Corporal punishment in schools came into existence with the intention of literally whipping up students into shape. Medical drugs are important in treating ailments, but when an overdose is given, it becomes harmful; sometimes even fatal. Today corporal punishment is deemed no different to a drug overdose. Used to punish students for even the smallest of offenses, corporal punishment has lost its purpose. This form of punishment has raised anger and has been subject to contradiction by many, hence the opposition to this kind of punishment in general. Corporal punishment has become the cause for many student injuries, from the smallest of bruises to the most painful of fractures. Not too long ago, a nine-year-old boy suffered a fracture after his dancing teacher struck him. The boy, alleged to be a slow learner, was struck after the teacher lost patience with him for not keeping up with the class.
Corporal punishment at school may not always hold ill will because the teacher might have no intention to cause injury. Often in such incidents the teacher succumbs to anger. Such punishments have also been concealed as excuses to carry out disciplinary action. There have been times when such punishments have been carried out with the intention of taking revenge on students whom teachers dislike. This is quite common in the Sri Lankan educational set-up today. There have been instances where students have suffered ear injuries caused by slaps, severe cases of fractures due to strikes from the cane or worse - suicide.
- The Number of complaints regarding cruelty to children for the year 2017 is 1191
- Article 19 CRC speaks of the protection of children
- Article 6 of the Child Rights Convention guarantees that right to life
- Emotional or psychological abuse is as serious as physical abuse
“The child put out of class might find not having to work rewarding”
- Dr. Udena Attygalle, Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist
Every action has a reason behind it. Nothing is ever done without the driving force of reason. Within the context of punishment, there may have been a time when it was done with the intention of bringing out the best in children. But with the passage of time the abuse of power through corporal punishment has given the whole issue a negative outlook. If we can dig deep and approach the whole issue psychologically, with the view of trying to understand children, it would bring out a better understanding. If this approach is taken, children can be handled and the need for punishment can be avoided. Of course this excludes the faction of teachers who use corporal punishment for personal reasons. Only law and order can set these issues straight. Teachers must fear legal punishment. Dr. Attygalle highlighted the psychological reasoning behind children’s behaviour and the effects of punishment; both good and bad.
It may be that the child didn’t understand what was required, or has a specific issue with reading and writing like dyslexia. It could also be that there is an issue from the child’s side of the family or how his behaviour is responded to at home
First things first. Why do children act stubborn and are disobedient? According to Dr. Attygalle, there are several reasons that make children disobedient. “The key is to understand that there are many reasons. It’s also important to understand that disobedience is contextual. What is acceptable at home may not be so at school. What is acceptable in the dancing class may not be so in the science class. It could be that the child has a developmental issue such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or autism. It may be that the child didn’t understand what was required, or has a specific issue with reading and writing like dyslexia. It could also be that there is an issue from the child’s side of the family or how his behaviour is responded to at home. How the problem is handled at school too may lead to further disobedience in a child. In cases like these there is a tendency in the child to show opposition and be defiant. In children, it’s likely that there are multiple factors contributing to the issue.”
Current behavioural management programs tend to focus more on reinforcing positive behaviour. Positive punishment can have negative emotional consequences. So the teacher praising the child when he does his homework or makes an effort to do so, even on a single day
Forget corporal punishment. Do all punishments in general ensure success when it comes to making the child obedient? There may be more than just a drop in the bucket out there in the society, especially among the elderly who support punishment, especially the corporal variety. These parents are of the opinion that it helps correct mistakes and help develop character in children. Dr. Attygalle explained the psychological link between punishment and child obedience. “In behavioural terms a punishment is something aversive that reduces the frequency of an undesirable behaviour. Punishment is of two types, positive and negative. A positive punishment is where an aversive response is made after the undesirable behaviour. Most punishments, including corporal punishment, would fall into this category. A negative punishment meanwhile, is where a reinforcing stimulus is removed after the undesirable behaviour. So a child who hits another being removed from his favourite game would be a negative punishment. However it’s important to note that the frequency of the behaviour should reduce if it is to be called a punishment in behavioural terms. If for example, a child is punished by being put out of class and still continues not to bring his home work, it makes no sense to pursue with that method of punishment. After all, what we want is for him to bring in the home work and not to just punish him. Although, when it does work, positive punishment has the advantage of stopping a behaviour immediately, Current behavioural management programs tend to focus more on reinforcing positive behaviour. Positive punishment can have negative emotional consequences. So the teacher praising the child when he does his homework or makes an effort to do so, even on a single day, may increase the likelihood of him bringing in homework the next day. A negative punishment would be that the child has to remain during the interval and do the home work. However, analyzing behaviour and responding accordingly can be complicated. For example if the child who doesn’t do homework is punished by being put out of the class, this can actually reinforce the child not doing homework in some situations. This happens when the child who doesn’t do homework may also find being put out of class and not having to do work at school rewarding!”
