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rainbow ruler   :  Archive   :  1996   :  MY Schools Jun 1996


School CP - June 1996

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Sunday Star, Kuala Lumpur, 9 June 1996

United call for the cane

The academic success of students in Chinese schools is a much talked about subject among many quarters. But as the saying goes, success does not come easy. Strict discipline is closely associated with their academic performance. ELLIE YAP spoke to principals, teachers and Chinese-educated parents and found that most agree with giving all teachers the power to cane.

MENTION Chinese schools and the image that springs to mind is of obedient, neatly-dressed children listening in perfect silence as their teachers go through the lessons.

Chinese schools are known for their tight discipline and most principals and teachers in these schools agree that caning is an effective deterrent against misbehaviour.

Wong Peck Hong, who served as a principal in a number of Chinese schools, is one such educationist. His views echo the sentiments of many Chinese school teachers.

He said a child who is caned "once in a while" would not suffer repercussions like lack of self-confidence and low self-esteem. In the contrary, the punishment would help the child in the long run.

"Just look at Lee Kuan Yew. He was caned before and if he had suffered adversely from it, he wouldn't have gone on to be Singapore's president for so long," said Wong.

He added that if children misbehaved, they should be punished so that they would know when they had stepped out of line.

Wong, however, made a clear distinction over when the cane should be used to punish and when it should not.

For offences such as forgetting to bring textbooks to class or failing tests, other forms of punishment such as weeding and doing extra homework should be meted out instead, he said.

He is more in favour of caning a student's buttocks rather than palms.

"Fingers are fragile and there is a slight chance that one might miss the palm and hit the fingers instead and so cause unnecessary injury to the student," he said.

Teacher H.C. Lee, who has 34 years experience feels that in general, disciplinary problems in Chinese schools are considerably less compared to government schools.

He said most Chinese-educated students had a more serious attitude when it came to studies.

"At SMJK (C) Kwang Hua in Klang where I taught for 20 years, the cane was hardly used.

"If students were caned it was only for serious offences like fighting, extortion or smoking. Even when the cane was used, parents did not complain because they were aware of their own children's indiscipline," he said.

Lee, now a disciplinary teacher in SM ACS, Klang, carries a cane around in the school and said that sometimes he needn't use it for weeks.

"I believe in using the cane as a deterrent and therefore, each and every teacher should have the choice of carrying and using a cane," he said.

He said that it was highly impractical for a teacher to have to run back to the staff room to get his or her cane.

Even worse, he added, was dragging the student from the third floor of the building to the principal's office, get a teacher to witness and to sign the necessary papers, and only then cane the child.

"By the time one does all this, the whole period is gone," said Lee.

Foong Su Kwong, 49, a retired teacher who has taught in both national-type Chinese primary schools and national secondary schools, agrees with Lee.

She too believes that students in Chinese schools are generally better behaved.

This, she feels, could be due to the fact that the importance of education has been instilled in these children by their parents from a young age.

Foong has used the cane on her students before, but only after repeated warnings.

"If you say you will cane after three warnings, you must do it. Otherwise you will lose your students' respect," she says.

But while Foong says that teachers in the Chinese schools used to be held with a greater amount of respect, teacher Mrs Koay, from Taiping feels that times have changed.

Koay, who is a teacher in a Chinese primary school, said that nowadays even young pupils were aware that teachers had no real authority over them.

Hence she feels the need for all teachers to be given the authority to wield the cane.

Koay said that the lack of discipline in her school had become a problem ever since the Education Ministry clamped down on caning. When asked whether she would complain if her own children were caned in school, she said she would not if they had done wrong.

Parent Ong Cheng Kooi, 40, whose two children are studying in a national-type Chinese school, also gives full consent to all teachers to cane her children if the need arises.

She fully understands that a hot tempered teacher might abuse his or her power if given the cane, but to her, it is much more dangerous if a teacher slaps her children instead.

Ong said that her son, aged six, had been caned in school before.

"I did not complain to the school because I have full confidence in the teachers," she said.

"I know my son. The teacher must have had a good reason to cane my son" she adds.

Principal of SMJK (C) Chung Hwa, Tan Poh Boo, 52, however, does not feel that each and every teacher should be allowed to use the cane.

Nevertheless, he believes that the ministry should allow class teachers to cane.

His school has extended the right to cane to its supervisors and now there are about six to eight teachers in total who have legitimate use of the cane.

