Corporal Punishment - Let us move on and away
The Alliance for Change Column
January 7, 2007
A 2002 Columbia University study by Elizabeth Thompson Gershoff confirms that corporal punishment is effective in ensuring immediate compliance by children. However the study goes on to say that the use of corporal punishment erodes the relationship between the punisher and the punished and therefore makes the child less likely to internalize parental and societal values.
In other words, it stops bad behaviour but does not teach the child positive alternative behaviours.
The study asserts that corporal punishment legitimizes many types of violence for the victim, not just in childhood but throughout an individual's life resulting in an increased likelihood of violent behaviour both in childhood and adulthood. In fact, the study found that the use of corporal punishment in childhood was one of the strongest predictors of violent behaviour in later years.
Corporal punishment has also been shown to negatively impact on children's mental health and is associated with depression, suicide and substance abuse.
Research from the US Centre for Effective Discipline and Control shows that Schools that use corporal punishment often have
• Poorer academic achievement,
• More vandalism,
• Higher truancy rates,
• More pupil violence and
• Higher drop out rates.
The Gershoff study which references dozens of supportive studies dating back to the 1960's would seem to support the argument that the apparent increase in violence in our schools - including unfortunate incidents in which teachers have been attacked by students - and the increase in violence in society in general might be at least partially as a result of the continuing use of corporal punishment.
The next logical question then, is what is the alternative to corporal punishment?
I know that many teachers say that they do not like to beat students but find that the threat of corporal punishment is the only thing they have to keep their students compliant.
I submit that there are many alternative forms of discipline that have proven to be effective in the short-term, and far more beneficial to children, teachers and society in the long term than corporal punishment. We need only ensure that these methods are integrated into schools so that teachers are not abandoned with no alternative methods of discipline at their disposal.
The Ministry's guidelines have some excellent suggestions already enshrined in the document that can be included under an updated policy that excludes corporal punishment. Teachers are instructed to:
* Include Peace Education, self concept, conflict resolution and social skills in the regular instructional programme
* Respond to learners in a caring and respectful manner and
* Model desirable/acceptable social and professional behaviours
We need therefore to find options. Already in Guyana there are programmes and resources that exist that can easily be shared with teachers and incorporated into the curriculum of teacher training colleges to support teachers.
There is a wealth of expertise in organizations like Every Child Guyana, Red Thread, Help and Shelter, the Guyana Human Rights Association, Volunteer Youth Corps, the Guyana Responsible Parenthood Association and others that could assist the Ministry in putting mechanisms in place to support teachers in dealing with strategies to prevent classroom violence as well as children presenting challenges in the classroom. UNICEF has declared a commitment to supporting activities to ensure that children grow up free from all forms of violence including corporal punishment.
For the past three years, an organization called Every Child Guyana which started as Christian Children's Fund has been working with teachers and parents in East La Penitence and Agricola to teach them alternative methods of discipline They have documented the success of their programmes and have that information available.
UNICEF has prepared a manual specific to Guyana to be used to train teachers in alternative forms of discipline specifically for Guyana which has been made available to the Ministry.
In addition, education professionals in Guyana and in the Diaspora have indicated their willingness to participate in Ministry initiatives to train teachers in alternative forms of discipline and to help create an environment in which these strategies will succeed.
Surely with the wealth of expertise we have in the Ministry of Eduation, we should be able to develop and implement these and other strategies and programmes to prevent unacceptable behaviours in schools and to put into practice alternatives to corporal punishment.
Let me close by again urging that we approach this issue logically and with an open mind. Something is not working in our society. Violence in schools and in society in general is spiraling out of control. Corporal punishment is clearly not ensuring the maintenance of order in the classroom. It is not working.
Let us agree that if even one child is injured by an over zealous adult administering corporal punishment, it is one too many. But it has not happened to only one child!
The Voices of Children Report found that thirty-three percent of Guyanese children have received physical punishments that have drawn blood. It is simply unacceptable that one third of our country's children have been so severely beaten that the punishment has drawn blood. Let us think about those children whose limbs have been broken, whose skin has been bruised and whose emotional scars we cannot always see, and imagine that it had happened to our own children.
We must vote to protect our children. WE must vote to abolish corporal punishment!
AFC Member of Parliament