The story of Liam Madamba, an 18-year-old student from the British School-Manila (BSM) who committed suicide last February, is back in the news this week following his mother’s testimony during a Senate hearing. He was a 13th grader (a scholar at that!) and would have been began his college studies once the new academic calendar start.
According to press reports, Liam killed himself after being asked by his teacher to write a letter addressed to BSM’s student body as a punishment for supposedly plagiarizing an essay. It is not clear how much control the teacher, Mrs. Natalie Mann, had over what the student wrote.
It is also not determined if the letter was indeed meant to be circulated or if he is merely asked to address an imaginary audience. For more on the pertinent facts about his case, please read this February 28 article by Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist Solita Monsod.
At this point, I would like to give my insights anchored on what I know about the case and on my experience as a teacher. There is no doubt that Mrs. Mann’s handling of the situation was the main trigger of Liam’s suicide.
Every semester regardless of the school where I teach, it is not unusual for me to discover students who submit papers with plagiarized content. Some do it out of sheer laziness while many others commit it because of inadequate knowledge of citation methods.
Intellectual dishonesty is considered a capital offense in the academe, with guilty offenders facing sanctions such as being asked to drop a subject, an automatic failing grade, suspension, or even expulsion from the school. Nevertheless, in most cases, the teacher gets to decide what penalty is the most appropriate given the situation. For example, it seems logical to say that plagiarizing for an assignment merits a lesser punishment than plagiarizing for a term paper or your thesis.
It could be that Liam might have felt very humiliated by the way Mrs. Mann handled her case. Unfortunately, clarifying this point may take longer than necessary because the said British educator already left the country.
It is a cardinal rule among educators not to humiliate their students in any way. Given the serious nature of the offense, cases of plagiarism should be dealt confidentially between the teacher and the student concerned. Teachers can talk about the case in class but only in general terms. In other words, name-dropping is a big no-no.
Of course, it would have been helpful also if Liam had someone with whom he can share his predicament without being the fear of being judged (perhaps a trusted friend, etc.). All education institutions should have trained clinical psychologists specifically for situations like this one. With their students paying close to half a million pesos each annually, BSM must have that service.
As a final point, it is worth emphasizing that the age of majority in the Philippines is 18 as per Republic Act 6809. Enacted in 1989, RA 6809 states that a child upon reaching 18 yrs of age is already terminated from parental authority and is thus already considered “qualified and responsible for all acts of civil life” except in circumstances outlined in existing laws. What are the ramifications of this law on this case, if any?
Postscript: This blog post was recognized during the 12th Annual Lasallian Scholarum Awards for being one of the best online feature story and youth and education published in 2015.