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School CP - January 2002

Bangkok Post, 14 January 2002

Corporal punishment

Suvit wants caning back in schools

Intractable pupils have become bolder

By Sirikul Bunnag

One day after Children's Day, Education Minister Suvit Khunkitti announced plans to reintroduce caning in schools.

Mr Suvit yesterday said he viewed the cane as suitable punishment for intractable students, who had become increasingly bold since physical discipline was banned in schools during the previous government.

Predictably, he received mixed reactions to his plan to bring back the cane.

Mr Suvit unveiled his plan at a workshop on education reform at Sri Nakhon School in Songkhla's Hat Yai district.

He told about 10,000 southern teachers and school executives that since his predecessor in the previous administration banned caning, many teachers reported unruly students had become more aggressive.

"More importantly, they cannot find any other way to effectively punish these students and make them change their behaviour," he said.

He would sound out teachers for their reactions. If they agreed, he would push it through the needed official procedures.

"There must not only be teachers who are good role models for their students, but also teachers who can make their students behave," he said.


Senator Wallop Tangkananurak, secretary-general of the Foundation for a Better Life for Children, was highly critical of any proposal to bring back the cane.

The minister's proposal was a "funny and bad piece of news" for people in education circles, he said.

"The education minister's plan contradicts the prime minister's slogan for Children's Day -- to enjoy learning and thoughtful play to ensure their bright future," Mr Wallop said.

"It would be like learning with a cane, pressing with emotion and beating students until they are strong."

Police and the Juvenile Observation and Protection Centre had replaced caning and other violent discipline with psychological rehabilitation.

Mr Wallop said the minister should take good care of children instead of returning to violence.

"There are so many ways to control children's behaviour," he said.

"Instead of caning, the Education Ministry should revive the system of class masters who take good care of, and have a good relationship with, their students and solve their problems through a psychological approach," Mr Wallop said.

"This way, students are happy to see their beloved teachers to seek advice when they are in trouble."

Psychiatrist Wallop Piyamanotham, of Srinakharinwirot University, said caning should be the last resort, used only on students who could not be disciplined by other means.

Teachers should first try to reward good students and withhold rewards from mischievous pupils.

"Over the past 20-30 years, the United States has banned teachers from using the cane on students," he said. "As a result, there are more mischievous children. Students' punishment should be flexible. Some children need to be caned to correct their behaviour."


masthead The Nation, Bangkok, 15 January 2002

Support for return to caning students

By Dusanee Lerthamalak and Anan Pangnoy

School administrators, students and parents yesterday voiced support for Education Minister Suwit Khunkitti's plan to reintroduce caning in schools, but cautioned that strict guidelines for teachers' use of corporal punishment should be introduced along with it.

Suwit remarked on National Children's Day last Saturday that caning was an appropriate form of punishment for delinquent students, adding that students had become more aggressive since caning was banned by the previous government. Then-education minister Somsak Prissanananthakul issued a ministerial regulation prohibiting caning in schools on November 1, 2000 after a student was reported to have been seriously injured by a teacher.

Since then, educators have been urged to employ five kinds of punishment, in increasing order of severity: reprimanding, assigning punitive activities, probation, suspension from school, and finally, dismissal from school.

Silpachai Silawat, assistant director of Bangkok's Badindecha School, said that while he agreed caning helped curb delinquency, corporal punishment alone could not solve the problem.

Bunsom Detthammarit, assistant director of Bangkok's Yothinburana School, said caning was a very sensitive issue. While it worked in some cases, some students did not respond to caning, she said.

masthead The Nation, Bangkok, 17 January 2002

Education reform not complete answer

By Wichit Chaitrong
The Nation

Children's Day this year took an unusual turn following a hard-hitting remark made by a student and a controversial proposal by the education minister.

Hiranya Wiwatdechakul, a Matthayom 4 student, made the headlines when she mocked the government's "child-centred learning" concept, dubbing it "buffalo-centred learning" during a meeting of the National Youth Council chaired by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra last Saturday.

The outspoken student was criticising the new concept touted by education reformers as an innovation that would transform the country's education system by putting the child at the centre of the teaching and learning process. Hiranya pointed out that the concept has failed dismally in practice.

The following day, Minister Suvit Khunkitti announced plans to reintroduce caning to schools following a slew of press reports on the growing incidence of aggressive behaviour by youngsters since caning was banned in 2000.

Both of them raised very good points which proved to be very thought-provoking.

Many children and adults agree with Hiranya's view that without proper guidance, the child-centred approach would fall far short of expectations, and students would still be stuck with outdated teaching methods which emphasise rote-learning and spoon-feeding by teachers.

Hiranya loved the theory but doubted that the way the concept has been implemented would lead to the intended results.

