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School CP - October 2000

Corpun file 6420

Bangkok Post, 29 October 2000

To cane or not to cane?

Experts state their cases for and against corporal punishment in schools

By Tunya Sukpanich

Wanchai Boonpracha of the Child Rights Protection Foundation:I welcome the decision but I think the abolition should also extend to other violent methods such as pinching or hurling chalks or pencils or any hard objects at students.

Inflicting pain on students does not help improve their behaviour nor does it address the real cause of the problem. On the contrary, in some cases, it can lead to more serious emotional repercussions and put more pressure on students.

Apart from imposing the ban, the Education Ministry and concerned organisations must establish other constructive measures to help improve student behaviour.

Teachers and students are not as close as they used to be. In certain schools, particularly the most well-known and popular ones, there are more than 50 students in each class. Teachers hardly have a chance to get to know their students because there are too many of them. It's too much work for the teachers. So they need to acquire the necessary skills to deal with aggressive students.

In Australia, teachers find time to get to know each student and even visit their houses occasionally, particularly those with behavioral problems.

If the teachers cannot handle the students themselves, they can ask for help from psychologists and psychiatrists. The help is also extended to the family since difficult students mainly come from broken or troubled homes. The system has proved a success as most students and their families show signs of positive change.

The Foundation is carrying out a similar programme at Wat Pradap Rabue in Dusit district, Bangkok. Some 15 students in the "risk group" and their families are to join the behaviour adjustment programme next month. The programme will run for eight weeks after which an evaluation will take place. The system will also be extended to schools where teachers are willing to try it out as a new method to deal with wayward students.

Sompong Chitradap, lecturer in the Faculty of Education, Chulalongkorn University, and adviser to the Senate committee on youths, women and the elderly:In principle, I agree with the ban. But I don't think it should be imposed just yet. We should wait for five to seven years until effective measures for handling problematic students are in place.

Student councils should also participate in the decision making process on relevant subjects, be they the abolition of caning or the new methods of punishment.

In the past, caning was used in schools without any strict control. That was why in many cases it got out of control and became a case of physical assault rather than effective punishment to correct student behaviour.

If the school can clearly identify why, when and how the caning is needed, then the teachers can use it effectively, and both parents and students will not feel so bad about it.

But it is also important that the teachers who are authorised to punish students are senior ones who are highly respected by teachers, students and parents.

Students must also accept such punishment with clear understanding. However, caning must never be applied to students who do not understand their studies and subsequently fail to do homework. Such punishment will not help improve their understanding, but make them hate the subjects even more.

Caning should be used only when students behave violently, such as beating up their fellow students and getting involved in brawls.

Under the current system, conditional caning is considered proper. The Education Ministry has established the new measures and systems mainly to deal with problematic students.

Dr Panpimol Lohtrakul, psychiatrist of the Mental Health Department:To cane or not to cane is not as important as to try to understand the real causes of the problem before deciding what measures should be applied.

In any event, I feel the initiative to stop caning is a good starting point and we're moving in the right direction towards in-depth analysis of student behaviours. - p until now, the Education Ministry has merely imposed fixed standard measures to punish students who break the rules and regulations. The measures were never intended to address problems in the long term. When the problems become more serious, the punishment becomes more stern. It is unfair to judge the student's bad behaviour without trying to understand their background. Two students who regularly skip class or fail to do their homework may have different reasons. Student A may come to school late because she has to help her mother set up foodstalls every morning, while Student B couldn't careless about being on time. If the teacher has done some investigation, he may find a good solution for Student A and she will not miss too many mornings.

Schools should have a process for identifying each student's problems so that the most appropriate measures can be applied.

At present, the Mental Health Department is carrying out a training programme for teachers on appropriate caring. Student councillors are encouraged to pay attention to both the learning capability and behaviour of their students. They should also know the background of each student.

Student counsellors and administrative teachers are already working together in the schools to ensure that student problems are properly dealt with. In certain cases, outside help from psychologists or even psychiatrists is needed.