Tan said at the moment, discipline in his school was not a big problem and there was no need to carry a cane wherever he went.

Interestingly, all the teachers interviewed do not feel that their opinions on caning are related to their Chinese-educated background.

One primary teacher even noted that some of the teachers in Chinese schools who physically punish students for small offences were, in fact, English-educated.

The teachers also pointed out that they had never used a cane or wooden ruler to hit a student's knuckles or palm for small mistakes like forgetting homework or books.

But while most Chinese school authorities believe that the right to cane should be extended to all teachers, there are a few in the system who disagree.

Retired primary school teacher, Tan Loo Jit, 58, said that in her 33 years of teaching, she had rarely used the cane.

Tan, who taught in national type primary Chinese schools in Butterworth and Penang, had never encountered any real discipline problems.

She believes that one should seek to first understand a student's family background, because not all students deserve to be punished.

A former primary school head who only wanted to be known as Mr Chuah, 56, also disagreed with caning.

"In order to teach children one needs to give ample doses of love, patience and compassion. Caning does not necessarily achieve the desired results," he said.

Chuah, who retired last year, said in his 33 years of teaching, he had never physically punished nor caned his students and certainly not his own three boys who were now in their 20s.

A devout Buddhist, Chuah believes in extending mercy, especially to his students.

"Caning will only achieve short term results. To him, to teach is to sacrifice. Therefore, the formula for long term change is for the teacher to give the students his or her love," he said.

Quoting a Chinese proverb, San Si Er Xing which literally means to 'think three times before making a step', Chuah feels that the public, not just the Education Ministry, should think carefully before handing all teachers the authority to use the cane.

Corpun file 0006 at


Sunday Star, Kuala Lumpur, 9 June 1996

Gaining respect the heart of the issue

IS giving teachers more powers the panacea to all disciplinary ills in schools? The Education Ministry has posed this question to the parents whom it feels should have a say. SIMRIT KAUR and GAVIN GOMEZ spoke to teachers, parents and students and found out that the heart of the issue is respect, not the cane.

STRONG, diverse and a matter close to the hearts of many -- that aptly describes the general response from Malaysians on whether teachers should be given more powers to check the growing indiscipline problem in schools.

The Teacher Power poll conducted by The Star drew feedback from people of all walks of life most of whom were parents and teachers.

Many posed questions that needed to be addressed first before new regulations are formulated.

What level of behaviour is considered "tolerable" and what would warrant caning?

Many of them interviewed pointed out that at the heart of the issue was respect, or rather the lack of it shown to teachers these days.

Even teachers themselves were not too keen on having powers to cane students.

While brandishing a cane in the classroom may make students think twice about misbehaving, some felt that they may also harbour resentment, rather than respect.

So if the aim of empowering teachers to cane is intended to give them back the respect that has eroded over the years, at what point does it become acceptable to cane?

The guidelines set out by the Ministry state unequivocally that the responsibility for maintaining discipline lies solely in the hands of school heads.

Headmasters have the absolute power to determine the form and type of punishment. They are also responsible for ensuring that all teachers are aware of the disciplinary procedures and strictly follow the regulations laid down.

Teachers are permitted to cane students with a light cane, on the palms of the hands and a clothed buttock. A witness must always be present.

Only girls are exempted from corporal punishment.

Until the issue of teacher power was raised, the Ministry's approach to indiscipline was increasingly geared towards counselling. This is evident in the recent move to appoint full-time counsellors in every secondary school.

Stress management courses, too, will be introduced in teacher training colleges to help teachers learn to deal effectively with classroom friction.

However, the Ministry's guidelines on disciplinary measures point out the effectiveness of a swift, sharp whack on the bottom.

The guidelines say: "Corporal punishment can be extremely beneficial and effective when carried out immediately after the offence is committed by the student."

Teachers, parents and students, however, have their own views on the issue.


Ministry guidelines on discipline make no distinction between primary and secondary students.

Although caning tends to be less prevalent at primary school level, the majority of police reports of alleged physical abuse in the classroom concern primary school pupils.

All primary school headmasters interviewed say that they used the cane only for serious offences and to discipline 'hardcore problem' students.

SRJK (T) Jln Bangsar headmaster Perumal Ramasamy prefers to use other forms of punishment where possible, due to the negative effects of caning.

"Caning can be an extremely traumatic experience, especially for the younger pupils," he says.

Perumal says he only canes pupils on the palm and each caning is noted down in the discipline book.

