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Inter Press Service English News Wire, 6 February 2001
Govt to Ban Corporal Punishment in Schools
PORT OF SPAIN, Feb. 5 (IPS) -- Shanice Belfon sees trouble ahead coming from a decision by Trinidad and Tobago school officials to ban corporal punishment in schools.
"Now they (the students) will feel that they can do anything and get away with it," the 7-year-old says disapprovingly.
Ten-year-old Chalesia Rosila agrees that schoolchildren should be beaten. However, it should not be done to the point of having "bruises and marks on their skin."
"Licks sometimes help children to show respect to teachers," she adds.
But eight-year-old Sajeedah Mohammed disagrees. "I think they should try a different type of discipline or give extra homework or something," she adds.
Their views mirror a wider social debate since Education Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar announced last month that the government was launching new legislative initiative to ban corporal punishment in schools.
"Spare the rod and spoil the child is an old adage that should stay in the archives, not in schools," she said adding that a "carrot rather than a stick is more desirable."
Persad-Bissessar recalls her elder sister being expelled from school "because she confronted the teacher for raining blows on me."
The Ministry of Education says it would be holding discussions with its Education Guidance Unit and the Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers Association (TTUTA) to discuss "possible alternatives to corporal punishment."
TTUTA has said it welcomed the initiative and was open to discussions on the matter.
The government says there are also social implications for banning corporal punishment in schools.
"If we fail at the school level, we will continue to face it at the social level. Research carried out in North America and Europe suggests that children who are constantly beaten see physical violence as the only way to resolve differences between themselves and others," Persad-Bissessar said.
A former coordinator in early childhood education with the Toronto Board of Education in Canada, Ramona Khan says it is important for the country to understand that the system used 20 years ago is no longer acceptable in societies that are evolving. "We need to help children develop responsible behavior," says Khan, a member of the Trinidad and Tobago Coalition for the Rights of the Child (TTCRC). She believes there is need for "retraining our teachers, instructing them to use alternative methods."
TTCRC in a statement said that it welcomed the new initiative to ban corporal punishment saying, "there are many non-violent alternatives that can be used to modify negative behavior." "Schools are a place of reason not force. We believe this measure is a positive step towards the elimination of violence in our society," the TTCRC said.
Dr. Marilyn Atherley of the Study Center, an education and family resource organization, said that while it was commendable for the authorities to ban corporal punishment in schools, "let us not forget the deep-rooted effect corporal and other punishment has had on our teachers themselves."
She says while teachers will now have to deal with their "own thinking and feelings about the issue," they will also be required to face "their own fear and anxiety" in implementing alternative measures to "maintain discipline in their classes and get their students to learn."
"Remember a large number of our teachers have had no training nor understanding of the social and emotional aspects of teaching and learning, and, therefore, were of the misguided perception that beating a child will get him to learn or sit quietly in class," Dr. Atherley adds.
She warns education authorities that handing the teachers a "manual with suggested alternative punishment and talking at them about it in a two-day workshop is not going to change attitudes and behavior."
The issue of corporal punishment has dominated the media here in recent weeks, especially since 11-year-old Justin Joseph committed suicide after being spanked by his mother. Clinical psychologist Isolda Ali-Ghent said that even though Joseph's parents admitted to spanking him only when "it got overbearing," severe scolding could also have a traumatic effect on a child.
"It is necessary for adults to examine the kind of hurt, punishment physical or verbal can do," she said.
Psychological counsellor Franklin Dolly said that children of Joseph's age "don't really want to kill themselves. They want to draw sympathetic attention. Unfortunately for some of them, they do it so well, they die."
He said a child might exhibit suicidal tendencies after a particularly traumatic experience between the child and parent.
The Express newspaper, in welcoming the government's ban on corporal punishment, said that children needed to be nurtured and taught, and not made to fear teachers and schools.
"Too many teachers expect children to be magicians and mind readers. They do not realize that teaching takes patience and understanding. Children have to be taught many things that are not in the curriculum," the paper said in an editorial.
"It is good that we have pout our horrific history of beating children in school behind us for it does nothing but conjure up images of domination. It is a colonial burden we must rid ourselves of if we are going to develop as a free and independent nation," the paper added.
But the increasing level of violence at schools, particularly when students attack teachers, has led to calls for maintaining corporal punishment at schools.
