Spare the child and ditch the rod!

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Sections 16 and 17 of the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act bans corporal punishment, stating that:-
no child should be subjected to mental or physical harassment or
expulsion”.

 

I remember on one of my earliest visits to an Indian school in 2000 being alarmed by the number of teachers who arrived at their classrooms carrying canes. I must emphasise that during visits to schools in India I have never seen a teacher using such an implement against a child, though the threatening action of slapping a stick hard down on a disk top is something I particularly recall from a visit to one school.  I should also add, that in recent years my visits to schools in several parts of India would suggest that (with one notable exception), the practice of carrying a cane is much rarer than it may have been in the past.

It has always seemed to me that teachers who need to resort to violence in order to manage their classes are demonstrating their own inadequacy rather than that of their students. In discussion with teachers in India, as elsewhere, the majority appear as appalled by the thought that corporal punishment should have a place in education as I am. One does not have to be the most astute observer of the world to see that where violence is used as a means of solving problems this quickly escalates, and often exacerbates a situation until it is out of control.

My parent’s generation and certainly that of my grandparents attended school at a time when the physical chastisement of children was still an accepted practice in English schools, and although it was not made illegal until an Act of Parliament in 1987, it was rarely used during my school days. I do recall children being caned at my secondary school, and indeed I was subjected to a milder form of corporal punishment administered with the rubber sole of a plimsoll. Such an act today would quite rightly lead to serious questions being asked about the conduct of a teacher, even if the transgression of the individual pupil was deemed serious.

Significant moves towards halting corporal punishment in Indian schools have been taken in recent years. A report by the Ministry of Women and Child Development in 2007 suggested that substantial numbers of children in Indian schools were still being subjected to violence from adults, and that this was having a detrimental impact upon both their physical and mental well-being. The 2005 National Plan of Action for Children and the Report on Child Protection for 2007-2012, called for the implementation of  The National Policy on Education (1986, modified 1992) which stated that “corporal punishment will be firmly excluded from the educational system.” As with all policies, the intentions may be good, but unless the spirit of the Act is applied through action, situations will not improve.

This issue came to the forefront of my mind yesterday on reading a report in several Indian newspapers, of children with visual impairments in a school in South India being severely beaten by teachers. We are not talking here of one or two strokes of a cane, which in itself would, in my opinion, be a heinous crime, but a sustained and vicious attack upon children unable to see what was happening or to defend themselves. Unknown to the teachers, their actions were caught on video and posted on various websites in order to emphasise the deliberate flouting of the law and the unacceptable behaviour of these individuals. The violence of adults who are entrusted with the care of vulnerable children should disturb the sensibilities of any compassionate individual, and should certainly challenge the complacency of those who have the ultimate responsibility to manage education and care.

A link to the video recording is provided here, though I must advise that it is extremely disturbing and would urge you to ensure that it is not shown to children.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UFFSyPZag3Q&feature=player_detailpage

A report of this horrendous incident under the heading RTE Act Fails to Check Teachers’ Canes in the Times of India of 22nd July, emphasises the lack of authority with which legislation, including the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE) is being implemented or monitored. The news report suggests that:-

“In most cases, corporal punishment goes unreported as children fear telling on their teachers. And in the rare instances when such incidents come to light, they do not reach a legal conclusion as parents work out a compromise with the school management,”

Such incidents will continue for so long as teachers and parents are complicit and do not stand up against violence in schools. It will certainly take courage on the part of many individuals if such behaviours are to cease, because many fear retribution against either themselves or their children, if they speak out or act.

India is a country with a proud history of overcoming oppressions largely through non-violent means. If the use of satyagraha could defeat an occupying administration it must surely be a lesser task to ensure that children can attend school without the fear of being subjected to violence.

 

6 thoughts on “Spare the child and ditch the rod!

  1. Hi Tim,
    Thanks for this. I hear all kinds of excuses for violence towards children these days related to cultural factors. These have no legitimate currency and when I talk to teachers most recognise that there are no grounds for using corporal punishment in schools. The children who receive a beating are almost certainly living in terror of teachers and are less likely to thrive educationally. Still a lot of work to be done in this area I’m sure.

  2. canes, labels, punishments, taunts……………..and worst of all at the mercy of paedophiles!! I dont know if you have been watching whats been happening in Bangalore?!
    The cane should come back to beat up these adults who are making life hell for children in so many different ways!! Thoroughly disgusted and upset!! feel helpless!!

  3. Hi Jayashree,
    Yes I have been following the dreadful news from Bangalore. It is a horrendous situation when children cannot feel safe in school. However, I do not believe that the use of violence against the perpetrators of these terrible crimes will achieve anything. They should be brought to justice through a court of law in order that everyone can see that justice is being applied. If these abominable people are simply dealt with by violent means it will perpetuate the message that retribution can only be applied through physical punishment. This is exactly the wrong message to give to children who are themselves the victims of physical punishment on a daily basis.
    Do not feel helpless. Speak up and show that you have standards much higher than those who would justify violent actions.
    I can hear you say, there he goes again, too influenced by Gandhian principles! – you are of course right, and as you know this is something for which I am quite unapologetic.

  4. Hi Richard,
    I believe that in addition to campaigning for schools to change their predilections towards corporal punishment, we must also work towards changing the psyche of parents who follow these principles at home as a way to ‘discipline’ their children. I wholeheartedly with you and Tim that cultural factors cannot be used as an excuse in such cases.
    PS: I wonder please, if you could send me a ‘vimeo’ video version of the youtube video above, as I get the following warning when I click on the link: “Surf Safely! This website is not accessible. The site you are trying to access contains content that is prohibited for viewership from within Pakistan.”

  5. Hi Saneeya,
    You are quite right, we must work with parents as well on this issue. Unfortunately some appear quite happy to allow teachers to beat children and see no alternatives to managing their children. Some even appear reluctant to discuss this issue openly, leaving those of us who are opposed to this brutality with a greater responsibility to speak out. Not sure I am up to the technical demands with the video but I’ll see what I can do. Can’t understand why your “friends” in Pakistan would wish to enforce such censorship.

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