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School CP - August 1994

The Weekly Journal, London, 4 August 1994

Armed police protect teachers from students

By Ian Nichol

ARMED policemen now patrol the grounds of the Malick secondary school in Trinidad, careful to stay within earshot of the teachers.

The law officers are not there to protect the students from outside forces as would have been considered normal, but to guard the teachers from their pupils.

The teachers stayed off work for two weeks, to force the authorities to give them protection after three students attacked and injured a colleague during school hours. Teachers at the school say there is a need to send a fearless message which emphasises that brutish behaviour will not be tolerated but will be met with an equally hellish response.

The situation at Malick Secondary, located in the depressed area outside of Port of Spain, has added fuel to a debate on corporal punishment in schools, sparked by a corporal punishment bill brought to parliament last month. The bill sought to ensure the sentence of flogging for criminal offenders but Trinidadians have broadened it to include indisciplined schoolchildren. "They should definitely beat those kinds of students," says Leonita McDavid, a teacher at Malick secondary, of the offending pupils. "They cannot understand anything else."

Alarmed by incidents such as the one at Malick, some educators and the umbrella Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers Association (TTUTA) have begun arguing in favour of the re-introduction of corporal punishment in schools. Although the teacher's code, a set of guidelines laid out by the government for educators, gives the principal and any teacher he or she designates, the right to administer corporal punishment, the practice has died out over the years because of the introduction of guidance counsellors in schools. But, says Anthony Garcia, President of TTUTA, flogging in schools should be reintroduced to help curb indiscipline. Education minister Augustus Ramrekersingh disagrees. Corporal punishment is perfect for convicted criminals but not for schoolchildren he says. "The real issue is what will be the most appropriate and effective set of measures to achieve discipline in schools," he says.

From anecdotal evidence, it appears flogging is an effective disciplinary measure in many schools. It is most practiced in the "prestige" schools while the less preferred government secondary schools appear to have strict rules against its use. In Presentation College, a government-assisted Catholic school, principal Michael Taylor explained that corporal punishment has always and will continue to play a key role in maintaining discipline at the school. Taylor said the kinds of acts which warrant a flogging include "unjustified late coming, changing marks on report books and breaking biche [leaving school without permission]".

Psychologist Robert Sabga feels that a more "sensible and realistic way of dealing with the problem of indiscipline is the introduction of peer counsellors". Sabga says there is a need to treat the problem, not the symptom. "No serious educator or child psychologist would ever support flogging as an appropriate measure for disciplining children. Discipline and punishment are not the same thing."

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