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School CP - November 2004

Corpun file 14584

Mmegi, Gaborone, 12 November 2004

Research blames corporal punishment for school drop-outs

By Ephraim Keoreng

Corporal punishment and physical abuse by teachers is responsible for the escalating school drop-out rate in the Remote Area Dweller Settlements (RADS), research by a University of Botswana lecturer has shown. The research entitled Inside undemocratic schools: corporal punishment and physical abuse in Botswana schools by Mopati Mino Polelo indicated that students in RADS primary schools in the Kgalagadi District dropped out because of fear of stick-wielding teachers.

"They cite corporal punishment as a major problem that makes schooling less appealing to them. They express fear and nervousness in classrooms with stick wielding teachers. Worse still, it is even used when pupils fail to comprehend what is being taught. Almost every group of pupils interviewed cited this as a problem," Polelo from UB department of Educational Foundations said.

One student said: "When a teacher asks you something taught last week, if you have forgotten, he or she beats you up. At times, a teacher just picks a duster to beat one on the head for not speaking loudly. At times, we would be scared".

The economic situation of students from poor families puts them at the mercy of teachers who are empowered by the government through the Ministry of Education, to use stringent measures to enforce discipline in schools.

"Corporal punishment is legally sanctioned and widely used in Botswana government schools. Corporal punishment and physical abuse are symbolic of the authoritarian nature of Botswana schools and assumes discriminatory dimensions in schools of the economically marginalised," he said.

He decried the fact that students at public schools are unfairly subjected to harsh disciplinary measures unlike in private schools.

Polelo said that teachers indirectly perpetuate the spate of violence in both schools and society.

"Teachers are caught up in a cycle of violence. They are regarded as role models and their use of the cane may be contributing to the growing culture of criminal violence in society," he said.

The UB academic said that he does not challenge the widely held notion that corporal punishment is a Tswana cultural norm. But he believes that it should be applied where necessary.

"There is a world of difference between routinised corporal punishment at schools for even the most trivial of offences and corporal punishment applied only sparingly at homes as a last resort of serious offences. Exactly what is the interface between Tswana methods of discipline and the routinised caning in schools?" he asked.

He said that it was unfortunate that civil society, with the exception of Childline Botswana and Ditshwanelo, has failed to speak with one voice against corporal punishment. The persistent use of corporal punishment, according to Polelo does not augur well for Botswana's liberal democratic principles. He says that democracy and violence are not co-related. He reveals that there are rules governing the administration of corporal punishment in schools.

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