Is Hiranya right in her opinion on the bleak prospects of Thai children ever realising their full potential because of the lack of progress in education reform?

And is Suvit's proposal reasonable in the face of an outbreak of youth aggression? Can it be that many children were born that way - genetically-programmed to be stupid or violent?

Are the family and social environment - upbringing, schooling, the harsh realities of life - more significant as factors determining the emotional, mental and social development of children?

Scientists have suggested that genetic traits and environment - or nature versus nurture - combine to form one's "personality" and determine how an individual will turn out and how he or she behaves.

Research in genetics, molecular biology and neuroscience shows that many core personality traits are inherited at birth, Dean Hamer, a molecular geneticist, says in his book "Living with our genes".

He argues that genetic endowment does matter in determining intelligence, aggression, potential problems with drug abuse, stress, obesity and sexual orientation. It is apparently that good genes create a good person.

"God-given talents are known in laboratories as genetically endowed traits," said Hamer.

Parents may be discouraged by his message, as many of us had bitter experience in mathematics or English classes during elementary and high school.

However, Hamer makes us feel a little bit better when he explains that genes don't always play their strongest role until adulthood.

Intelligence in children can be very strongly influenced by adults because infants and youngsters are not capable of stimulating themselves intellectually; they have to be taught and exposed to new things.

Hamer advises that as we have little say in what genes we give to our children, an alternative is to provide the best environment for them while they are growing up.

The secret seems to be to engage the child fully as soon as possible. Active, supportive, unconditional love is probably the greatest gift, he suggests.

But how does one explain children killing children over toys, or students from one vocational college attacking their rivals, resulting in serious injury and death?

According to the theory on the evolution of species, aggression in children or adults is considered natural; the challenge is how to make it work for us instead of against us, how to stop anger building to the extent where criminal acts are committed, and diverting anger into constructive and productive activities such as business, sports, music and education.

In this context, Education Minister Suwit's plan to reintroduce caning to schools is unlikely to work well, although many of us would agree that caning a child in some specific circumstances might be justified and appropriate.

Meanwhile, Interior Minister Purachai Piemsombun has won the praise of many parents for his social order programme, which smacks of puritanical values.

The programme is aimed at keeping unruly youths from indulging in alcohol and substance abuse by restricting their access to night clubs and other entertainment venues.

Certainly, such an attempt to create a desirable environment for youths requires strong public participation.

Not only politicians and government officials, but also parents, teachers and social workers must join hands to make the programme a success.

But society should not stop there. Society should take a more active role in taking care of children whose families cannot offer children proper care, or youths who have been abused and exploited by family members and others. Social workers and members of the community may consider taking the role of guardians of such children.

At this point, it is apparent that we have many tools at our disposal to bring up our children to be creative entrepreneurs, doctors, musicians, top sports people and good citizens.

masthead The Nation, Bangkok, 18 January 2002


Suvit Khunkitti: Thailand's Citizen Cane

By Thanong Khanthong

Suvit Khunkitti, the education minister, could not have come up with a better idea to reform the Thai education system. He would like to re-introduce caning to schools - so it seems that caning will form the heart of his ambitious education reform.

This would also effectively put an end to criticism that this government is not doing enough in regards to improving education.

Suvit conveyed this rather serious message last Sunday to about 10,000 southern teachers at a workshop on education reform held at Sri Nakhon School in Hat Yai. He was obviously hoping that Thai students, fresh from celebrating Children's Day, would embrace caning as his special gift, which would mean a lot to their development and future.

It remains uncertain how Suvit will bring back the cane, which was banned by the previous government. But it would be quite an heroic effort on his part to tackle the core problems of the Thai education system, caused by the absence of the cane.

The Institute of Management Development of Switzerland missed an important clue in its latest survey when it ranked the Thai education system in 44th place out of 49 countries. It blamed Thai educators for squandering their budgets on big school buildings or ornate fencing, but failed to identify the absence of the cane as one of the critical factors in the deteriorating standards of Thai education.

Indeed, too many carrots instead of sticks have spoiled Thai students.

They now no longer want to gain any new knowledge. They have been enjoying the liberty of drinking alcohol and taking drugs without any regard to discipline. The underlying reason is that they have no fear of the cane.

Suvit should have raised the recent student war between two schools in Thon Buri as an example of how students behaviour has gone awry by the absence of the cane. Had these students been vigorously and periodically caned, they would not have developed such guilt-free aggressive behaviour that resulted in a fellow student losing his life.

It was the biggest mistake ever committed by any Thai government to have the cane banned, for caning had been a traditional practice in Thai classrooms, going back at least as far as the Sukhothai period.

So it is sad that caning, after being around for more than 700 years, was abolished overnight without any regard to Thai history, culture, education and, most importantly, the Thai character. This should be the task of historians to research.

