Is Malaysia ready to ban corporal punishment in schools? Experts weigh in

Kalbana Perimbanayagam

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia is not ready to abolish corporal punishment in schools, due largely to an acute shortage of trained counsellors for troubled youth, and sociocultural values which emphasise absolute obedience in children.

The National Union of the Teaching Profession president, Kamarozaman Abd Razak, said that at the moment, there is a dearth of youth counsellors in the country who can give special attention to students with disciplinary issues – which means that teachers often have little recourse but to resort to corporal punishment to address misbehaviour in schools.

He pointed out that the ratio of students to counsellors in Malaysia stands at 500:1, making it difficult for counsellors to focus on a single student for as long as it takes to elicit the desired change in attitude.

In addition, although developed nations have managed to ban corporal punishment in schools to positive effect, one has to take into account their more advanced societies, social institutions, and support networks, which rally around and accommodate children with “behavioural problems”.

That said, Malaysian teachers are not free to administer corporal punishment, however they like and at their own whim. Educators must follow strict directives and guidelines laid down by the Education Ministry on when and how punishments should be executed.

“In fact, a circular from the Ministry has been issued to schools to guide teachers on (ways of using) a cane on a child. (It should be used in a way which) helps educate and reprimand students (when they commit) wrongdoing,” Kamarozaman said when asked to comment on Unicef’s call yesterday for Malaysia to ban corporal punishment in schools.

He said corporal punishment, which is practised in the form of caning in Malaysian schools, is, and should always be, considered as the last resort, when all other efforts and administrative measures – such as warnings, detention and counselling – fail to discipline a student, before the final step of expulsion.

“For example, if all else fails, then caning can be executed – but even that (can only be carried out after) seeking permission from the headmaster.

“The punishment must be delivered across the seat of the student's trousers or skirt, and must be done in private, with at least two witnesses,” Kamarozaman said, adding that public caning conducted during school assembly, out in the open, has long been banned by the ministry.

He said many schools even require that a female teacher be present during the caning of a female student, and administered by a female teacher.

However, he reiterated that caning is a rare scenario today, because teachers have been told to explore other methods to change students’ problematic behaviour.

Kamarozaman said that if corporal punishment cannot be avoided, the student is subjected to additional counselling sessions to make them understand why the punishment was meted out.

“This is very important, (because the student must) understand why they were caned, so that they do not repeat the mistake, or worse still, retaliate over the punishment,” he said.

National Professor Council for Education and Human Capital Development Cluster secretary, Prof Dr Rosna Awang Hashim, shares Kamarozaman’s sentiments, and believes that a “light strike” or “gentle pat” to discipline a child is acceptable.

“For instance, (the teacher can) pat using a ruler, but it should not be done in front of other students. This may affect their self-esteem and confidence level. Children, these days, grow up fast. (Even) at a tender age, they already feel they have a reputation among their peers,” said the educationist.

In Islam, Rosna said, a father is allowed to hit his daughter, even after she has come of age – provided that it is done to discipline her, and not committed out of anger or malice.

“Light caning is acceptable, but not to the extent of leaving scars. The punishment can inflict pain (but should not be excessive),” she said.

However, Parent Action Group for Education Malaysia (Page) chairman, Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim, said Page supports Unicef’s call.

“Even if it is merely to scare a child, caning is considered inhumane. It is a form of psychological bullying,” she said.

Azimah stressed that schools must lose the cane altogether, and instead, find other means of disciplining problematic students.

“If lack of counselling teachers to administrate regular sessions with students (is the reason corporal punishment has not been banned), then recruit more trained counsellors at all schools.

“(The bottom line is), it is not acceptable for an adult to use a cane,” she said.