Copyright The Post Publishing Public Co., Ltd. 2000

Corpun file 6419

Bangkok Post, 29 October 2000

Five of the best

NO MORE CANING: Caning in schools has long been the conventional method of disciplining students. Now advocates feel that its abolition will destroy respect for the Thai culture of seniority

By Suvicha Pouaree

From November, teachers will no longer be allowed to physically punish students. The new regulation only allows five methods of punishment to be applied. They are: reprimanding; assigning extracurricular activities; placing students on probation; suspension; and expulsion.

Critics of caning in schools say the educational code of conduct is antiquated, cruel and counter-productive. They also say that it has a serious damaging effect on the physical and mental health of students.

Inflicting pain on students has never been shown to enhance development of morality or character, they argue. What's more, there are many effective alternatives to inflicting pain that can be applied for the benefit of the children.

According to Education Minister Somsak Prissanananthakul, the new regulation is in line with the 1999 National Education Act. "Clearly, caning students does them no good," said Mr Somsak. Instead, teachers should offer good advice and instil a good conscience in students, he added.

It is more effective and long lasting to use positive reinforcement techniques that reward appropriate behaviour than to use aggressive techniques that yield only negative results, he said. But supporters of caning say schools must be equipped with effective tools to discipline students. The harsh method is not carried out through anger but serves as a reminder to students not to repeat the same mistakes or else they will have to face tough consequences.

They argue that a country needs law and order to deter citizens from anti-social behaviour and crime. Similarly, schools need to be able to use tough penalties as a deterrent against wayward students. More importantly, caning has proved to be one of the most effective methods of disciplining students, they claim.

Spare the rod and spoil the child

The caning policy has been legally in effect for decades. According to the Ministry of Education's 1972 rule, students can be punished by reprimanding; caning; being put on probation; being suspended from class; expelled with transcript; and expelled without transcript. For caning, the rod -- normally made from bamboo -- must not be more than 0.7 cm wide. Only school chiefs or assigned teachers are allowed to apply it to mischievous students and only to the back of the thighs using not more than six strokes.

Opponents of the technique argue there are better ways to discipline students, such as reasoning. But several teachers interviewed by Perspective still maintain that the most effective tool is physical punishment. They argue that most students avoid trouble because they are afraid of being spanked. The 1972 rule forbids caning to be carried out arbitrarily. Before being imposed, students will be asked if they have committed the wrongdoing. If the answer is yes, they will be allowed to choose between being caned or having their parents informed of their bad behaviour. Most students tend to go for the former alternative.

According to a source from a well-known school in Bangkok, students need to be disciplined so that when they leave school they will become good citizens and know how to respect law and order.

The spare the rod and spoil the child, approach may be seen by some western liberals as a symbol of authoritarianism or dictatorship imposed on students. But the rod is merely a tool to maintain rules and deter aggressive behaviour, he said.

Wallop Piyamanotham, an executive of Srinakarinwirot University's Prasarnmitr's counselling centre, claims that there his proof of negative consequences of not inflicting corporal punishment. Over 30 years ago, the United States banned caning in school after parents brought assault charges against teachers. Years later, American youngsters became more aggressive.

"Many quarrelled, became gangsters and killers and indulged in other anti-social behaviours. And all this is because they had been raised without caning," Mr Wallop claimed.

In Thailand, caning in school has produced many good and successful citizens, a teacher said. These might even include some of the western-oriented liberals who have campaigned against caning in school, he added.

Before the emergence of western-standard schools in Thailand, parents sent their children to temples to be educated under the care of monks. There the students had to respect certain rules, and if they broke them, their punishments included caning. Many of Thailand's leading figures in public life have been educated in this way. Therefore, supporters of caning argue, caning has evidently not damaged the country. Rather it has helped to create good citizens.

New dilemma for teachers

Under the new rule, primary school students can only be reprimanded; assigned extracurricular activities or put on probation. The maximum punishment for secondary students is suspension, while for university students, it is expulsion.

Several teachers say the new rules have created many problems for them. A teacher from a well-known school in Bangkok said the Education Ministry has failed to clarify the term "extracurricular activities" as a method of punishment.

