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School CP - September 1997

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Gemini News Service, 2 September 1997

Spare the rod and save a child's education

Although corporal punishment is still widely practised in Tanzanian schools, some teachers are taking another look at it. The debate, reports Gemini News Service, is causing some to conclude that caning and slapping may be counter-productive.

By Kanina Holmes

ARUSHA, TANZANIA: Steven Ndosi still cringes when he recalls the beating he received as a young boy. Thirty-three strokes of a cane, administered by his headmaster as punishment for a love-letter intended for Ndosi, but which somehow was intercepted and given to the teacher.

Those blows meant that for years Ndosi hated school, his teachers and all his female classmates.

But today, as a teacher himself coordinating a children's day-care programme, he is trying to make his colleagues think twice before they strike their charges.

"We thought that corporal punishment is a big hindrance to the children's participation and attendance in schools," says Ndosi, who organised a seminar on children's rights at the end of June.

Corporal punishment -- which can take the form of caning, kicking, slapping, punching and even throwing students against walls -- is still widely used in schools and in homes. But recent articles and letters in newspapers have criticised the practice as cruel and inhumane.

"I think it is the way to make pupils have good manners," says Rita Kingazi, head-teacher of 524 students at Makumira primary school in Arumeru, an area around the town of Arusha in northern Tanzania.

"It would be impossible to control the children without corporal punishment", she says. "Because of the many mistakes made by pupils, all the teachers are beating."

Such "mistakes" can include writing love-letters, lateness for school, arriving in class with dirty hands or clothes. Disobedience, drunkenness, showing disrespect for superiors and using "street" language are also seen as justifications for getting out the stick.

An Arusha secondary school recently announced that students scoring low exam grades would be caned six times in front of the whole school. The headmaster said students refusing the punishment would be expelled, while those performing well would be rewarded with exercise books and pens.

Although the announcement has raised some eyebrows in the community, Tanzanian teachers are permitted to use force.

"In fact, corporal punishment in Tanzania is there by law," says Michael Nyari, the academic officer for Arumeru district.

While international statutes such as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child state that discipline should not involve physical or mental violence, Tanzania's education policy permits corporal punishment as a "last resort". It can be administered only by a head-teacher.

A 1991 a report by the government's Nyalali Commission, headed by the Chief Justice, publicly condemned corporal punishment. The Commission recommended a review of the 1978 Education Act, which allows teachers to use a cane on the palms of female students and on boys' buttocks.

The regulations specify that there should not be more than six blows and that such measures should be administered only for serious breaches of school discipline or other grave offence. In addition, every beating is supposed to be recorded in a book.

In practice, say education officials, teachers rarely adhere to the rules. Most teachers admit they use the cane and are apt to strike first and ask for explanations later. The reason, they say, is they simply do not have time or energy to sit down and talk with students.

For one thing, resources in most schools are strained. It is not uncommon for 80 students to share 10 books.

"While they share books, you can't expect that the atmosphere in the class will be calm," says Ndosi. He cites an extreme example of a school in the district with 400 students and only two teachers.

Many instructors say they are also frustrated because they are overworked and underpaid and have no choice but to "take short cuts".

At a deeper level, Ndosi believes "some of the teachers don't like to develop themselves and they pick corporal punishment as a defence mechanism."

The children essentially become scapegoats and the impact, says Ndosi, can be severe: "If you just punish with this corporal punishment without telling the child why you are punishing him or her, then it's going to mean the child is going to be left with bitterness in the heart."

Some children are so humiliated by the experience they run away from school. Ndosi hopes that by educating teachers, they may start asking themselves if corporal punishment actually works.

Caroline David, a 13-year-old secondary school student, says caning was an everyday experience when she was younger. In her view, it rarely makes for better-behaved children: "It doesn't have any result because they keep doing the same thing. After the pain is gone they start making noise again."

She advises teachers "to give the students not just punishment but hard work. If you give them strokes they will think you are doing nothing."

Instead of caning, her school now disciplines students through manual labour, such as pounding maize or carrying heavy loads of rocks or wood for construction projects.

Kuleana (literally, to care for one another), a children's advocacy group based in Mwanza, points to a school which dropped corporal punishment and where, it says, students are happier and more attentive and active in class. Their average grades have also risen.

Education officials in Arumeru say they are also considering setting up a "model" school where corporal punishment is banned. The results will be studied, and if seen as positive, the policy could be applied in schools throughout the district.

Teachers at the seminar organised by Ndosi said they would try to cut down on the caning and make more use of alternatives, such as after-school detentions and extra homework.

Ndosi says that convincing teachers and parents to phase corporal punishment out completely could take 10 or 20 years.

"What I know is that it's not going to be 100 per cent implemented as we agreed. But even if it's implemented 10 per cent, that is something, because the process should start." - GEMINI NEWS

About the Author: KANINA HOLMES is a Canadian journalist who is currently working in Tanzania for Gemini News Service on a fellowship sponsored by Canada's International Development and Research Centre.

ęCopyright: News-Scan International Ltd (1997) 2/9

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