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School CP - July 1998

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Inter Press Service English News Wire, 11 July 1998


Minister takes a beating for whipping talk

By Wesley Gibbings

PORT OF SPAIN, Jul. 10 (IPS) -- Education Minister, Adesh Nanan is taking quite a whipping himself following a recent suggestion that he is not opposed to corporal punishment in schools and would, in fact, favor its return in those institutions where it is no longer used.

First in the fray, following the Minister's remarks at a school graduation, was Working Women for Social Progress (WWSP), a feminist nongovernmental organization.

"The Minister's statement displays a complete ignorance of modern educational research and practice," the group said in a statement.

It further said that the suggestion was "unacceptable ... at a time when the country is taking steps to update its education system."

It added that it was unfortunate that "at a time when we are looking forward to the human resource challenges of the second millennium, the government minister responsible for the development of education gives his support to a practice discredited by the science of teaching and learning."

Under the country's Education Act, "injurious punishment" is prohibited, but there are provisions for, according to the Minister, "last resort" actions by a school's head teacher.

In the event that such punishment is meted out, the school principal is obliged to keep a written record of it, including the reasons for the punishment.

Corporal punishment is, however, still widely used in the primary school system by junior and senior teachers, though it has often been met with parental retaliation.

Support for Nanan's position has, however, come from the country's Chamber of Industry and Commerce. "An integral component of basic education is strict discipline of those who attend school," the Chamber said in a statement.

Without specifically mentioning the administering of corporal punishment, the Chamber said it supports giving "full power and capabilities to discipline back to teachers to whom they quite rightly belong."

"They are in fact part of the tools of the trade, so to speak," the Chamber said.

However, like many detractors, the Chamber said it is concerned about the presence of "errant teachers" and the repeated failure of the independent Teaching Service Commission to take action against them.

This is one argument used by political activist, Hulsie Bhaggan, in her argument against the use of corporal punishment in schools.

"Quite often, those teachers who administer corporal punishment are either alcoholics, victims of domestic violence, are suffering from marital problems or are impaired in some way," Bhaggan argued.

"The happy, motivated and balanced teacher finds other ways to apply corrective measures," she said. "Indeed, in these cases, there is little need to punish children because they enjoy being with their teacher."

Debbie Jacob, a teacher and part-time journalist said teachers must begin with "the premise that all children have the right to be treated with respect so that they can be free to learn in an environment which fosters personal, social and economic growth."

She said the problems associated with striking children include "the misuse of power and the very real possibility that children will be punished unjustly because teachers don't understand what is age-appropriate behavior or age-appropriate skill."

"With hitting comes the feeling that the recipients must remain mute: don't speak, don't feel, don't react, don't question -- just be at the mercy of an adult," Jacob said. "Make no mistake about it -- hitting children is a form of violence."

"I defy any misinformed person who believes in hitting as a form of discipline to state one educational study which cites corporal punishment as a motivation for learning," she said.

But there are some parents who are willing to turn a blind eye to corporal punishment in schools.

Gail, a housekeeper, said that some children require extra coaxing. She said she is sometimes happy when her son, Ishmael, reports to her that a teacher has whipped him for misbehavior. "I don't object to it," she said.

Bhaggan, however, points to the scarring effects of such an approach by teachers, especially in cases where the child is already exposed to abuse at home.

"I wish to suggest that those children who enter the school system already battered and abused may not emerge out of such an experience unscathed. Corporal punishment will merely aggravate their feelings of anger, frustration, helplessness and hopelessness," she said.

Nanan dismisses such talk by pointing to his own experience. He said he, himself, had been whipped at school.

Copyright 1998 IPS/GIN. The contents of this story can not be duplicated in any fashion without written permission of Global Information Network

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