Friday, 28 January 2011

Corporal punishment: Yes or no?

While our education sector is undergoing some visible changes -- positive and negative -- like implementation of the new education policy, distribution of free textbooks to school children at the beginning of the year, along with outburst of sexual harassment of girls studying in schools and colleges, the High Court has passed a historic order banning corporal punishment of students in educational institutions.

The High Court judgment declared corporal punishment unconstitutional and violation of human rights, while disposing a writ petition filed by Ain-o-Salish Kendra and Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust. This verdict of the High Court is expected to expedite change in the traditional approach to children in regard to their education and mode of teaching. The government has also been asked to constitute an independent national commission to ensure the end of the bad practice.
The issue of corporal punishment of students in schools is a burning one not only in our country but also in a lot of other countries. Corporal punishment has been outlawed in most of Europe, Canada, Japan, South Africa, New Zealand and several other countries. It is banned in state schools in 30 U.S. states. In two of these states, New Jersey and Iowa, it is illegal in private schools as well.
It is interesting to see that much of the traditional culture that surrounds corporal punishment in schools, in the English-speaking world at any rate, derives largely from British practice in the 19th and 20th centuries, particularly as regards the caning of teenage boys. Many schools in Singapore and Malaysia, as also some African countries, use caning for boys as a routine official punishment for misconduct. In some Middle Eastern countries whipping is used. In South Korea, male and female secondary students alike are commonly spanked in school.
Caning was completely abolished in 1967 in Denmark and 1983 in Germany. From the 1917 revolution onwards, corporal punishment was outlawed in Russia. In Australia, corporal punishment is banned by law in all schools in the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales, and Tasmania. In Victoria, it is banned in government schools but not in private schools. In Canada the Supreme Court outlawed corporal punishment in 2004.
All corporal punishment had been theoretically banned since the communist revolution in China in1949 though, in practice, students are caned or paddled in some schools. The systematic use of corporal punishment has been absent from French schools since the 19th century. There is no explicit legal ban on it, but in 2008 a teacher was fined for slapping a student. Corporal punishment in Greek primary schools was banned in 1998, and in secondary schools in 2005. Italy banned it in 1928.
Caning is a common form of discipline in many Malaysian schools. In Netherlands, it was banned in 1920. Corporal punishment is prohibited in private and public schools in Philippines. It is legal in Singapore schools for male students only, and fully encouraged by the government in order to maintain strict discipline. Only a light rattan cane may be used. This must be administered in a formal ceremony by the school management after due deliberation, not by classroom teachers.
Corporal punishment is lawful and in wide use in South Korean schools. Spain banned it in 1985. In Sweden, corporal punishment in schools has been prohibited since 1958. In Thailand corporal punishment in schools is illegal.
It is true that there are divergent views on corporal punishment of students in schools, though the tilt is towards bringing an end to it. Principal David Nixon, a supporter of corporal punishment in schools, maintains that as soon as the student has been punished he can go back to his class and continue learning, in contrast to out-of-school suspension, which removes him from the educational process and gives him a free "holiday." Philip Berrigan, a Catholic priest, said that corporal punishment saved much staff time that would otherwise have been devoted to supervising detention classes or in-school suspension. Parents, too, often complain about the inconvenience occasioned by penalties such as detention or Saturday school.
However, research shows that corporal punishment is not effective as positive means for managing student behaviour. These studies have linked corporal punishment to adverse physical, psychological and educational outcomes, including "increased aggressive and destructive behaviour, increased disruptive classroom behaviour, vandalism, poor school achievement, poor attention span, increased drop-out rate, school avoidance and school phobia, low self-esteem, anxiety, somatic complaints, depression, suicide and retaliation against teacher."
It is imperative to make some observations in the Bangladesh context. A large number of our teachers are unaware of child psychology and the philosophy of education along with the latest mode of imparting it in an attractive manner, especially to children in schools or equivalent institutions.
In the classroom the natural inquisitiveness and spontaneous queries of the children are suppressed. Prevalent atmosphere in and around the institutions and the stereotyped class routine also are not congenial to their normal development. But, hopefully, the scenario will change for the better. The Education Policy 2010 has stipulated: "Respecting the natural inquisitiveness and curiosity of the children, and using their vitality and vivacity, they should be nurtured with love and affection in a pleasant environment. Protection for the children shall be ensured so that they do not, in any way, become victims of physical or mental torture."
The timely and highly commendable High Court Judgment, which prohibits caning, beating, confining or chaining children, or otherwise subjecting them to any cruel and degrading and inhuman punishment in the educational institutions, will help us in achieving the desired development of our children. I am optimistic that it will be followed through by the concerted and coordinated efforts of our teachers, guardians, policy makers and the government. For that, recruitment of qualified teachers to teach with dedication and affection along with ensuring their due status, which covers both financial and social aspects, is the need of the hour.

Prof. Quazi Faruque Ahmed is the Chairman, Initiative for Human Development (IHD) and Member, National Education Policy Implementation Committee.
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