Mr Wijey: Counselling important
Public caning is a matter of policy in Singapore schools.
Some place a premium on discipline and deem even smoking in school an offence that warrants public caning.
"The offence has to be something that is serious enough to be brought to the attention of the whole school," said Mr Eugene Wijeysinghe, 65.
Mr Wijeysinghe, now retired, was headmaster of Raffles Institution from 1986 to 1994.
"The principal also needs to explain why he has to carry out public caning," said Mr Wijeysinghe.
In addition, public caning should be done in a dignified manner.
Following the punishment, the student should be counselled to explain why punishment was necessary and to ensure the student's personality is not affected by the punishment.
TEEN CANED BEFORE SCHOOLMATES
Principal: He whacked boy
Parents: We are upset
BY TOH LI LIN
THE parents of a Pioneer Secondary School student are unhappy because their 16-year-old son was caned publicly.
A school investigation had shown he was involved in the assault of another pupil.
Madam Mardina Aripin believes her only child, Muhammad Zaidi Abu Hassan, was punished wrongly. Her belief is based on her son's denial.
"When he was caught smoking in school earlier, he admitted it when his father and I confronted him. If he has done something wrong, he would confess," said Madam Mardina.
The school principal, Mr Tan Chor Pang, believes that Zaidi was involved in the assault because of two rounds of investigations conducted by the school.
Not satisfied with the first round, where only one boy admitted to the offence, Mr Tan himself conducted the second round.
He interviewed six students, including Zaidi, who were reported by their classmates as being involved in the incident.
"Of the other five, two said that Zaidi was involved," said Mr Tan.
"And that is not a small number."
One said he saw Zaidi throwing a punch. Another said Zaidi "was involved".
After the investigations, Zaidi, along with five of his classmates, were caned during the school assembly on April 8.
He was given two strokes on the buttocks with a "thick and long" cane.
Public caning was adopted because of the seriousness of the offence.
Mr Tan said the assaulted boy was injured and his father eventually pulled him out of the school.
It was the first time that public caning had been conducted in the five-year-old school.
Corporal punishment is a routine practice in Singapore schools to deal with serious offences like assault.
Throughout the investigations conducted by the school and now, two months after the caning, Zaidi maintains his innocence.
Said Zaidi: "I was about to cry in front of the principal. I told him even if he caned me, I would still say I was not involved."
Mr Tan said: "I gave Zaidi chances to explain his role. I told him that there were people who said that he was involved, but he stuck to his statement."
Did he find that odd?
"Yes, I did find it odd but I also find him very stubborn," said Mr Tan.
Admitted Madam Mardina, 37, a housewife: "He's no angel. But in this case, I believe he is innocent."
Madam Mardina also told The New Paper that she had spoken to eight of Zaidi's classmates. They told her that Zaidi had not been fighting with the others.
Zaidi has a record of absenteeism and truancy.
Teachers have also complained that he does not pay attention in class. He is repeating his Secondary 3 this year.
"Is it because he has a bad track record that he cannot be trusted?" asked Madam Mardina.
Parents unhappy with investigations
ZAIDI'S parents feel that the investigations were not handled properly.
"Only two students said that Zaidi was involved. What about the other 36 in his class?" asked his father, Mr Abu Hassan Mohamed, 38, a despatch rider.
Earlier, students in the class were each made to write a report on what happened.
Some named individuals, some just wrote: "A group was involved."
Two rounds of interviews were conducted, one round by the principal.
Mr Tan believes that Zaidi had sufficient time to make a representation if he was not guilty.
There was a two-day gap between the time the boys were told that they were going to be punished and the actual day of the caning.
"He knew he was going to be caned but he didn't raise an issue," said Mr Tan.
What if he was innocent?
Said Mr Tan: "I am prepared to accept that I could be wrong, but at that point in time, I had to accept what was said as evidence and piece together a scenario of what had happened.
"If two persons say he's involved, balanced by reports of those who were not involved, then it's sufficient. You can never be 100 per cent sure in situations like this."
Parents: We weren't told
ZAIDI'S parents are also upset that they were not informed about the caning.
The Ministry of Education requires schools to inform parents, after the caning, about the details of the offence and the punishment.
In this case, it was only when Mr Abu Hassan went to see Zaidi's teacher about his confiscated pager that the family found out.
That was on May 24 - more than a month after the caning.
But Mr Tan said the school tried to contact Zaidi's parents after the incident to inform them of the caning but was unable to reach them until his father came to school in May.
He, however, made it clear that schools don't have to inform parents before the punishment is meted out.
"We don't seek permission to punish the child. We bring parents in only when we need to discuss how to help the child.
"It can be bizarre. What if a child breaks the rules and parents say no, you can't punish him?"
Why not re-open probe?
DESPITE meetings and conversations with the principal, Madam Mardina is still not giving up.
"I want to find out the truth about my son.
"If he is not guilty, can you imagine how this caning can affect his him?
"It is my son's reputation," said Madam Mardina.
This is why she requested a re-investigation of the incident.
Mr Tan said he was prepared to conduct it.
"But I asked her, what if the investigations show that Zaidi is guilty? Is she prepared to accept it? She said no.
"In that case, I did not think that there was any point in re-investigating it," said Mr Tan.
When interviewed by The New Paper, Madam Mardina denied that she was not prepared to face the possibility that her son was guilty.
Why cane in public?
PUBLIC humiliation was one reason why the parents of the caned student are up in arms.
Could Muhammad Zaidi Abu Hassan and the others at the school assembly be dealt with in any other way? (See report Mr Vijey: Counselling Important.)
Why was the caning not done privately, in the principal's office?
Pioneer Secondary School principal Mr Tan Chor Pang said the assault was a very serious offence that warranted a public caning.
It left another student injured.
It could have been a police case.
The beating was also one reason why the victim's father asked for his son to be taken out of the school.
'Principal was right'
THE investigations were thorough.
So concluded Mr Richard Dawson, 49, superintendent of school cluster West 1.
Pioneer Secondary School is in his cluster.
"The principal was not satisfied with a "surface' type of investigation. He looked at all possible sources of information," said Mr Dawson. "If he is convinced the evidence is trustworthy, then he must take action."
Following up with corporal punishment was also appropriate, given the gravity of the offence, he said.
Ministry is satisfied
In response to a New Paper query, the Education Ministry said it was satisfied that the school had taken the right measures to maintain school discipline.
The punishment fits the offence and the school had observed the proper procedures in carrying out the caning.
Corporal punishment is usually meted out for offences of a serious nature.
There are guidelines given to principals relating to corporal punishment to ensure that proper procedures are followed.
For instance, only the principal or a delegated member of the staff can administer it, in front of a witness.
A proper record is also kept of the case and pupils' parents are informed after the caning of the details of the offence and the punishment.
So, what is the solution?
WHAT is an acceptable solution to the family?
"We want a public apology from the principal, in front of the whole school," said Madam Mardina.
"When Zaidi misbehaves, the school asks us to write a letter to apologise and to assure them that Zaidi will not misbehave again. So why can't the principal apologise to us?"
Mr Tan offered another solution.
He asked Zaidi's parents to write a letter to show why their son is not guilty.
"We are prepared to accept that, no questions asked. This incident will also not go on his record. But you can't 'un-cane'. Again, they refused."