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School CP - December 2005

Corpun file 17167

The National, Port Moresby, 6 December 2005

Spare the rod ...

THE issue of corporal punishment has again been raised, this time by a concerned Rabaul businessman.

Levi Toitam, in common with many other senior Tolai community figures, believes that many of the current negative attitudes of primary and secondary students can be attributed to the end of corporal punishment in schools.

This subject has come up at a time when the incidence of thuggery among senior school students is very much in the news.

An example is last week’s disgraceful situation at Sogeri National High School, and the apparent helplessness of both school authorities and the school’s board of management to do anything about the matter.

Sogeri is by no means an isolated example.

Many other senior high schools and even primary schools have reported an increased level of loutish behaviour among students, and the mounting destruction of hard-won school property.

Corporal punishment — normally expressed through caning — has been rejected by most Western societies, where it is seen by school authorities and some parents as the brutalisation of youngsters.

That view is by no means held across the board in those countries, but it is held firmly by teachers and others in authority, and has therefore become widely accepted.

In some countries, not only has corporal punishment been banned by law, but even on the domestic front, parents can be cautioned and even fined by courts for physically disciplining their own children in their own homes.

We have had reason to attack the couldn't-care-less attitude of some PNG parents in recent weeks. The lack of parental guidance throws an extra responsibility upon schools and their teachers, and upon the churches and their leaders.

Bluntly, if children are not trained at home how to behave, and how to grow into acceptable adults, then the onus appears to fall on teachers and other community leaders.

Mr Toitam makes the point that in the days when corporal punishment in schools was the norm, the kind of social problems faced today were unknown. That may well be the case, but it is also true that parents in those days exercised a far greater level of control over their children.

It is therefore unlikely that the levels of anti-social behaviour experienced today were as evident in previous years.

Youngsters had the triple influence of home, schools and a much higher and more uniform exposure to churches and to religious guidance than is common today.

Whether the absence of corporal punishment in itself is sufficient explanation for today’s juvenile hooligans is a matter for debate.

On the other hand, we are slowly beginning to realise that what is appropriate for Australia, or Britain or New Zealand is not necessarily right for our own country.

The social circumstances applying to the young in Western cities, and even in overseas country towns, is a far cry indeed from the average environment of our own rural or urban students.

We can add to that the obvious decline in discipline and self-reliance that is now commonplace overseas.

Could that be at least in part the result of the lack of physical punishment that now applies there?

Certainly there is a minority of parents overseas that believes that is the case. And if that is so, are we wrong to remove corporal punishment from our schools?

A further problem in administering such formal punishment lies with the parents themselves.

Today’s parents are far less in awe of the school teacher than were their own parents.

Any teacher who canes a child today is just as likely to be confronted by an enraged parent demanding an explanation, or even compensation. That attitude must also be factored into any proposed return of corporal punishment to our schools.

On balance, we believe that the major role in preparing children for their adult lives must lie with parents.

As for the schools, we would rather see a much more concerted attempt on the part of the educational system to teach parenting skills to the young. Then when they become parents themselves, they will be better equipped to handle the upbringing of their children.

Whether formalised corporal punishment in schools is part of the answer remains a matter of debate.

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