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Classroom caning begins

Video clips: School caning in Singapore

With comments by C. Farrell

Four video clips of real Singapore schoolboy canings.

CLIP 1 OF 4: Five secondary boys are caned for fighting (3 minutes)

Schoolboy bends over for the caneAt Bedok North Secondary, a co-educational school (now closed) in a working-class suburb of Singapore in 2009, five lads in Secondary 3 (age 14 - 15) are given one stroke of the cane each in front of their class. As at many secondary schools in Singapore, corporal punishment for male students here was fairly common, always delivered with a rattan to the seat of the trousers.

 This school, whose uniform for male students was all-white, used to tie a special blue towelling pad round the waist of boys being disciplined, to protect the lower spine and kidneys against a mis-stroke. Observers often misunderstand this and think the cane lands on the pad. The padding covers the area just above the boy's backside; the punishment is applied a couple of inches lower down.

 At the start of the clip, the discipline master tells the class not to laugh, because it is not very funny. (Despite this, there is a bit of giggling later on.) These students have been misbehaving, he says, and must be punished. The dialogue is hard to catch, but I think he is heard saying to the first boy, "bend over, I am required to cane you once". Later he tells the class there will be three more boys caned, the first of those being Jeremy, and that "fighting has been happening far too many times".

 The master has each boy bend forward, put his hands on the back of the chair (rather inept -- "hands on the seat" would produce a more efficient posture and be more stable) and look at the poster on the wall. He adjusts the boy's trousers and blue protective padding very precisely. Before each stroke he takes an experimental swish or two through with the air with his cane, before aiming carefully at the lower half of the student's buttocks, so he will get a reminder each time he sits down, for the rest of that day at least.

 This is a "serious" punishment in that it is not supposed to be a jocular event, but it is not a particularly "severe" one: each boy gets only one stroke -- quite a lenient "sentence" for fighting, always a big problem with adolescent boys -- and the strokes are not all that hard by Singapore school standards.

 Even so, the first miscreant lets out a yelp of pain; the fourth shudders forward under the cane's impact, shouts out "Aiyoh!" (a Singlish exclamation) and clutches his buttocks as he turns away; and the fifth boy's hands can be seen darting to the seat of his pants just as the film ends.


CLIP 2 of 4: An upper secondary student receives two strokes of the cane in front of his class (4 seconds)

Cane makes contactHere, a student is being punished by his school's Discipline Master ("DM") in front of his class. He receives two hard strokes of the cane across the seat of his school uniform trousers as he bends across a desk. This is thought to have been taken in 2006 or early 2007. The setting is a large mixed-sex neighbourhood secondary school near the west coast, one which makes moderate use of corporal punishment.

 Corporal punishment, for male students only, is a standard component of the tough disciplinary regime in Singapore's world-class, high-achieving, ultra-modern education system. A formal caning in the English tradition is a well-understood consequence for a wide range of non-trivial misdemeanours in school (and out of school too, if the boy is in his school uniform).

 Under Ministry of Education guidelines, a disobedient youth may be required to take up to three strokes of the cane on any one occasion.

Sec4 students

 This is a secondary 4 class. Secondary 4 contains students who turn 16 during the year, except those who have been "retained" (held back for a year), who will turn 17.

 The picture on the left (not from this video clip; it is a bit of horseplay going on in the same class while the teacher is out) gives a better idea of the upper secondary boys' uniform at this school: white short-sleeved shirt with lightweight grey trousers.

 These "class canings" are fairly common in many Singapore schools. They are not like classroom canings used to be in Britain: that is, they are not the immediate result of some minor disorderliness during a lesson, given on the spot by the class teacher. Indeed, in Singapore ordinary class teachers are strictly forbidden to use CP.

 Rather, the discipline session is usually a special event, arranged in advance, decided upon by the school's senior management (often in consultation with the boy's parents) for a more serious offence committed outside the classroom, such as smoking, truancy, gambling, fighting, lying, bullying or vandalism.

 This particular school, where class caning is the usual kind (rather than office caning or public caning), is known to cane also for skipping lessons and skipping detention.

Schoolboy caning: DM follows throughCentral government rules lay down that all caning must be applied either to the clothed posterior or to the palm of the hand. At this school, as at most secondary schools in Singapore, all CP is administered to the errant young man's seat.

 When by prior arrangement the DM arrives with his long, thin, whippy cane, the class teacher stands aside and has no involvement in the matter. The student will typically have been told earlier that day, or in some cases the previous day, how many strokes he is going to get and what time the punishment ceremony will take place. At some schools the DM is accompanied by the Principal or Vice-Principal. Usually the DM (or the Principal) will make a little speech to the class before instructing the miscreant to take up his position over the desk.

 In the present case, desks have been pushed back to clear a space at the front of the class to make room for the caning. One of the desks from the front row is being used, which has been vacated by its occupant for the purpose.

