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School CP - March 2004

Corpun file 13132


New Straits Times, Kuala Lumpur, 21 March 2004

Spare the rod?

SOME experts argue that caning is outdated, even primitive. Yet, many educators defend it as a way to stem rising violence in schools. SUZIEANA UDA NAGU examines the issue.

THE painful childhood memory of being caned still haunts those who have been naughty in school. One lash and the sting is indelibly imprinted on their minds.

Schools in Europe and the United Kingdom have stopped using the cane to discipline delinquent youngsters following protests from parents and politicians more than 16 years ago.

In Malaysia, however, the practice has never left the school grounds.

Caning has always been legal in Malaysian schools. The Education Ordinance 1957 (Amended 1959) allows corporal punishments, such as caning, to be meted out by school authorities but only to schoolboys.

An Education Ministry directive issued in 1994 listed eight offences that could warrant caning: truancy, involvement in criminal activities, obscene and impolite behaviour, loitering, dishonesty, dirty appearance and vandalism.

The 2003 probe on human rights awareness among secondary school teachers, students and administrators conducted by researchers from local universities assigned by the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (or Suhakam, its Malay acronym) revealed the regular use of the cane in schools.

What the inquiry found was gross breach of a child's rights committed by teachers, students and administrators alike. Suhakam wanted to gauge the level of human rights consciousness in schools in order to plan awareness programmes.

Some 5,754 students in Form Two and Form Five who attend co-educational, single-sex, religious and technical schools took part in the survey.

About 52 per cent of the students surveyed agreed that caning commonly happened in their schools. It took place more often in rural schools than urban ones. Almost 80 per cent of the cases occurred at technical schools.

The results were revealed for the first time at the recent National Convention on Human Rights Education jointly organised by Suhakam and the Education Ministry.

Education Ministry and State Education Department officials, teachers, school administrators and academicians participated in the two-day conference themed A Place For Human Rights Education in Schools.

Not surprisingly, Suhakam is disheartened by the findings of its study. Commissioner and education working group chairman Professor Chiam Heng Keng says that while Suhakam understands the need to discipline and punish wrongdoers, it maintains that caning is not the best corrective measure.

"Caning only tells the child to stop whatever he has done. Yes, it is a quick fix but it does not address the underlying problem," adds Chiam.

Teachers must work with parents to get to the root of the problem.

"Corporal punishment or kicking a student out of a school won't be of much help," she says.

She cautions against confusing upholding the rights of the child with indulging the child.

"We do not need to punish in order to instil discipline. Harsh punishments tend to reinforce a child's negative attitudes," she adds.

Yet Malaysia had signed and ratified the Declaration of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 1995 and had adopted all but eight articles including Article 1 (definition of a child) and Article 15 (freedom of association which entertains a child's right to meet with others and to join or form associations).

Caning contravenes Article 19 of the CRC which is protection from abuse and neglect. Under the article, States must protect the child from all forms of maltreatment by parents or others responsible for his or her care.

Like Suhakam, child experts are completely against corporal punishment.

Corporal punishment is a form of child abuse, said Dr D. Sinniah, who is formerly from the Department of Paediatrics at the University of Malaya, in a New Straits Times article titled Don: Abolish caning in schools which was published in 1993.

"There is no evidence to suggest that corporal punishment can improve a child's learning ability," he said in an interview later.

"Inflicting severe punishment and using mental humiliation on children have adverse effects such as loss of self-esteem and personality changes with ramifications on adult life," Sinniah wrote in a paper titled Teachers - A High Risk Group for Violence on Children which was presented at the Third Asian Conference of Child Abuse and Neglect held in Kuala Lumpur in 1993.

Some experts may be against caning but many teachers still swear by it.

The Suhakam probe found that 79.5 per cent of teachers and 71.8 per cent of administrators agreed that persistent offenders should be caned.

Over the years, there have been several pleas from the public for the power to cane to be extended to regular teachers.

When the New Straits Times carried out an informal survey on caning in 1996, parents and teachers who called its office sounded a resounding "yes" to the suggestion.

Last October, the Education Ministry allowed teachers other than headmasters, principals and those involved in disciplining students to use the cane.

The decision followed the rise in cases of assault on teachers and gangsterism by schoolchildren which were widely publicised by the media between last August and September.

It was recommended that only suitable teachers were empowered to cane students. Ideally, they should have at least 10 years of teaching experience and married with children.

Yet, until today, schools have not received any formal circular from the Ministry allowing school heads to permit regular teachers to use the cane, says National Union of the Teaching Profession secretary-general Lok Yim Pheng.

Teachers who are fed up with the rising cases of indiscipline in schools say caning is justified.

At the recent seminar, a principal of a school in Klang Valley said she was forced to cane two students that week as they had deliberately vandalised school property.

Students who engage in vandalism are infringing Article 17 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which is the right of a school to own property. In destroying school's property, students are depriving the school of it.

Another educator, a former principal who once taught at a rural school, also admitted to caning a student for constantly coming late despite staying just a stone's throw away from school.

"I did it to give him a jolt. It worked," said the former principal.

NUTP's Lok concedes that there are other ways of disciplining a student. These include imposing fines and sending students to detention class.

"Some schools have even made parents sign a pledge to ensure that their children do not misbehave," she adds.

But what if a student fails to respond to lenient forms of punishments? When push comes to shove, Lok says principals and headmasters should use the rod professionally and with compassion.

"The disciplinary action should be meted out as a corrective measure and not to cause injuries. A student must be told why the school has decided to cane him," says Lok.

Even so, caning should be the penalty of last resort and reserved for absolute hardcore cases. It should never be done publicly, stresses Lok.

She trusts that school heads have weighed all other options before deciding on the cane.

"They have been trained to administer disciplinary actions properly. In fact, the Ministry has supplied schools with guidelines on the correct way of disciplining students," she says.

But not all schools adhere religiously to the guidebook. The Suhakam probe exposed that girls were also not spared the rod. Almost seven per cent of female respondents from girls schools had reported this.

"This finding is surprising as the law clearly states that girls cannot be caned," says Chiam.

As for boys, the law says they can only be caned on their palms and buttocks. They must also be wearing proper attire when the caning takes place.

Cases of girls being caned may be isolated ones. Nevertheless, it underscores the need for teachers, administrators and students to be educated on human rights, particularly the rights of the child.

Still, schools cannot turn a blind eye to indiscipline in the name of respecting the CRC, as Lok notes.

"We cannot keep protecting the child if he or she continues to do the wrong things," she says.

Lok hopes that teachers will be given adequate legal protection in the event that they are taken to court by disgruntled parents.

For the sake of the youngsters, a middle ground must be found.

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