SRK Methodist headmaster C.Nadarajah, however, has a different view.

"Students no longer fear teachers and the impact of an instantaneous caning will teach them a lesson they would find hard to forget," he says.

Nadarajah says all teachers should be given the power to cane as it would act as an effective deterrent to indiscipline.

He makes the point that this would not lead to an abuse of the system as teachers who are wont to lose their temper and hit out at students would do so even if there were no canes.

He adds that the likelihood of teachers causing serious injuries by using the cane within proper guidelines is also much slimmer than if they used their fists or other objects.

Another primary school headmistress in Selangor, who prefers to remain anonymous, also says that she fully agrees with the reintroduction of caning.

"It would also prepare students for secondary school where they will be caned if they misbehave," she says.

Unlike Ramasamy and Nadarajah, she has authorised a few other teachers to carry out caning. As in the other schools, the punishment and offence is recorded in a discipline book which will be sent to the education department.

A different scenario emerges in secondary schools where caning seems to be more widespread. This could be due to the fact that the offences committed tend to be much more serious.

SM Jalan San Peng principal Aminuddin bin Mohamad has given 20 teachers permission to use the cane.

He says the school has managed to maintain a good discipline record despite its location in a part of Kuala Lumpur known for its gangsterism.

The most common offence at the school is fighting, which may be due to the enclosed school environment coupled with the large number of students (about 2,800).

SM Jln San Peng's head of discipline Wan Ahmad Ridzuan, however, admits to rarely having to use the cane.

Instead, he points to the effectiveness of the various programmes carried out by the school's discipline board, including an orientation week for Form 1 students where they are informed of school rules and the punishment meted out for any infringement.

It is compulsory for all schools to have a discipline board, an in-house organisation, chaired by the headmaster which decides on all matters relating to discipline such as suspensions, expulsions and the selection of prefects.

Ahmad believes that teachers who cane students must help their students understand that they have committed an offence and that they are being punished for it.

"Caning should only be used for severe cases and for students who cannot be controlled by any other means," he says.

SM Bandar Baru Sentul headmistress Hajjah Aminah Ishak says that even for serious offences, caning would not be the best solution as compared to counselling.

Counselling, she says, allows teachers to talk to the students, see things from their perspective and enables the counsellor to get to the root of the problem.

She feels that a distinction should be made between heavy caning, the guidelines for which are stipulated in the regulations and light caning that is done by many teachers on a day-to-day basis.

"Some teachers use a cane or a ruler to lightly tap or smack a student, sometimes to literally wake them up or spur them on.

"This type of caning does not leave any physical damage or an emotional scar on the student," she says.

This teacher who spent 14 years in a school for the blind before her promotion six months ago terms herself a strict disciplinarian, but uses more creative methods such as detention class and making students help out in the garden for any breach of discipline.

Aminah is a counsellor herself and has found that it has in many cases brought about a positive change in character.

On the role of parents, Aminah says: "Every parent wants the best for their child but sometimes due to a lack of communication, problems arise. Children nowadays don't seem to be getting the right values from parents either."

However she does agree that all teachers should be given the right to cane if the situation demands, but that they should always counsel first.


Parents are often blamed for leaving the responsibility of disciplining their children with the teachers.

Mrs Tay, who has two children attending a primary school in an affluent neighbourhood in Kuala Lumpur, says that the lack of respect for teachers among students is inculcated at home by parents.

She feels many parents tend to put down the teaching profession as a whole. This extends to the teachers in their children's school.

"More often than not the immediate response of parents of students who are caned is to go to the headmaster and complain," she says.

This not only puts the teacher in trouble but also deters her and other teachers from disciplining students in future."

Tay firmly believes in the power of the cane.

"There are many dedicated teachers but their hands are tied. I have given permission to my child's teacher to cane him if he misbehaves but the teacher is reluctant to do so."

She says that nowadays cases like gangsterism and extortion are surfacing even in primary schools, so corporal punishment is needed to hold students in check and to show them there is a limit to what they can do.

"It boils down to parental discipline and guidance. Teachers are only supposed to play a supporting role but because many parents have abrogated their responsibility this role has been thrust on the teacher and as such they should be given the right to discipline students within reasonable limits," she says.

Mother of two pre-school children Eileen Yap is a firm believer in the old adage spare the rod and spoil the child.

She feels this is particularly appropriate for boys who "do not take to reason as well as girls".