Punishment can reach extremes which sometimes impacts the mentality of children bringing out dire consequences in the development of the child. “The issue with punishment is that, when we are dealing with a child, merely stopping an undesirable behaviour isn’t enough. Developing the child’s capacity for cognitive, emotional and social development is more important. Thus, if a parent or teacher can have this in mind it would be of great benefit to the child. As children have different temperaments, punishment can have negative consequences on some. Anxiety, school refusal, depression and even other trauma related issues can be the consequence s of thoughtless punishment. As the child’s brain is still developing this traumatic experience and related consequences can sometimes become a template of how they respond to later situations as well. If the child perceives humiliation, or misses school for a prolonged period of time this may affect social development. Prolonged avoidance of school can also lead to the child feeling overwhelmed with the mounting amount of work missed and make returning to class even harder.”
In the attempts to propose child-friendly methods that would get children to listen to teachers, Dr. Attygalle stressed that the most important aspect is to keep the end goal of the child’s development in mind, while also thinking of the immediate issue of the child’s behaviour. “Talking to parents or teachers, analysing their work and looking beyond a child’s behaviour, will provide us with clues on how to manage the behaviour. It’s also useful to keep in mind that if we try to deal with these issues by becoming upset and emotional, we may escalate the situation with no positive outcome. Thus, it’s important to have ways and means of supporting ourselves, so that we are able to use our adult experience and knowledge in dealing with these situations.
Teachers are also faced with the situation of having to deal with several children with behavioural issues at the same time. In these situations it might be useful to lay down the ground rules very early and clearly and also anticipate children who might have problems, so that preventive measures can be taken. For example bringing the hyperactive and inattentive child to the front of the class rather than leaving him at the back might prevent a lot of classroom trouble.”
“School punishment violates Child Rights”
Marini De Livera, Chairperson NCPA
Corporal punishment seems to violate human rights and more specifically a child’s right in this case. What better organization is there to talk to other than the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA), with regard to issues concerning children’s rights. Marini De Livera, Chairperson of NCPA, commented on the issue relating to punishments at school.
When De Livera was asked for her opinion on school punishments, she stated that whatever disguise in which a punishment may come, it’s an outlawed act which violates a child’s rights. “School punishments in whatever form, fall into the category of ‘Cruel and degrading’ treatment which is outlawed by the Constitution of Sri Lanka. School punishments violate Child Rights. Article 19 CRC speaks of the protection of children from all forms of violence. Also this is connected to article 24 which guarantees the Right to Health and Article 29 which highlights the aims of education. In a broader context Article 6 of the Child Rights Convention guarantees that right to life is applicable as it suggests that the child is entitled to a ‘Life of a Dignity’.”
Punishments aren’t always just physical. Sometimes school punishments go to the extremes of a dramatic unleash of vengeance upon the child for personal dislike. This is done to degrade and humiliate a student giving the excuse of making them disciplined. Such acts traumatize the child for life. These situations don’t end well literally. Students in such circumstances have had unfortunate endings. Suicide has been reported on numerous occasions. De Livera put mental abuse on par with physical punishment, claiming there is no difference between the two. “Emotional or psychological abuse is as serious as physical abuse. This happens a great deal in Sri Lanka. The Number of complaints regarding cruelty to children for the year 2017 is 1191. I have received a number of complaints made personally to me, but parents don’t want to divulge the name of the school. Children who are subjected to this kind of punishment grow up with hatred towards society.”
In the wake of a child right violation through corporal punishment, the chairperson briefed the procedures taken on behalf of the NCPA. She further divulged on the steps taken with the motive to prevent the assault of school children in the future through corporal punishment. “If it’s a Cruelty to Children Penal Code offence, the teacher is arrested and prosecuted. If convicted, the perpetrator will face imprisonment and will also be punished with a fine. A field research had been commissioned by NCPA. In this regard, steps are being taken to implement the recommendations set out in the said report.”
School punishments in whatever form, fall into the category of ‘Cruel and degrading’ treatment which is outlawed by the Constitution of Sri Lanka. School punishments violate Child Rights