A ban on cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment in schools can­not be an overnight mea­sure

Stabroek News - - REGIONAL NEWS -

Dear Edi­tor, Cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment has been with so­ci­ety ever since man be­gan to walk this Earth. Cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment in our schools in Guyana goes back to the ear­li­est days of for­mal ed­u­ca­tion where it was, for the most part, ac­cept­able in the homes as well as the schools and where there was a cor­re­la­tion of the ef­forts of par­ents and ed­u­ca­tors to dis­ci­pline stu­dents. It was a time when teach­ers en­joyed enor­mous re­spect in the com­mu­nity and par­ents sup­ported them un­ques­tion­ably, and when there was hardly ever any dis­sent against the use of cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment in schools. In­deed, heads of schools com­ing to a new school or com­mu­nity re­ceived a warmer wel­come if they came with a rep­u­ta­tion of not spar­ing the rod.

And while mod­ern think­ing seems to go against the use of cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment as a means of dis­ci­pline, there is yet a large num­ber of peo­ple all over the world for whom cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment is an es­sen­tial tenet of the Chris­tian faith and for whom the ab­sence of some phys­i­cal form of dis­ci­pline makes it harder to en­force the rules of con­duct which are a sine qua non in the train­ing of our chil­dren.

And while we rec­og­nize Ar­ti­cle 19 of the UN Con­ven­tion on the Rights of the Child, the is­sue is how best it can be im­ple­mented hav­ing re­gard to the need to main­tain dis­ci­pline in schools.

I com­mend our ed­u­ca­tors who have been seek­ing the views of the Guyanese pub­lic as re­gards the re­tain­ing of cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment in schools. Si­mul­ta­ne­ously, I wish to posit that there is need to ex­am­ine avail­able em­pir­i­cal ev­i­dence which would in­form us whether cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment as a form of dis­ci­pline has been ef­fec­tive; whether it still has a role in good child rearing; whether it should be phased out al­low­ing other mea­sures to be put in place; or re­moved from the menu of mea­sures em­ployed un­til now, to en­sure chil­dren obey and re­spect author­ity and be­come re­spon­si­ble stu­dents and dis­ci­plined prod­ucts of so­ci­ety.

I like thou­sands of other Guyanese at­tended pri­mary and sec­ondary School in the 1950s and 1960s at a time when ac­quir­ing an ed­u­ca­tion was viewed as the ma­jor av­enue to suc­cess and sta­tus in so­ci­ety, and con­se­quently the mo­ti­va­tion to learn was prob­a­bly greater among all classes than is the case to­day.

Peo­ple’s needs then were sim­ple: no brand name boots; no TVs with du­bi­ous mes­sages and alien val­ues in our homes di­vert­ing our chil­dren from read­ing and do­ing home­work. As chil­dren we were schooled and de­nounced by par­ents, teach­ers, rel­a­tives, friends, neigh­bours when we were delin­quent. The cane was then the ul­ti­mate sanc­tion in in­stances of se­ri­ous breaches of school and home rules. And most of us have no feel­ings of re­gret be­cause th­ese mea­sures have con­trib­uted pos­i­tively to our up­bring­ing and have helped to shape us into bet­ter per­sons with no ill ef­fects. In­deed, many have pub­licly sung praises for the use of cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment as a last re­sort mea­sure that has brought some pos­i­tive re­sults in the form of im­proved dis­ci­pline and con­duct. Al­beit th­ese good prac­tices ap­pear to be dy­ing.

The rise of in­dis­ci­pline in schools be­gan in the 1980s at a time when our coun­try’s econ­omy was per­form­ing poorly; when par­ents went to school not to check on their chil­dren’s con­duct and per­for­mance but to ver­bally abuse and to beat up teach­ers; when adults were afraid to rep­ri­mand chil­dren even for se­ri­ous acts of mis­con­duct; when moth­ers be­gan to go out to work in large num­bers to sup­ple­ment the fam­ily in­come, leav­ing the re­spon­si­bil­ity for the up­bring­ing of their chil­dren to maids/ser­vants and ob­vi­ously chang­ing the role of the par­ents vis-à-vis the par­ents of the 1950s, the 1960s and the 1970s. The re­spon­si­bil­ity for the ed­u­ca­tion and up­bring­ing of our chil­dren was no longer a com­mu­nity re­spon­si­bil­ity.

Our chil­dren’s at­ti­tude and be­hav­iour were now largely in­flu­enced by what they saw on the tele­vi­sion and there­fore by the cul­tural norms of for­eign so­ci­eties, namely, the de­sire to en­joy goods and ser­vices oth­ers were en­joy­ing with­out hav­ing to work hard to achieve th­ese.

To­day the head­teacher of a school whips a stu­dent to dis­ci­pline him/her and we cry: ‘Child abuse!’ We em­pha­size the rights of chil­dren but not the du­ties of par­ents nor the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of so­ci­ety. We spare the rod in school but pun­ish our chil­dren through the ju­di­cial sys­tem. Un­doubt­edly, this is in large mea­sure re­spon­si­ble for the in­crease in school drop-outs un­fit for the world of work and higher ed­u­ca­tion and re­vert­ing to a life of crime.