"In the old days teachers were considered our second parents, so they had the right to cane.

"We not only feared our teachers, we respected them," she says.

Yap feels that discipline is one of the key components of education.

"All teachers should be given the right to cane if they are to be effective as teachers," she says.


Students, however, feel that the discipline problem can be resolved through counselling and the nurturing of stronger teacher-student relationships.

"It is good to have caning but it has to be done solely by the headmaster or discipline master," says Shenton G. a Form Five student from SM Subang Utama.

He continues: "We are just afraid that teachers may abuse their power.

"Students would be terrified of teachers who cane students for committing minor offences like making noise in class."

Shenton does not agree that students would have more respect for teachers if they were all allowed to wield the cane.

"Respect cannot come simply through physical coercion," he says.

According to Shenton, teachers who gain respect from their students are the ones who are firm, but who also care for the students and talk to them about their problems.

He says punishment for minor indiscipline cases should not be caning. Instead, caning should be reserved for more severe indiscipline cases such as involvement in gangsterism, persistent truancy and any form of abuse to teachers.

A Form Five student from the same school, Celine Rajendran, says students who are guilty of minor offences also should be caned only if "all else does not work".

"If a student makes noise in class and is not punished for it, then he would never learn to respect others and continue being naughty. Students who continuously disobey their teachers are the ones that should be caned," she continues.

She feels that caning is good as long as it is done in moderation and only when necessary.

Ruth Chia, a prefect from SM Subang Utama shares the importance of the teacher-student relationship.

"Teachers should learn to respect students, just as how they would want to be respected," shares Chia.

"I am quite sure teachers would not cane their peers when they do something wrong. So, should students be caned?"

"The best resolution I feel is talking. Getting to know why the student has done what he did would better help solve the problem, rather than just caning him," she continues.

Form Four student Idahani Ismail feels that by giving advice and counselling, students would learn more because they would understand what they have done wrong and hopefully learn that teachers are not there to merely punish them but to help.

"Caning is not the answer, but understanding is. Teachers need to understand what the students want, and learn to cope with whatever problems the students have," shares Idahani.

Form Four student from a school in Kuala Lumpur, Juliet Jeganathan says: "If a student proves to be a discipline problem for the school, then talk to the student.

"Even we students know that teenage delinquents only do what they do to seek attention. It is all a false front to cover up for their insecurity."

The feedback gathered from these students seems to point to the fact that caning may only provoke further rebellion and result in the disruption of the student's wellbeing.

Getting the student to know what he has done wrong and why he has done it would help address the discipline problem in a more civilized and democratic manner.

Treating the student exactly as how you would want to be treated, is in fact the best way to help both the student and the school.

As Gomez agrees: "Being a student is all about growing up. If caning is the solution to resolve the discipline problem in schools then it is proof that the school authorities are not interested in having the student learn from his mistakes but rather be punished blindly for his misdeeds."

So, where does this put the student? Back in the same place where he started -- indisciplined and disrespectful.

Clearly, there is a need for mutual respect in the classroom. Ideally, this could be developed if there was more communication and better rapport between parents and teachers.

Corpun file 0024 at


The Star, Kuala Lumpur, 15 June 1996

Letter To The Editor

Power to cane will spawn abuse in class

Charles Moreira of Kuala Lumpur writes:

THERE will be abuse of the cane if teachers are given the right to use it arbitrarily on pupils.

In spite of the 1960's law limiting authority to use the cane to school principals and certain appointed teachers, class teachers continued to slap and cane pupils for non-disciplinary reasons.

Instead of trying to find solutions to pupils' poor academic performances, some teachers shirked their duties and took the easy way out by caning pupils.

Shortly after joining St Michael's Institution, Ipoh, in 1966, my geography teacher caned pupils who had failed his subject in the monthly test.

In Form Three, my science teacher punished a pupil in a brutal way by slapping his face with his left and right hand in succession.

It was a practice that pupils who were repeating their SRP and who failed their end-of-term tests were caned before their peers.

Such pupils who failed their tests each received two strokes of the cane on their buttocks from the discipline teacher.

I joined Form Four in St Xavier's Institution, Penang, where a Christian brother was feared for his painful canings by pupils in the Lower Forms.

My class was next to his office and the boys coming out of his office after the caning were visibly in pain.

Can we discount the fact that a teacher under pressure and suffering from depression might abuse his right to use the cane and vent his anger and frustrations on pupils for some trivial reason?

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