Caning - can or cannot?

Harintharavimal Balakrishnan


LETTER | Back then, parents and teachers caned their children as a form of discipline or "tough love". We had a rotan at home and at schools to remind us that it will be used as an instrument to mete out the punishment if we misbehaved. These days, with a myriad of laws (Penal Code, Sexual Offences Against Children Act 2017 and Child Act 2001) to protect the rights of a child, the use of the cane even for parenting seems complicated. Caning or corporal punishment in schools may be culturally and morally accepted in Malaysia at the moment. However, it is soon to be a thing of the past through social advancement.

I refer to the recent incident of a school teacher caning a female student for allegedly using a slur for effeminate on him. Netizens were enraged over the rude behaviour of the student. Many expressed their discontent over the matter by pledging their support for caning to be implemented in schools for disciplinary purposes. As it all may look justified for rude behaviour to be punished, from another perspective, however, it raises the question of the right of the teacher to respond aggressively against verbal abuse made against him. 

Was it fair for him to inflict pain on a child with the intention to discipline her? The perpetrator may have to face charges for physical assault.

Corporal punishment in schools has been outlawed in 128 countries including all of Europe, most of South America as well as in Canada, Japan, Singapore, New Zealand and South Africa. Why was it banned if it was the best measure to efficiently discipline a child? Despite the push from Unicef and Suhakam to abolish caning in schools followed by the death of 11-year-old tahfiz student Mohamad Thaqif Amin Mohd Gaddafi in Johor back in 2017, the Education Ministry still retains it due to the shortage of trained counsellors (ratio of students to counsellors is 500:1). 

This enabled teachers to resort to corporal punishment to address the misbehaviour of students. Though the educators were subjected to strict guidelines laid down by the ministry on corporal punishment, the decision is preposterous as the rights of students remain at stake due to the ministry’s lack of alternate solutions and manpower.

Teachers and education policymakers often rely on personal anecdotes to argue that corporal punishment improves students' behaviour and achievements. However, there is a lack of empirical evidence showing that corporal punishment leads to a better learning atmosphere or respect for teachers. According to the Code of Children and Adolescents by Unicef, the child and adolescent have the right to good treatment comprising a non-violent upbringing and education and all forms of physical, violent and humiliating punishment are prohibited. Therefore, caning is considered inhumane and it is a form of psychological bullying to instil fear.

Teachers must respect the students’ rights and needs in order to instil good values in them. Patience is a virtue and educators need to comprehend that it is vital in their noble profession. It is imperative that educators should not depict aggressive actions unless their safety is jeopardised. In this context, the teacher has failed to handle his emotional stress and resorted to releasing his rage through caning. As the saying goes, "If you cannot take the heat, get out from the kitchen".

Educators must also comprehend that suffering from verbal abuse at the workplace is not abnormal therefore, they should be well-trained to manage emotional stress caused by the unpleasant behaviour of the students. Caning without prior advice, parental consultation or warning creates a stressful learning environment, injuries to students, increases antisocial behaviours all eventually leading to poorer academic achievements. The implementation of corporal punishment in schools is definitely not the way forward in encouraging students to achieve the transformation targets stated in the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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