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School CP - September 2001

Corpun file 7776 at


The Straits Times, Singapore, 24 September 2001

Caned: Principal punishes 41 boys for skipping tests

Parent unhappy with caning, but Fajar Secondary explains that students did not have a good reason for their no-show

By Tracy Quek

AT FAJAR Secondary in Bukit Panjang, the school rules are clear: Play truant or skip classes and you will be caned.

And that is exactly what the principal did when 41 Secondary 4 and 5 boys skipped common tests last month.

Mr Saminathan Gopal lined up the boys in his office, and the disciplinary master and operations manager meted out the punishment: two strokes of the cane on the buttocks.

Seventeen girls who also skipped the tests were asked to do community work.

But one parent was unhappy with the caning and wrote to The Straits Times to complain.

The parent, who did not give his name, said his son felt humiliated after the caning and was reluctant to go to school after the incident.

The parent wrote: 'I believe the school's counselling programme is a complete failure, if the principal has to resort to caning.

'The action of the school is bad for the students.

'Instead of humiliating and caning them, the school should help and encourage them.'

But Mr Gopal stood by the caning and explained why: The students did not have a good reason for their no-show.

Some were also recalcitrant and had been disciplined before for various offences, including truancy.

The school rule on caning is stated prominently on notice boards and in students' handbooks.

He said: 'Teachers, students and their parents are all aware of the rule. These students are going to sit for the O-level and N-level exams soon.

'They were irresponsible and did not come for an important test. We had to take action.'

The school is contacting the parents of all the students who were caned.

A check with other schools said they do not cane students for playing truant but for offences such as vandalism, bullying, intimidation, theft, defiance or rudeness to teachers.

The heads of Victoria School, Bowen, Bartley, Ngee Ann and Pingyi Secondary said that even then, they rarely mete out corporal punishment.

Instead, they counsel students with disciplinary problems.

Mr Gopal also said that caning is always a last resort and exceptions are made.

He said: 'We examine each case individually. We recognise that there are different reasons why students are absent from school.

'Students who are absent for a day are usually let off with a stern warning. Those who stay away from school for long periods are questioned thoroughly and sent for counselling.'

He said that the school is investigating why such a large number of students had skipped the common tests.

Those who were caned were counselled afterwards.

He stressed: 'We do not cane any student blindly.'

Assistant engineer Mazlan Mohd, 46, who found out that his son had skipped the tests from the school, said that Fajar did the right thing in disciplining his child.

Del Rasullee, 16, said he overslept and missed five tests.

Mr Mazlan said: 'Missing tests is ridiculous. He should be caned and, if he misbehaves again, he should be caned again.'

Del, who is sitting for his N levels this year, seemed to have learnt his lesson.

He said: 'It's not worth doing something that's wrong. I won't skip any more tests.'

Copyright @ 2001 Singapore Press Holdings. All rights reserved.

blob Follow-up: 8 October 2001 - Did Mr Gopal do the right thing?

Corpun file 7778 at


The Straits Times, Singapore, 24 September 2001

Counselled: School turns 166 students around

By Shahinda Ariff

CHELLAPPAN Meyyappan used to be a teacher's nightmare. He was rude to them, hit other teens and disrupted lessons.

On meeting him now, one can hardly believe that the polite and conscientious 15-year-old, well-liked by his peers and teachers, is the same person.

His schoolmate, Lim Lee Lian, 13, used to skip her assignments and get into brawls with the boys in school. Today, the Secondary 1 student is a prefect, whose responsible behaviour is an example to her fellow students.

The two teenagers are some of the 166 students at Fajar Secondary that the school's counselling programme has helped since it started two years ago.

The school's principal, Mr Saminathan Gopal, said counselling has played an important part in Fajar's efforts to deal with children with disciplinary problems.

The soft-spoken 49-year-old, who caned 41 boys last month for skipping a test without good reason, said: 'We cane only those who commit serious offences. But we always send them for counselling, too. A balance must be struck.'

The school started its counselling programme in 1999, after Mr Gopal attended a seminar conducted by American teacher and author Edward Ford, who developed a method called responsible thinking process.

Under the scheme, children with disciplinary problems are taught to respect others and be responsible for their actions.

Together with a counsellor, they work out how they can improve their behaviour by penning their thoughts on their past and future actions, and the consequences of such actions.

The discussion is held in a container cabin, called the Responsible Thinking Centre, which is next to the school's main building. It has a row of cubicles at one end, a blackboard at another, and a couple of comfortable chairs in the centre.

It is manned by one full-time counsellor and three teachers, who have been trained to deal with bad behaviour.

Most of the students asked to go there have been referred for one or more reasons, some of which have resulted in their class being disrupted.

Though it usually takes just one 40-minute session to make most students realise the impact of their actions and improve their behaviour, some need several sessions and these are done after school.

Chellappan, now in Secondary 3, was one of them. He had to go for counselling every week from the time he was in Secondary 1 and stopped only recently.

Unable to control his temper, he used to start fights and shout at his teachers. He recalls that he was furious when he was first sent for counselling. 'I felt like I was being treated like a kid,' he said. But, slowly, his teachers and counsellors chipped away at his wall of anger.

'They were very patient with me, and always talked to me nicely. They never gave up on me, so I didn't want to let them down. Now, if anyone disturbs me, I just ignore him. It's important to behave well because I don't want to get into trouble later,' he added.

Mrs Jeanette Wooi, who taught him mathematics in Secondary 1 and 2, said: 'The change in him is amazing. He's now a very polite and pleasant boy, and is enthusiastic about his work.'