I would wish to see the phas­ing out of cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment as one of sev­eral mea­sures used in schools to dis­ci­pline stu­dents. We must not take whole­sale some val­ues and prin­ci­ples from other so­ci­eties and trans­pose them into our so­ci­ety. Note that the same peo­ple who are telling us to abol­ish cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment in our schools are hav­ing tremen­dous problems in their own ju­ris­dic­tions and are strug­gling with in­dis­ci­pline in their schools, viz the USA, UK.

Cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment must not be seen as an al­ter­na­tive, but must com­ple­ment other mea­sures of dis­ci­pline. We do need a bit of the rod to help our chil­dren walk the prover­bial straight and nar­row path.

Let us not spare the rod, but let the rod be used spar­ingly. Cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment does not mean phys­i­cal abuse. In­deed our laws are quite clear about abuse by teach­ers and par­ents. The use of the cane must be con­trolled and em­ployed af­ter less strin­gent mea­sures have failed. The Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion’s Man­ual of Guide­lines for the main­te­nance of or­der and dis­ci­pline in schools is clear on this pro­ce­dure, moreso as it re­lates to the ap­pro­pri­ate­ness and rea­son­able­ness of the use of cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment.

There has been much talk about al­ter­na­tive forms of dis­ci­pline, viz de­ten­tion, de­nial of cer­tain priv­i­leges, ben­e­fits, etc. How­ever there is em­pir­i­cal ev­i­dence that chil­dren, aware that they can­not be vis­ited with cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment, couldn’t care less that they were de­nied cer­tain priv­i­leges.

Many have ar­gued that the use of the cane does con­trib­ute to a dis­play of vi­o­lent be­hav­iour by the chil­dren whom they say have been vic­tims of what they term “phys­i­cal abuse”. I do be­lieve how­ever that if cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment in­creased the propen­sity to vi­o­lence among stu­dents, some of us would be se­rial killers to­day.

The Guyanese cul­ture has em­braced the prac­tice of cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment for decades. In­deed, it has be­come an in­te­gral as­pect of our up­bring­ing and many stu­dents of yesteryear have ac­tu­ally at­trib­uted their suc­cess in large mea­sure to the ap­pli­ca­tion of cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment as a form of dis­ci­pline.

Given the present dis­ci­plinary sit­u­a­tion in many of our schools, it would seem that the re­place­ment of cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment with al­ter­na­tive forms of dis­ci­pline not in place, does re­duce the range of sanc­tions im­me­di­ately avail­able to the school and would re­sult in a to­tal col­lapse of or­der in the class­room. Learn­ing can­not take place in an in­dis­ci­plined en­vi­ron­ment.

We could de­bate whether to cane or not when in fact we still have class sizes that are above the rec­om­mended size, and when teach­ers con­se­quently and out of frus­tra­tion leave their class­rooms un­su­per­vised. Most vi­o­lent stu­dent mis­con­duct takes place when classes are un­su­per­vised.

To­day in many homes chil­dren are left unat­tended at home and this has re­sulted in se­ri­ous de­fi­cien­cies in par­ent­ing that must be ur­gently ad­dressed. It is this sce­nario that leads me to de­ter­mine that the abrupt re­moval of cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment in schools could lead to the un­ac­cept­able prac­tice of rep­ri­mands and ver­bal abuse by stu­dents if al­ter­na­tive forms of dis­ci­pline are not con­tem­po­ra­ne­ously put in place. We do not want to move from one con­tentious is­sue to an­other.

The re­moval of cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment in schools must be over such a pe­riod as will al­low teach­ers to be ad­e­quately trained to deal with in­dis­ci­plined stu­dents us­ing al­ter­na­tive sanc­tions. In this re­gard, there is need not only for teach­ers but par­ents also to be guided on the proper ways to teach and to dis­ci­pline chil­dren. In this way, we can bridge the gap between the home and the school by com­ing up with a con­sen­sus on mat­ters such as cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment. We can also di­rect our at­ten­tion and en­er­gies, our re­sources and our fury and ag­i­tate against the more se­ri­ous forms of child abuse such as in­cest, sex­ual mo­lesta­tion, treat­ment of our street chil­dren, etc.

The fo­cus must be on a grad­ual change of em­pha­sis from the use of cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment to the al­ter­na­tives be­ing em­pha­sized, and this new fo­cus must in­volve par­ents, teach­ers, ed­u­ca­tion ad­min­is­tra­tors, schools wel­fare of­fi­cers, coun­sel­lors, stu­dents and the broader com­mu­nity. They must be trained and as­signed to schools or clus­ters of schools and tasked, in­ter alia, with tak­ing back re­spon­si­bil­ity from so­ci­ety for our chil­dren’s up­bring­ing.

The ban on cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment in schools can­not be an overnight mea­sure but must be ex­am­ined in con­junc­tion with the set­ting up of the nec­es­sary in­sti­tu­tions, the train­ing of re­quired per­son­nel and the re­al­iza­tion that un­til al­ter­na­tives to its use are in place and work­ing sat­is­fac­to­rily, cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment has an ac­cept­able role in the dis­ci­pline of chil­dren.

Yours faith­fully, Nor­man Whittaker For­mer Min­is­ter of Lo­cal Govern­ment

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