The education of children must be about personal development in the fullest sense
Stabroek News
January 22, 2002

Dear Editor,

The debate on corporal punishment in schools, and its concomitant, capital punishment, should have ended long ago, and most certainly before the start of this the third millennium. In a world which is becoming more and more conscious of the experiences which prove that violence breeds violence, why do we continue to argue for the continuation of these primitive forms of penalizing for wrong-doings at all levels of society?

The answer to the progress of children in our schools in academic achievement, which seems to be the end-all of our educational system, and the discipline on which it depends, is not in getting them to respond to physical abuse or the fear of it, psychological debasement and the prospect of academic failure, but in the treatment by our teachers of their charges in such a manner that they react to positive rather than negative incentives. Our teachers must realize that, rather than being little vessels into which they must cram as much information as they can to be disgorged at examination time, our children are persons who have psychological, social and spiritual needs that must be fulfilled if we are to bring out the best in them.

The criticism that they must employ at times must always be over-balanced by praise, the sanction they feel necessary to bring their pupils to proper appreciation of topics at hand and to the overall goal of their education must be over-shadowed by positive encouragement and reinforcement of these goals, and the anger and frustration that they themselves experience at the seeming hopelessness about some students must be counteracted by attempts at cheering them on and making them feel good about themselves.

In short, teachers, and the authorities responsible, must never lose sight of the fact that the education of our children must be more about personal development, and really based on this aspect of their growth, than it is about academic achievement. It is when this latter is being pursued with neglect of their personal needs that children sense this imbalance in the treatment of their egos and react negatively in so many ways.

It is no use saying over and over again that parents have the full responsibility for the personal training of their children, when teachers are the ones who ask more of them in this aspect of their lives and we know that there are very few parents who are able to fulfil this responsibility.

In the days of my own stint as a teacher and head-master, corporal punishment was accepted as normal, but I always tried to promote the use of the whip as a means of correcting character deviations rather than for errors made by students because of their inabilities. If I had to do it over again, I would start by educating myself and experimenting on ways of getting results by other means, with the view towards the total stoppage of this means of dealing with students' shortcomings.

In my present spell at C.P.C.E, where I have been lecturing part-time for the past five years on Personal and Professional Development, I have found that the young student teachers with whom our team have been involved have reacted positively in a tremendous manner to our programme. If you ask me for the reasons for our success, I will confidently say that it is because we have always convinced our charges that we are indeed interested in their personal welfare, that we treat them as individuals rather than members of a class whom we have to prepare for some examination, and that we love them as persons with whom we are privileged to be associated. Is this not the model which our teachers nationwide can and should emulate within their own environments?

I guarantee that if this approach were to be adopted, the debate on corporal punishment would surely end, as the whole concept would be a thing of the past and clearly not a part of the enlightened civilized system to which we all aspire. I am also just as sure that, because of the positive response of students, they would be just as successful in the academic programmes.

Yours faithfully,

Roy Paul