Psychologist spells out ill effects of caning

Good behaviour can be reinforced without the need for physical punishment, says USM’s Intan Hashimah Mohd Hashim.

GEORGE TOWN: A social psychologist has voiced her opposition to the caning of schoolchildren, saying it could cause the development of aggressive behaviour and mental health problems.

Such negative effects have been shown through various studies, according to Intan Hashimah Mohd Hashim of Universiti Sains Malaysia.

Commenting on a recent case of alleged caning in a Johor Bahru school, she described corporal punishment as an antiquated way of handling indiscipline and said “the best way” of instilling discipline was to reward good behaviour.

She told FMT good behaviour could be taught and reinforced and misbehaviour could be reduced over time without the need for physical punishment or even scolding.

She acknowledged that the disciplining method she was recommending would take a lot of time and require much effort to show results but said she was confident of its benefits.

“With positive disciplining, children are taught about limits and respect,” she said. “They learn to control their behaviour and respect the rights of others.

Intan Hashimah Mohd Hashim.

“But caning can increase antisocial behaviour among children.

“Besides souring relations between child and teacher, physical punishment has also been shown to lead to lower cognitive performance and some mental health problems.”

She said both caning behind closed doors and public caning were harmful.

In the Johor Bahru case, a girl in a secondary school alleged that a teacher caned her for saying he was effeminate. There is a video of the girl’s mother confronting the teacher and showing him red welts on her arms and legs. It has gone viral.

The case is being investigated by the state education authority and the police.

Deputy Education Minister Teo Nie Ching has said schools are allowed to cane only male pupils for major offences and the punishment must be carried out in private.

She said only headmasters or their nominees are allowed to cane children.

A circular from the education ministry lists 35 major offences, 10 medium offences and 27 light offences. It says caning is allowed for major and medium offences.

The major offences include drug use, smoking, alcohol consumption and rudeness to teachers. Medium offences include dying the hair, having skinhead or punk hairstyles or leaving the school compound without permission.

Major offences are punished with a maximum of three strokes of the cane on the buttocks and medium offences with three strokes on the palm.

For light offences, warnings and counselling are given.