Nonetheless, without caning Thailand could not have come this far economically, politically and socially.

As far as Suvit is concerned, the first step in his efforts to re-introduce caning is to hold a workshop on the practice. After more than a dozen other workshops, this particular one would feature as one of the policy highlights of the Thaksin government.

The workshop should outline a specific framework on how caning can be re-introduced into schools, from kindergarten to high school. To avoid a double standard, the size of the canes should be standardised in accordance with the level of education.

A teacher in a kindergarten in Chiang Rai, for example, should use exactly the same cane as in, say, Songkhla. Naturally, high school students should be attended to with a bigger cane than primary students.

Since Suvit has gained experience from the village fund, he may request that one of the 77,000 villages produces canes under the one-tambon-one-product programme.

This visionary approach, which would combine education management with economic management, would certainly help Suvit survive the onslaught from the opposition's expected no-confidence censure debate.

Meanwhile, students from all parts of Thailand will never forget Suvit and his legacy of the cane when they grow up to become responsible citizens.

Bangkok Post, 20 January 2002


It's time to spare the rod

Canings often reflect a teacher's shortcomings

By Roger Crutchley

With a most curious sense of timing, the education minister's contribution to Children's Day last weekend was to announce plans to reintroduce caning in schools. He feels some kids are past the stage where a bit of sweet talk will make them behave.

Crutch comes from an era -- not quite Dickensian but not that far distant -- when caning was commonplace in British schools. Most kids remember their first caning and Crutch is no exception, even though it was four decades ago. The boring geography teacher's ramblings on occluded fronts sent me off into an occluded slumber and I awoke to the teacher standing over me and gleefully announcing to the class that Young Crutch was about to receive the first of many canings.

I was only 12 at the time and ended up with three striped bruises on my backside. There was no sympathy of course. In fact all the other kids laughed ... a good caning was a welcome highlight in a boring lesson. More canings were to come, some deserved, others not. But the canings were more a reflection on the teachers' shortcomings than anything. The teachers who the pupils respected never had to resort to such primitive violence.

In those days corporal punishment in schools was treated in a fairly frivolous manner in Britain, except of course for those on the receiving end. The BBC even had a popular television comedy series called Whack-O! starring Jimmy Edwards as a lunatic headmaster whose favourite expression was something like "bend over boy!" as he launched yet another assault with the cane.


masthead The Nation, Bangkok, 23 January 2002

Children 'forced' to wai

A teacher who allegedly forced fourth, fifth and sixth graders to kneel and give a wai at their peers' feet wept yesterday and said she did not intend to humiliate them.

Lakkhanee Khirinil, 36, who teaches English and maths at Ban Don Klang School, said she felt discouraged that her efforts to make students more diligent in their studies had become a controversy.

The school set up a committee to investigate after some 30 parents turned up at the school on Monday to protest against Lakkhanee's punishment measures.

The news quickly reached Deputy Education Minister Sirikorn Maneerin, who demanded that the school management issue a report on the incident.

Students complained to their parents that they felt humiliated when ordered by Lakkhanee to kneel and give a wai at the feet of students who achieved better results in their studies. The punishment also was implemented when students failed to solve maths problems or failed to give correct answers in English exercises, they said. Those who gave the wrong answers had to queue up to pay the ultimate respect to students who gave the correct answers.

Investigators from the Provincial Education Office visited the school yesterday to meet its director, Yong Ruadrew, to gather information.

One day after noisy protests by parents, Lakkhanee reported to teach at the school as usual. She told reporters that she had not expected her method of punishment would escalate into a controversy. "I couldn't eat Monday evening. I did not discriminate against any student but used the same punishment with everyone," she said.

Lakkhannee claimed she only asked the punished students to give a wai at the laps of other students, not at their feet.

However, Woradej Arjrob, a fourth grader, insisted he was forced to wai at the feet of his friend three times in a row and was also caned. "The pain was in my heart that I had to give a wai at my friend's feet," Woradej said.

Kriangkrai Onthuam, another fourth grader, said he had been punished 10 times by having to wai at his friends' feet.

Chaiwat Phodee, also a fourth grader, a good student and a recipient of wais, said he did not agree with this kind of punishment, either. "I think the teacher should instead punish us by caning," Chaiwat said.

The Education Ministry has banned caning after teachers received complaints from parents for injuring their children.

But some students said they did not mind being punished by having to wai other students.

Panarat Preeprem, another sixth-grader, said she was also punished the same way but did not feel that she had lost honour. "I would like to show my moral support for my teacher, and I hope she won't become discouraged," Panarat said.

Yon, the school director, said Lakkhanee began teaching at the school seven years ago and was promoted quickly because of her devotion to teaching.

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Colin Farrell 2002
Page updated: June 2002