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School CP - April 2006

Corpun file 18524

Bangkok Post, 4 April 2006

Spare the rod... spoil the child?

Corporal punishment in Thailand and beyond

By Matt Leppard


There can be few school-related topics that polarise opinion more than corporal punishment. Be it caning, spanking or a "clip round the ear", hitting a child is, unsurprisingly, an emotive subject.

The arguments for and against are not complex. Some are firmly of the opinion that behavioural boundaries can only be reliably set using physical punishment.

This serves to teach kids that there can be real - and painful - consequences to their actions.

Moreover, say protagonists, if corporal punishment is meted out in front of a child's peers, it will have the added effect of setting an example to others, and will help prevent repeat offending.

For those in favour, the shift away from this form of punishment in many countries is also directly linked with rising crime rates and a lack of self-discipline and respect for authority.

Of course, opponents refute these arguments. Behaviour should never be taught by violence, they say, and this sort of conditioning only teaches children that violence is the ultimate solution to all problems, thus begetting more violence.

They also point out that humiliating a child in front of his or her peers, far from acting as a deterrent to others, will simply demean the child being punished, with long-term psychological effects.

After all, in countries where corporal punishment is legal, such treatment would not be allowed against the mentally handicapped, or those in jail. Why, then, is it permissible in schools and against those least able to defend themselves?

This question is not rhetorical, certainly in the US. In 1977, the Supreme Court ruled that the Eighth Amendment, which deals with "cruel and unusual punishment", applies to convicted criminals, but not to students. The ruling was on a technicality, but it stoked the arguments on both sides.

A necessary evil?

Corporal punishment has been banned in Thai schools for more than five years, but that's not to say it doesn't happen. In fact, it seems to be regarded as a necessary evil by many.

"Over the past three years, I've seen a lot of students getting the cane," said one teacher, who asked not to be named.

"One lady was so notorious for using it that her leaving M6 students presented her with a new stick as a present, saying that she'd worn her old one out."

The teacher in question is not alone, although nobody interviewed for this article would admit directly to having used corporal punishment. Many did, however, justify its use.

"Given the fact that teachers have such huge numbers of students in a classroom, they do not have time to humour and cajole. They either keep order or they do not," said another teacher.

"For the safety of everyone, and so there is something of a learning environment, the teachers will give a good swat to those who are unruly. To ignore their bad behaviour simply allows them to become obnoxious adults, which I think is child neglect."

Of course, no one would advocate ignoring bad behaviour, and there are other punishment options open to teachers. These include verbal reprimands, assigning extracurricular activities, the use of probation, and, ultimately, suspension and expulsion.

But the rub seems to be that in Thai schools, it is simply not possible for time-strapped teachers to use alternative forms of punishment. Huge class sizes and the mob behaviour of students make implementing more creative solutions impractical.

"The other day, having had a whole class not show up and seeing them scattered around the school trying to avoid me, I contacted one of the discipline teachers," said an anonymous teacher.

"[He] promptly rounded up the students (all 55 of them) and, outside in a recreation area in front of hundreds of other students, produced a very big stick, and proceeded to whack all of them."

"I certainly feel that this Matayom 2 class won't be skipping my classes again."

For and against

Teachers in Thailand who use this form of punishment are, of course, breaking the law. The Ministry of Education, under Somsak Prisananantakul, banned caning in schools on November 1, 2000.

At around the same time, regardless of any ban, teachers were also advised that if they caned or hit students, they could be charged with assault.

According to many commentators, these were very much moves in the right direction. The popular Thai-language newspaper Matichon, for example, ran an editorial at the time that welcomed the ban and called on Thai teachers to abandon their attitudes towards corporal punishment.

Several social analysts, in a Bangkok Post article at around the same time, also lent their support to the ban, although they did note that it would be hard to implement.

Dissenters, on the other hand, pointed out that caning had been successful in maintaining discipline, and that there was evidence to support this.

Wallop Piyamanotham, then an executive of Srinakarinwirot University's Prasarnmitr's counselling centre, said, for example, that in the US, bans on corporal punishment have resulted in rising crime rates.

"Many [students] quarrelled, became gangsters and killers, and indulged in other antisocial behaviours," Wallop is quoted as saying. "And all this is because they had been raised without caning."

In fact, according to the US Center for Effective Discipline, only 28 states currently have policies prohibiting spanking, while 23 allow it. The centre also reports that in the 2002-2003 school year, more than 300,000 students in the US were subjected to physical punishment.


In Thailand, respect for authority and one's elders is, in theory, ingrained from an early age. However, many see this respect eroding as students become more westernised, and with no other practical alternative, the solution for many is a physical one.

What is clear is that until the government and its ministries get a grip on fundamental issues such as class sizes and classroom management, corporal punishment will remain an option for many teachers, illegal or not.

The Post Publishing Public Co., Ltd.

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