Mon Dieu!: In France, students who insult their teachers may receive up to six months in prison and heavy fines because of a new law that aims to re- establish respect for authority figures, reports the Times of London. Opponents of the legislation, which applies to kids as young as 13, have denounced it as an attack on existing rules that protect minors. However, supporters, including President Jacques Chirac, argue that punishing young people for petty offenses, such as incivility, will deter them from committing serious crimes later on.
English Patience: Fervent protests have forced the Saudi education ministry to reconsider the introduction of English instruction in its primary schools. Saudi students learn English at the secondary level, but, following September 11, 2001, when Western officials accused the Saudi education system of breeding extremism, the government decided to include English in earlier grades. This caused an outcry from hard-line Muslim activists, who claim that teaching English to young Saudis would endanger Islamic culture and identity, the Agence France-Presse reports. In August, with hundreds of newly hired primary school English teachers in place for the upcoming academic year, the Saudi Cabinet postponed the program indefinitely, stating that it needs "further deliberate and deep studies."
Fighting Chance: Reading and math aren't the only lessons South African students will learn in school this year—they'll also study how to defend themselves. As part of a national child-abuse-prevention campaign recently launched by the department of education, female students and boys under the age of 10 are being trained in techniques such as the twist-and-jerk method of escaping an attacker's grip. These self-defense methods are "innately nonviolent," Education Minister Kader Asmal tells the Daily Mail & Guardian's magazine for teachers. "We are opposed to violence and would therefore not teach our children to protect themselves through violence."
Answered Prayer: Schools in Thailand have found an enlightened answer to the country's teacher shortage: bringing Buddhist monks into the classroom. The government's Phra Chuay Sorn (Monks Helping Teachers) project has trained and placed monks in 120 schools in Nonthaburi province over the past year and may be expanded. The saffron-robed supplicants, who tend to have a basic education, lead classes in subjects they feel qualified to teach, including religion and language. In the meantime, the government is seeking a long-term fix to the shortage by investing in distance-learning programs and a massive recruitment effort. "Monks helping teachers is a short-term solution," Maharawee, a monk involved in the program, tells the Nation. "Buddhist principles teach us to solve problems at their root."
Vol. 14, Issue 2, Page 11Published in Print: October 1, 2002, as Dispatches