"Indeed, the pendulum of discipline has swung so heavily in favor of children and their rights that a few taps to their head could cause 11-year-olds to either attack their parents or teachers, or if they feel deeply hurt, show their defiance by committing suicide," wrote columnist Raffique Shah.
He wrote that many secondary schools had now become "battle zones in which ill-disciplined students take out their rage on hapless teachers."
"Now instead of having to deal with deviants who tell them to their faces 'Miss you can't beat me', teachers are using the easy way out. They are absenting themselves from school or when they do attend ignore infractions of the worst kind, sticking to the blackboard and chalk," Shah said.
But Persad-Bissessar said that her Ministry was seeking to deal with the situation and was spending approximately $6 million annually on security to deal with the upsurge of violence in schools.
"The violence that concerns me includes teacher to pupil, pupil against pupil, pupil against teacher or other staff, parent against teacher and sometimes parent against another child," she told a seminar on alternative methods to corporal punishment last month.
Trinidad Express, Port of Spain, 7 February 2001
TTUTA agrees with Ministry on corporal punishment
THE Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers Association (TTUTA) has agreed to support the Ministry of Education in its attempts to end corporal punishment in schools.
TTUTA had said it wanted to keep corporal punishment as a last resort in schools, but has instead agreed to liaise with the Ministry in its efforts to formulate and implement strategies for alternative disciplinary measures in schools, according to a news release from the Ministry.
TTUTA met with Education Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, Permanent Secretary Kencham Ramdath, Chief Education Officer Dr Janet Stanley Marcano and Director of School Supervision Alvin Brown at the Ministry's office yesterday.
Trinidad Express, Port of Spain, 8 February 2001
Teachers boycott classes at Union Presbyterian
By Phoolo Danny
TEACHERS of Union Presbyterian Primary School, Siparia, have decided to boycott classes until they get round-the-clock security following Tuesday's attack on vice-principal John Sobransingh.
Sobransingh, a teacher for 37 years, was beaten with a piece of cable by a parent while he was having lunch at the school compound on Tuesday.
A man drove his car into the schoolyard, and asked for the vice-principal and then beat Sobransingh in the presence of hundreds of pupils and other teachers, police said.
Sobransingh said yesterday he was still traumatised from the attack. He was at his Fyzabad home nursing a swollen right ring-finger and bruises on his body.
Late Tuesday, the 26 teachers at the school took the decision to stay away from classes until they get 24-hour security.
Yesterday, only 11 of the 490 pupils turned up for classes. They were sent home.
The Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers' Association (TTUTA) supports the teachers' security demands and said it was going to hold talks with the Education Ministry on compensation for teachers injured on the job.
The Presbyterian school board said teaching had become tougher since corporal punishment was banned in schools.
Chaguanas Mayor Orlando Nagessar, chairman of the Presbyterian Primary Schools Board of Education, said teachers had to deal with a lot of indiscipline in schools, and with the banning of corporal punishment, "teaching is becoming a more challenging job".
Nagessar described Sobransingh as "a calm, quiet teacher who would not flout regulation".
He said a one-day seminar is being organised to focus on the present scenario and to sensitise principals on how to deal with such issues.
A teacher said: "Since corporal punishment was banned, some parents feel they have full rights over us (teachers) as well. We get all sorts of indisciplined children to deal with but if we talk too hard to them, that's verbal abuse. If we punish them physically, that's physical abuse, if we put them to stand up outside, that's solar abuse. So how are we to deal with indisciplined pupils who disturb the other children who want to learn?"
He said the Ministry of Education was not considering the teachers in this issue.
TTUTA, in a statement, condemned what it called "the cowardly act of violence" on Sobransingh.
"Following the attack the staff met in an emergency session and in the interest of their safety and security, decided to stay away from the school premises until it is secured," said TTUTA.
Education Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar said a note was taken to Cabinet yesterday regarding the next phase of the school security programme. She said 57 schools were in this phase and Union Presbyterian Primary was one of them.
TTUTA said the incident at Union Presbyterian followed a similar attack on Gemma Leon, principal of the La Pastora Government School. She was beaten by an intruder and her glasses destroyed.
TTUTA said the attacks on teachers "adversely affect the facilitating of quality education".
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