Expulsion of students based on privacy breach questioned

By Le Hoang, Vuong Linh, Phan Anh   November 1, 2018 | 01:32 pm GMT+7
Expulsion of students based on privacy breach questioned
The expulsion and suspension of seven high school students in central Vietnam for criticizing their school and teachers on a Facebook group chat has sparked a debate of privacy. Photo by Shutterstock/pixino

The expulsion and suspension of high school students in central Vietnam based on their private conversations has sparked controversy.

Eight 15-year-old students from the same class in Nguyen Trai High School, Thanh Hoa Province, were punished for “using social networks to tarnish teachers’ dignity and credibility, negatively affecting the school’s educational functions,” its principal Bui Nguyen Tien said Wednesday.

Tien said a female student was caught using a mobile phone in class on October 1. The phone was confiscated by the teacher present in the class at the time and given to the class’s homeroom teacher.

The homeroom teacher noticed that the phone was unlocked, checked its contents and discovered a Facebook group chat in which the students criticized the school and its teachers.

This was brought to the notice of the School Board which informed the representative of the school’s Parents’ Association and the parents of the students involved. The students were asked by the board to write a report on the matter.

The school decided to expel three students for a year and suspend four students for a week. Another student was publicly chastised in front of the whole school.

The students did not repent their actions, Tien said.

“It hurts the school to discipline our students. But the strict punishments serve to warn and educate other students as well,” he said.

They can’t, they can

Vietnamese netizens have since flocked to debate this issue on cyberspace.

“Who gave the teacher the right to check a student’s phone?” asked ‘Quy Nguyen Ngoc,’ a VnExpress reader.

“A group chat is private. How can a teacher be allowed to see its contents?” opined another reader, ‘phamthanh Son.’

“While one’s privacy should be respected always, using that to commit a crime or do something bad is not sanctioned by law,” said ‘Viet Dung.’

"An expulsion is in order," 'NSB Viet Nam' said, without elaborating.

Some justified the homeroom’s teacher action, saying that since the phone was unlocked, her checking the content was ‘unintentional.’

“If [the group chat] is right in front of your eyes, it’s okay to see it,” said ‘Trung.’

It’s counterproductive

Professional psychologists, meanwhile, feel the principal and teachers have overreacted, instead of trying to understand teenagers better.

High school students have more rebellious streaks than their younger selves, and are also more likely to display their independence. As such, they are more judgmental of adults, said Pham Thi Thuy, a sociologist and psychologist in Ho Chi Minh City.

They will only respect adults based on reason, not intimidation, she said. Therefore, adults need to let them express themselves and learn why they did what they did, rather than punishing them outright.

Echoing Thuy, Tran Thanh Nam, head of the Department of Education Science under the Vietnam National University in Hanoi, questioned the effectiveness of expelling the students.

Instead of educating the students, this would breed feelings of resentment, he said.

"If it were me, I would look back and see if I did something that caused them to misunderstand, then try to explain that and let them have a chance to think about their actions," he said.

The debate is likely to rage on in the coming days.

The number of Facebook users in Vietnam is the seventh highest in the world with over 58 million people this year, an increase of 16 percent from the same period last year, said an April report by social media marketing and advertising agency We Are Social.

Vietnamese are online seven hours a day and spend a daily average of 2.5 hours on social networks, it said.

To criticize is normal

It is not surprising, then, that most young people in the country also use the social media extensively.

Adults, including teachers should focus on how to manage this use, instead of punishing it, for whatever reason, said Le Khanh, an expert from the HCMC-based Psycology-Family-Children Counseling Clinic.

It's normal to criticize others, she said, adding that both children and adults do this all the time.

Students using social media has increased in recent years and it is a trend that cannot be stopped, Thuy said.

"If children are forbidden [to use social media], it would only get more dangerous if they use them sneakily. Instead of telling them how dangerous social media is, instruct them instead on behaving properly online, and being responsible for what they write online."

Breaking News: The province's education department has ordered the school to revoke its decision to expel and suspend the students.

The department director Pham Thi Hang said on Thursday the punishment was "too haste and harsh," given the students' first-time violation. Hang also asked the school to review its responsiblity for making such "unreasonable" decision.

 
 
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