Corporal punishment in schools
March 12, 2004
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We have now carried two reports on the case of a boy attending the New Comenius Primary School who had his arm broken last November, allegedly by his class teacher. She was reported to have used a piece of wood from a broken chair with which to beat eight-year-old Joel Punch, after he had chased one of his school mates around the yard for taking his pencil. If that were not bad enough, in the space of more than three months, the Ministry of Education appears to have done nothing about the matter, although the boy's grandmother, Ms Doreen McPherson, told this newspaper that she had been informed that an investigation was under way.
In a better publicized case involving Dr Anwar Hussain's six-year-old son, who was repeatedly administered corporal punishment by a teacher at St Margaret's Primary, the Ministry did eventually take action, albeit not very strong action, and the teacher was sent a letter and warned. The headmistress was also advised that she was accountable for the actions of all members of her teaching staff.
That notwithstanding, Dr Hussain has gone on record as saying that he had written again to Chief Education Officer Ed Caesar complaining that his son continued to be victimized by his class teacher.
Ms McPherson has expressed the view that the "pussyfooting" on the part of the authorities in her case is because she is poor, and that had the child involved come from a family which was better heeled, something would have been done. However, as Dr Hussain's example demonstrates, even if you are well known, it is an uphill task getting the Ministry of Education to move in matters of classroom child abuse. The doctor wrote several letters to the Ministry which were not acknowledged before action was finally taken, although in fairness, Mr Caesar did eventually apologize for this dereliction.
At a press conference held on March 4, the Chief Education Officer told the media that the Ministry of Education does not support corporal punishment. This is something of a revelation considering the dilatory response of his officers to the Joel Punch case, which by anyone's standards constitutes cruelty to a child. Furthermore, this newspaper has been unable to elicit any response from officialdom about the matter, while the school has simply referred us back to the Ministry, because the staff at New Comenius are not allowed to comment.
Corporal punishment is allowed in Guyana's schools, although there are regulations about who may administer it, and under what circumstances it may be administered. Needless to say, the regulations are flouted on perhaps a daily basis. Furthermore, in the Common Entrance classes of the primary schools in particular, parents are often afraid to come forward and complain about teachers' abuse, in case their child is victimised and will not be given the attention necessary to pass the exam. It has to be added, that given the culture in which we operate, many parents do not see any problem in teachers beating children, and so our educators feel safe in continuing to act with impunity.
While our regulations on corporal punishment in schools are probably not out of sync with the culture in a general sense, they are out of kilter with the international declarations on the subject to which this country is signatory. Minister Bibi Shadick found this out to her cost at an international conference recently. Quite clearly, since the schools have demonstrated themselves to be totally incapable of even applying the regulations as they stand, it is time that the Ministry of Education took a decision to ban the use of corporal punishment in schools altogether. This could be approached on a phased basis. Although there is only anecdotal evidence to go on, it seems that the most frequent victims are the younger children - in other words those most vulnerable and least in need of heavy-handed disciplinary methods.
We challenge the Ministry of Education, therefore, to ban all corporal punishment of children aged eleven and under in the first instance, and to act with some energy to ensure that the new rules are enforced - as opposed to their traditional laissez-faire attitude to the enforcement of the old ones. In the meantime, it is incumbent on the powers-that-be in Brickdam to make some statement about what action they intend to take in the Joel Punch case; their handling of this matter has been nothing short of disgraceful.