The school's full-time counsellor, Miss Vaneta Rossvan, said the key to reaching students like Chellappan is to be understanding and non-judgmental. 'You have to try to see things through their eyes, give them encouragement and motivation and capitalise on their strengths.'

She added that parental support is vital. 'When the children see that we care and their parents care, then it's easier to help them.'

The behavioural changes the counsellors have managed and the way they have brought them about has turned the centre from a dreaded place into a students' haunt. Lee Lian said she drops by after school nearly every day.

'I just go to say hi, or confide my personal problems, or just to have a chat. I can talk to the counsellors here about anything,' she said.

Copyright © 2001 Singapore Press Holdings. All rights reserved.

Corpun file 7777 at


The Straits Times, Singapore, 24 September 2001

Up to schools, says ministry

PRINCIPALS are given discretion when it comes to meting out corporal punishment, said the Ministry of Education.

Its guidelines on caning do not specify what kind of offences warrant caning. Instead, schools are given room to decide how to punish students who break rules or behave badly. This is because principals and teachers know their students well and are in the best position to decide on the most suitable form of punishment.

Mr Goh Tong Pak, deputy director of schools west of the Ministry of Education's Schools Division, said: 'We have a wide range of schools and a wide variety of students, and one set of guidelines. While keeping the guidelines in mind, schools should make adjustments to be effective in deterring more offences.' The guidelines are:

Only the principal has the authority to cane. But he may ask the vice-principal, a department head or senior teacher to do it.

One to six strokes of a light cane may be given on the palm or buttocks and nowhere else.

Principals are urged to exercise restraint in carrying out corporal punishment.

Other forms of corporal punishment are not allowed.

Only boys can be caned.

A proper record should be kept to include the name of the pupil, the person who used the cane, witnesses, the nature of offence, the number of strokes given, date and time.

Inform parents immediately after a caning and give details of the offence and the punishment meted out.

Corporal punishment should be a last resort.

Copyright © 2001 Singapore Press Holdings. All rights reserved.

Corpun file 7797 at


The Straits Times, Singapore, 25 September 2001


Find out why child was punished first

WHY do parents protect their children so much that these youngsters cannot be punished when they do wrong?

When a child feels humiliated after being caned in school and is reluctant to go back, shouldn't his parents ascertain why he was caned? I am sure schools do not resort to caning as a first course of action. Many try counselling or warn students first.

Many parents blame schools for not teaching their children proper values and, yet, when schools finally do, they get blamed for scolding, caning and punishing the students.

What do today's parents really want? Many are too busy with work to see how their children really behave behind their backs.

We should not stand up for our children in front of them. This gives them the idea that when they are punished, their parents will 'punish' the school in return. Parents should approach the school, without their children, to learn the reason for the punishment before passing judgment.


Copyright © 2001 Singapore Press Holdings. All rights reserved.

Corpun file 7799 at


The Straits Times, Singapore, 26 September 2001


Caning students for skipping test too harsh

I REFER to Lian Guojian's letter, 'Find out why child was punished first' (ST, Sept 25).

As a parent, I agree with the writer that children may be punished in certain instances, when the 'wrong' done is clearly unacceptable.

Good schools have defined this as 'offences such as vandalism, bullying, intimidation, theft, defiance or rudeness to teachers'.

When students play truant, these good schools, I understand, would normally counsel them or seek their parents' cooperation.

The action of the principal of Fajar Secondary in caning, not once but twice, 41 students for not turning up for a test, cannot fall under the category of a 'wrong' which justifies caning.

The Ministry of Education has said that it considers principals as chief executive officers and leaders.

If they are to be leaders, then it is expected that they will be able to motivate their students to take these tests by preparing them adequately.

If the school really cared and did the right thing for the students, the caning would have been absolutely unnecessary.


Copyright © 2001 Singapore Press Holdings. All rights reserved.

Corpun file 7798 at


The Straits Times, Singapore, 27 September 2001


Don't rap teachers when students are ones at fault

I REFER to the letters on the caning of Fajar Secondary students.

I have two observations to make: First, 'spare the rod and spoil the child' seems to have fallen into disfavour now, and for no good reason.

Secondly, some parents love to push the blame to schools. Frankly, they are acting ridiculously.

I was a relief teacher at a secondary school before, and it was an eye-opening experience. Some of the students were absolutely unteachable and rebellious, and I applauded the teachers who had to deal with these 'monsters' on a daily basis.

For example, one student shouted at me and tried to hit me in front of the class.

If they lacked even basic respect for their teachers, whom they perceived as having little authority, would they respect others, including their parents?

Truancy may not seem as serious a problem when compared to vandalism, theft or rudeness to teachers, but it is still a problem.

These students skipped an important test, and they are to sit for their O and N levels later this year.

Some were recalcitrant and needed discipline. Also, the punishment had been spelt out clearly beforehand.

I am sure Fajar cares for its students and the school is trying to prepare them well for major exams, so that they can have a better chance of success in life. However, there is only so much the school can do.

These students need to wake up and take responsibility for their mistakes, instead of running to Mummy. If they feel humiliated, it may deter them from skipping school again.

Finally, parents must realise that they have a duty to discipline and guide their children. They cannot do a bad job at home and expect teachers to make up for it.

At the same time, they should trust the teachers and give them their support, instead of being so quick to criticise.


Copyright © 2001 Singapore Press Holdings. All rights reserved.

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