"For example, if I punish students by ordering them to clean the classroom, they say the punishment is a kind of mental oppression, so they have the right not to obey. Then what can I do?" According to Article 7 of the rule on supporting and protecting the rights of students in educational institutions, teachers are not allowed to physically or psychologically violate students. "If the students claim the penalty oppresses them and they feel their rights are being violated, in theory, it means I am breaking the law," the teacher added. There are also other rules that pose problems for teachers, including Article 9 which allows students to have a say in the way they are punished. "Normally, students tend to avoid punishment if they can. If we go for the harshest methods, such as probation or suspension, and yet they continue to behave badly, what else can we do?" He said that abuse of power by teachers has been cited as a reason for the need for change despite there being only a few cases of teachers abusing their authority in this way. "Certainly, such teachers should be dismissed. But a few bad ones do not mean that all teachers are bad," the teacher said.

The way the ministry handled the issue has led people to believe that teachers in general are too dangerous and untrustworthy to take care of or teach students. As a result, teachers suffer. "I'm afraid that the ministry's rules are likely to encourage students to be rowdy and aggressive and this will be particularly damaging to the image of Thai teachers. Law-makers don't seem to understand the reality of today's schools. This is probably because they have never taught students at this level. Or perhaps, they have never even studied in a Thai school," a teacher said wearily.

Western values vs. Eastern values

Western values generally emphasise rights, liberties, democracy and freedom of expression. Justification for those values is based on the history, culture and traditions of western societies. But they are not global values.

Eastern countries have their own set of values. In the book A New Deal for Asia, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad of Malaysia stressed that Asian values are community- and family-oriented. Asian people place greater value on the family and on the needs and interests of the community than on the individual and his or her rights to absolute personal freedom, he wrote.

According to Mahathir, Asian values must include respect for authority in order to guarantee the stability of society as a whole. Good authority is a reciprocal phenomenon involving responsibilities and obligations of both sides-leaders and followers. These Asian values also apply in Thai society. In school, the personal freedom of students and the individual's rights are restricted by the schools' rules and regulations. Teachers and students are separated by their own responsibilities and obligations.

Good old tradition

Teachers are the upholders of school rules in order to maintain order, run classes and teach students. Students are taught to become good citizens and develop their intellectual ability. Strict discipline is needed to ensure good results. If there is no line drawn to separate teachers from students, their relationship will be no different to that between employees and employers. Teachers will merely be seen as employees who are hired by parents to teach academic subjects to their children. Schools will not be able to maintain order in such an environment.

In Thai society, the relationship between teachers and students is based on seniority. Teachers are treated as second parents to students. They are committed not only to educate the children but to teach them moral values.

In recent years, Thai society has changed rapidly for the worse, partly because of the development of information and communication technology. More and more students follow western fashions and life-styles rather than Thai culture, particularly the traditional respect for seniority and community- and family-oriented systems.

At the same time, the belief in individual rights and equality has become increasingly dominant in society. Students show less respect to their teachers, viewing them only as someone their parents have hired to teach them.

"I do not understand why we go on and on about the rights and liberties of the people. Why don't we start to stress the obligations as a Thai citizen. People try to interfere in every social issue by citing their rights as individuals. But they ignore their real obligations. This could set a bad example for students," said a teacher. Individual rights and equality are not only cited by students but by parents. In the end, over-indulgence of equality and individual rights will spread to the home. Children may start addressing their parents by their names, rather than using the respected term khun por or khun mae (mum and dad). When they quarrel with their parents, they may become aggressive. Then what will society be like?Hence, parents should help schools maintain the precious Thai culture of seniority by teaching the children to treat their seniors, particularly parents and teachers, with utmost respect and to accept harsh punishment if they break school rules. "Already some students have started calling tough teachers names. As teachers, we need to be respected and we expect parents to help us maintain the culture," said a veteran teacher.

"When parents take the children to school, they should have confidence in the capability of the school and teachers. I don't understand why whenever there are problems, some parents refuse to stand by the school," a senior teacher said. At his school, 80% of rowdy students have family problems, while others are spoilt by their parents.

"Some parents spoil their children and pressure schools and teachers not to punish them. Still, I believe more than half of the parents want us to continue caning their children in a constructive way," he said. "We (teachers) are human. We also have our own children. We don't want to see our children being harmed by their teachers either. But if our children misbehave, we'd like to see them punished, including caning, so that they learn to differentiate right from wrong. This has been the way we have reared children in our society for centuries and I strongly feel that it should be maintained."

Copyright The Post Publishing Public Co., Ltd. 2000

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