 The offender can be heard vocalising his pain after each stroke. After the second stroke, it can be seen that his right leg is almost buckling under him as he begins to stand up. He will probably be hurting for a few hours, and his buttocks will be superficially wealed, and maybe lightly bruised, for a few days.

 Informed sources reckon this is a very average secondary-school punishment for Singapore.


CLIP 3 OF 4: An upper secondary student is caned on stage in front of the school (18 seconds)

Schoolboy bending over chair on stage as cane descendsThis scene takes place in a mixed-sex neighbourhood secondary school in Singapore. Like the other three clips on this page, it has evidently been filmed surreptitiously on a cameraphone by a student in the audience -- a daring act which would itself probably have brought a caning if discovered.

 Sources suggest that this event probably took place in 2005.

 Most everyday canings are meted out in the school office or the classroom, but so-called public caning (i.e. in front of the assembled student body) is used in some secondary schools to punish more serious or repeated offences, particularly by upper secondary boys (the 14 to 18 age group). This is a very practical way of "naming and shaming" the young man, and is also intended to serve as a graphic deterrent to similar misbehaviour by others.

 In this example, the culprit is said to have set off the fire alarm as a prank, seriously disrupting the whole school. We see him receiving just one stroke with a long thin rattan across the seat of his pants. This seems a very lenient "sentence" for such an offence, which might be expected to merit three or four strokes, but perhaps in this case he has received other punishments in addition.

 The student, an Indian, looks to be aged around 16. A blue plastic chair has been placed on the stage for him to bend over and hold on to while undergoing his punishment. He is quite a big lad: when he stands up we can see that he is taller than his Discipline Master (DM).

 The cane is seen to be applied here with only moderate vigour. According to observers who have seen several different DMs in action, it is not a very hard stroke by average Singapore school standards. After this the boy's bottom would have been wealed, but probably not much bruised. He will have felt well and truly "spanked", and clearly embarrassed too (an intended part of the punishment), but no more than that. There is wide agreement, among those who have received it, that any expertly delivered rattan caning always hurts a lot more than the uninitiated observer would think; even so, most of the pain in this case will very likely have faded within an hour or so.

 Some people listening to the soundtrack of this clip think they can faintly hear the student letting out a quick, monosyllabic little yelp the instant the cane makes contact, but there is too much ambient noise going on to be certain that it is him.

Caned schoolboy clutches his backside watched by DM holding caneOne oddity about caning in many Singapore schools is that the DM provides the offender with protection for the kidneys, in case the cane lands too high up. Some schools use a book, a piece of thick cardboard or a folded-up newspaper. At this school, it appears to be a document file. It is held in place by being tucked into the student's trouser waistband so as to cover the lower spine while leaving the posterior unprotected (apart, of course, from the boy's normal clothing) to receive the impact of the cane.

 Experienced insiders report that, while putting the kidney protection in place, the DM will check that the boy's back pocket is empty and that he is not wearing any extra underwear or other "padding" underneath his trousers. They note, too, that the DM may also take the opportunity to hitch the miscreant's trousers up as tight as possible and to make sure the fabric is pulled smooth across the target area. This precaution is more necessary than it used to be, given today's fashion for loose or baggy clothing (a trend to which even school uniforms have succumbed) and sagging waistbands.

Student returns to the punishment chair, still holding his bottomOn this particular occasion there is an unexpected aftermath. The boy stands up as soon as the stroke has been delivered, and immediately removes the protective file from behind, under his untucked shirt. He tosses it towards the chair and walks away, but his aim is careless and it falls to the ground. The DM can just be heard calling him back to pick it up off the floor.

 As the student walks away from the chair, he is clutching his stinging buttocks with both hands (see still picture 2, upper right).

 He is still clutching them as he turns and walks obediently back to the chair to pick up the file (see still picture 3, lower right).

 The audience seems rather blasé about watching a caning. In fact, some near the camera seem to be holding whispered conversations about something else entirely. This might suggest that such an event is nothing unusual, even though this particular school is not among those with a reputation for especially heavy use of CP.


CLIP 4 OF 4: A student receives a caning in front of his class

In this 30-second clip from around 2006, we see a schoolboy in a "leaning forward with his hands on the desk" position, awaiting a two-stroke caning as he faces his classmates.

 As the clip opens, another boy who has evidently just been caned is being told to get out of the way by the Discipline Master (DM). The soundtrack is silent for the first couple of seconds. Still holding his buttocks, the already punished student moves to the side of the room near to the camera, where he has to be asked urgently by the "cameraman" not to block the view.

 Meanwhile the DM is swishing his cane back and forth to "warm it up" and the rush of air can clearly be heard.

 Proceeding in an unhurried fashion, he takes aim and delivers the first of two vigorous strokes to the waiting student's trousers seat. The boy lets out a long gasp.

 After a momentary gap in the filming, the second stroke is landing just as the clip ends.


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Copyright © C. Farrell 2007-2012
Page updated December 2012