

After talking to friends from other schools, I would say, not much. Students are still being punished during curriculum time and made to do silly things to embarrass themselves for their misconduct.

When I discussed this issue with a former teacher, she asked if I thought the disciplinary methods were effective. I told her they were creative, but certainly not effective. Even if they were effective, the psychological cost might be high.

She may agree with me. Other teachers and principals may support my views. But the punishments will remain if school authorities do not take action. As they say, old habits die hard. And that is a tragedy if the habits are bad.

Unacceptable habits will be perpetuated if nothing is done to change them. New teachers will pick up the same practices early in their careers. So, the easiest and the best way to break the chain of bad habits is to drop them now.

(This article was published in TODAY of 23 August 2005)