Minister should clarify declaration she signed on corporal punishment
Stabroek News
March 16, 2004

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Dear Editor,

Your editorial, "Corporal punishment in schools," (Friday, March 12) calling for a ban on corporal punishment in Guyana's schools is bold, informative and raises questions.

Bold because, traditionally, corporal punishment in Guyana's schools has been acceptable as a form of discipline to punish children for a variety of well-known reasons. To abolish it, therefore, would require a reality check into what we may be trying to correct or avoid, and what may even be at stake in the long run; not just what is now considered politically correct.

Which brings me to the next two points of your editorial as being informative and raising questions. Your editorial states that Minister Bibi Shadick, representing the government at an international conference, signed off on a declaration banishing corporal punishment in schools. Was it mandatory for her to do so? Is government now required to pass legislation banning corporal punishment in schools as a result of her signature on that declaration, or is it optional and left to the discretion of educators and parents?

Then in your closing paragraph, you advocated a "ban on all corporal punishment of children aged eleven and under..." But does this mean you are sold on the idea of corporal punishment of students aged twelve and over? Please, do clarify the specificity of this age issue.

I previously stated in another forum that I am against children being beaten for getting a wrong answer in the classroom or, if I might now add, even failing a test, but still want to know what punitive action is recommended for children who deliberately break school rules, or even the law? "Licks" was supposed to both punish us for some infraction at the time of being punished and, somehow, forewarn us of the punishments ahead in life when we fail or mess up.

As a student at Central High, in Georgetown, in the early seventies, I once got caned by the late Rudy Luck for telling a white Canadian teacher, "Good riddance," after I learned she was returning to Canada. I truly felt she hated me, though I might have misinterpreted her attitude, but I was insubordinate, and I learned from that caning there is a price to pay for insubordination to those in authority, even though as an adult it may not be for corporal punishment.

Later on, as a student at Kara Kara High, in Linden, I sometimes saw the principal, the late Eddie London, (formerly of QC) standing at the school's gate or walking down the street, cane in hand, beating children for being late for school. His method or tactic might be suspect, but the principle I learned from that was, in adult life, there is a price one can pay for being late.

And even though I understood why teachers did beat students for getting wrong answers, I never understood why teachers expected students to use their hands to write after they were beaten sore in the opened palms. Nor why teachers expected students to sit comfortably and concentrate in class after being whipped sore on the butt.

Glad to say, but in my school days, I never heard of a teacher physically abusing a student, and now wonder whether the reported physical abuse by teachers of students is not giving value-added credence to the call for banishment of corporal punishment. But has any thought been given to a law banning physical abuse of children by parents and teachers, but not the banning of corporal punishment entirely?

The only downside I can see to this call for banning corporal punishment in school is the likelihood of children interpreting this ban as a sort of carte blanche for them to do whatever they want to do whenever they want to do it in school, knowing no one, according to law, can physically discipline them.

As I close, I wonder whether Minister Shadick can say if the international declaration she signed at the conference limits banning corporal punishment to schools, or is it also applicable to parents, as is the case in the United States where no teacher or parent can physically discipline a student/child?

If it affects parents too, then I have a mixture of tales I could share on the state of some schools and families in New York where, while some parents and their children are doing well in the absence of corporal punishment at home and schools, this absence is also known to be putting a rather huge strain on society, from peers to teachers to parents to adults to the police to the courts to the politicians.

Yours faithfully,

Emile Mervin,

Editor's note:

Minister Bibi Shadick did not sign off on a ban on corporal punishment. This country is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and at the 35th session of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child which was held in Geneva recently, it was recommended (among other things) that Guyana should expressly prohibit corporal punishment by law in the family, schools and other institutions. Minister Shadick was Guyana's representative at that meeting.

We are not sold on the idea of corporal punishment for secondary school-age pupils. It is just that given the culture, which is out of harmony with UN sentiment, and the absence of disciplinary alternatives in the education system, it might be more practical to take a phased approach, beginning with the younger children who are the ones most vulnerable to abuse.