Christian forum urges retention of corporal punishment in schools
-says church must play greater role
June 19, 2004
Even before the National Workshop on Discipline without beating agreed to keep corporal punishment in the school system, sections of the local Christian community had rejected plans to outlaw it in the home and in schools.
On Monday, nearly 200 people attended a public forum on the Nurture and Discipline of Children, including appropriate Cor-poral Punishment, where most participants agreed that beating children as prescribed in the Bible is still valid today. It was argued that the state is violating the sanctity of the family by trying to legislate punishment, which it was felt could be lovingly, feelingly, and sparingly applied.
The forum was sponsored by the Georgetown Ministers Fellowship and the Guyana Evangelical Fellowship, which represent some local Pentecostal and Evangelical churches.
The church is being urged to adopt a proactive rather than reactive approach to the issue, especially in the wake of recent student attacks on teachers, which some participants felt reflected the continued degeneration of the fabric of society.
The growing trend of indiscipline in schools in Trinidad and Tobago prompted a study on combating violence and indiscipline which has recommended reintroducing corporal punishment as a solution.
The church groups started a signature campaign to get support for retaining corporal punishment and said they planned to canvass parliamentarians, much like they did before the passage of the Fundamental Rights Bill, which is still to be assented to by the President.
They were very critical of the conference on alternatives to corporal punishment, especially the survey that was carried out among Primary and Secondary level students to determine if they were in favour of maintaining beatings in school.
Pastor O'Brian Welch, in a presentation on God's idea of the family, urged that the guidelines prescribed by God in the Holy Bible be followed and that there be allowance for the rod of reproof.
He also challenged the church to preach the gospel without fear or favour, adding that if the church believes what it preaches, it should preach what it believes.
Yvonne Osman, looking at nurturing disciplined children, emphasised the importance of training children while they are very young. She said parents must lead by example but said they must also set boundaries for their children who must be praised for the good they do and censured for their mistakes. She said corporal punishment must however be administered only when necessary, although it should be done with affection and understanding.
"Even though it is painful for the child, it is also painful for the parent," Osman added.
Although two years ago the Ministry of Education set out strict guidelines for administering corporal punishment, there have been complaints about excesses.
But some participants noted with concern recent instances of violence in schools. One of the cases cited was where a Primary One student attacked a teacher with a broken bottle.
There was also some worry about the approach of the church, which was said to be merely responding to symptoms, while ignoring the real problems. It was feared too that without early intervention some children might end up on the wrong side of the law.
Lorri Alexander, of the Concerned Parents for Real Rights of the Child group, agreed with a point that the church is reacting in a slow fashion.
He also cited the recent developments in T&T, where reintroducing corporal punishment was proposed as one of the immediate measures to be implemented by the Ministry of Education, a report published in the Trinidad Express said.
Education Minister Hazel Manning said the previous administration's haste to provide secondary school places for all students in 2000 contributed significantly to the current crisis in which pupils were entering a system inadequately prepared and the teachers were not trained to attend to their needs.
She added that poor leadership in the management of some schools, teacher absenteeism, and tardiness which resulted in unsupervised students for long periods contributed to the problem.
Manning also said that the social and domestic issues which overflow from the home into the classroom, poor physical school environment, including the lack of proper equipment and supplies and inadequate school security contributed to the problem.
The report, done by Professor Ramesh Deosaran recommended that corporal punishment, governed by strict controls and conditions, "be put in place for its use in schools for a three-year period, during which time a close study will be made of its efficacy and consequences for both teachers and students."
"We cannot be guided purely by foreign research, nor by ungrounded philosophy, not when the teachers, parents and even students believe that at least the threat, if not the actual use, of corporal punishment is a deterrent to many students."
But it was added that corporal punishment should not be seen as the only method of student control, but as an extreme and rarely used part of achieving classroom management and student discipline.
Deosaran conceded that the policy and practice of beating children in schools has been and still is quite bothersome.
Of the 145 teachers and parents consulted all but two supported corporal punishment in schools, but with some controls.
Manning said the ministry will continue to implement the proposals and the benchmarks provided will allow the ministry to scientifically monitor the effectiveness of the strategies.