Sunday, June 30, 2019

Doing away with caning

A video went viral showing a mother of a female student scolding a teacher who canned her daughter for calling the teacher 'pondan', which is a degrading term used to describe men who are effeminate. After that video got circulated, debates sparked among netizens. The debates ranged from the behavior of the student, to the reaction of the mother and then lastly the approach employed by the teacher. There are those that support caning, and there are those that are against caning. 

To argue against caning, several researches have been done to examine the effects of corporal punishment. According to Gershoff (2017), there is no evidence that school corporal punishment enhances or promotes children's learning in the classroom. Researches done concluded that corporal punishment lowered scores of maths. Other than that, children tend to dislike school because of corporal punishment due to constant fear of being physically harmed by their teachers. Children will also have difficulty concentrating and learning, perform less well in school, and avoid or even drop out of school for fear of being beaten. Gershoff (2017) also stated that school corporal punishment poses a significant risk for physical injury. In Zambia, school children reported pain, physical discomfort, nausea, and embarassment as well as feeling vengeful. Albeit rare, several cases of corporal punishment had led to deaths. One of the cases includes a 7 year old boy in Malaysia. Corporal punishment is also often emotionally humiliating for children as well as causing depression. The data summarized above by Gershoff (2017) makes clear that school corporal punishment is consistently linked with harm to children's learning, physical safety, and mental health.

Many have argued on social media that if there would be no corporal punishment, the student will become more rebelious as such form of punishment is needed to discipline the students. However, disciplined and compliant behaviour can result from a variety of disciplinary methods that the school can employ, not just corporal punishment. Based on a randomized controlled trial evaluation of the Good Schools Toolkit in Uganda, there were no effects of the intervention on students' behavior problems or on their educational performance (DeVries et al., 2015), which essentially refutes arguments that opting out corporal punishments will lead to an increase in students' problem behaviours and decrease learning in school. The intervention involved extensive staff training on non-violent disciplinary methods as well as staff coaching from program staff. However, interventions to reduce corporal punishment will only be effective if they provide teachers instruction in alternative, effective methods. 

Arguments against and for corporal punishment such as caning reminds me of what Foucoult elaborated about punishment and discipline in his book which was published in 1975 called 'Discipline and Punish'. The book is a geneological study of the development of the 'gentler' modern way of imprisoning criminals rather than torturing or killing them. Corporal punishment is akin to physical torture while disciplining will involve gentler methods to reduce unwanted behaviour. School students wouldn't be sent to prison but  there are a few alternatives that are akin to Foucoult's objective regarding imprisonment that have been employed by the school system such as school suspension or expulsion, school detention, and counselling sessions. Foucalt argued that such methods become a more effective control: "to punish less, perhaps; but certainly to punish better". Those approaches do not involve any physical torture and it's more of constructive form of disciplining.

Proponents of caning reflects B. F. Skinner's theory of operant conditioning. It is a method of learning that occurs by giving rewards and punishment for wanted and unwanted behaviour (McLeod, 2018). Caning is a form of punishment. Whenever a teacher canes a student for misbehaving, what is expected is that the unwanted behaviour is reduced. However, the effectiveness of this method is being questioned. McLeod (2018) stated that the punished behavior is not forgotten, it's only being suppressed. The behaviour returns when the punishment is no longer present. So, the student might not have learned the rationale behind the expected removal of the unwanted behaviour. B.F. Skinner's theory of operant conditioning falls under behaviorism which is primarily focused on observable behaviour, in contrast to internal events such as emotion and thinking. Therefore, there is a possibility that the student who received the caning would not have learned her lesson but will continue to do it to other teachers. 

As for the part of the teacher, two news articles (Nambiar, 2019; Balakrishnan, 2019) have mentioned that what the teacher should have done was to control his emotions. The female student called the teacher 'pondan' which is a term in Malay that degrades men who display effeminate behaviour. The teacher reacted by caning the student. The student was showing disrespect toward the teacher. I have mentioned in this blog entry about one technique to apply whenever one encounters a hostile student which is to apply 'mindfulness'. This type of student would rebel against the teacher as well as challenging the teacher's authority. The following is an excerpt from the blog entry - According to Albrecht et. al (2012), mindfulness helps reduce the feeling of unpleasantness of interacting with a hostile student. As a teacher, our first emotional response to such students is to be angry or irritated. Through mindfullness, we are aware of the sensations such as anger or irritation as they arise. It shifts our anger towards calmness and responding to them with openness rather than defensiveness. We can deal with this student calmly even when what seems like they are jeopardizing our dignity. But it's okay, with mindfulness, we see this as a process of guiding the students' behaviour from an undesirable one to a desirable one. Mutual dignity, relationship building, and empathy can come as a result of practicing mindfulness in the classroom. 

This debate regarding caning and corporal punishment seems to have no end to it. Whenever an issue regarding caning comes up, there would be those who still support it and those who are against it. I have elaborated the effects of corporal punishment and many research have concluded that it is does more harm than good. Other than that, teachers in Malaysia must learn how to control their emotions whenever students challenge their authority or calling them names. They are at times disrespectful, but it is illogical for teachers to expect the students to become mature as their prefrontal cortex hasn't been fully developed yet. It is for us teachers to employ an effective approach whereby the student will become more disciplined and at the same time, employ an approach of disciplining them that doesn't negatively affect our emotions.


Albrecht N., Cohen M., & Albrecht P. (2012). Mindfully teaching in the Classroom: A   Literature Review. Australia Journal of Teacher Education, 37 , (12).

Balakrishnan, H. (2019, June 27). Caning - can or cannot? Retrieved June 30, 2019, from

DeVries KM, Knight L, Child JC, Mirembe A, Nakuti J, Jones R, et al. Naker D. The Good School Toolkit for reducing physica violence from school staff to primary school students: A cluster-randomized controlled trial in Uganda. Lancet Global Health. 2015;385:e378-e386.

Gershoff, E. T. (2017, March). School corporal punishment in global perspective: Prevalance, outcomes, and efforts at intervention. Retrieved from!po=77.3438

McLeod, S. A. (2018, Jan, 21). Skinner - operant conditioning. Retrieved from

Nambiar, P. (2019, June 25). Seek counselling, deputy minister tells teachers with emotional problems. Retrieved June 30, 2019, from

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