Anyone involved in the education of children or teenagers understands that sound disciplinary measures and consistent application is instrumental in the development of young minds.Corporal punishment in primary and secondary schools is a significant issue in Sri Lanka. Today many teachers use corporal punishment inside classrooms. Some of the recent events analysed are as follows.
Recent trends of punishments in schools
A student of Dudley Senanayake Vidyalaya, Narahenpita committed suicide as a result of a letter she had allegedly given to a boy. A student from Musaeus College committed suicide in an incident related to a mobile phone issue at the school and the latest victim was a student from Sir John Kotelawala Vidyalaya in Kurunegela who committed suicide as a result of a Facebook happening. Similar to this series of events, but in a different context, is the incident of another student who committed suicide in an Up-Country school as she failed to collect the money as instructed by her school teacher. These are only some of the examples but there are several incidents like these not reported in the media.
"Section 308 A of the Sri Lankan Penal Code (amendment) states that cruelty against children causing hurt, grievous or simple as well as torture, is a criminal offence. Circular No. ED/01/12/01/04/24, issued by the Education Department on May 11, 2005 to all local schools, regulates corporal punishment and assault of school children in Sri Lanka."
Although many incidents are being reported, still no-one has been able to detect the root cause of any of these incidents and find a long-lasting solution to stop similar incidents from taking place in the near future. In most of these cases the alleged students were humiliated or rough punishments meted in the presence of other students at a school assembly or a public event. Teachers or principals may engage in this type of exercise with good intention to prevent other students from doing similar things but it is not the best solution as these examples have proven to society. All these incidents occurred due to a teacher’s or a principal’s advice or instructions given to correct and guide the student. Today, teenage suicides have escalated alarmingly. If children commit suicide on sudden impulse, then there is something seriously wrong in the educational system of the country. Therefore we must look for a solution immediately to stop these type of incidents from taking place.
We can remember school punishments given in the period before the 1990s, when rigorous punishments involving, slapping the face and kneeling for hours. But no-one complained to any authority or appealed against such disciplinary measures and those students became top professionals at the end of the day. There were no incidents like in today’s scenario reported in the media. Schools made their best effort to maintain discipline, and students respected the person in charge of school discipline (usually the vice principal or a teacher) and were afraid to commit any act of indiscipline. Even today we respect our teachers who helped to build our characters. In the very early days, the teacher-student relationship was well maintained beginning from the Guru Disapamok era, that contributed to our cultural values which were instilled in us by the Sunday Dhamma Schools.
Parents too have a role to play in discipline by monitoring their children. Love and care is the most important thing in school days and students always try to win the attention of their parents and teachers. Adults must also listen to their children and consider their views. Discipline must start early in the home. A child’s failure or success is attributable more to parents than the school environment. Parents are expected to set an example to their children. In the past, there were no trained counsellors like today but all teachers were dedicated full-time to serve the school. Today, many incidents reveal that harsh corporal punishment was being administered by teachers and principals to release their own anger and frustrations, rather than as a measure to discipline students. However, as medical experts point out, such forms of punishment have the potential to cause extreme mental and physical trauma among students which may end up being counter-productive to the exercise of instilling discipline.
Western approach to corporal punishment
Western countries approach the subject differently. Article 28 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) to which Sri Lanka is a party states: “States Parties [should] recognise the right of the child to education, with a view to achieving this right progressively on the basis of equal opportunity”. Article 37(a) of the CRC says the child is protected from all forms of discrimination or punishment and Sri Lanka as a party should take all appropriate measures to promote physical and psychological recovery and social re-integration of a child victim [Article 39]. The provisions of the convention on the Rights of the Child, is also important with regard to child punishment, as Article 19 states: “Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation.” According to the Convention, ‘State parties shall ensure that no child shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment’ and that ‘State Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that school discipline is administered in a manner consistent with the child’s human dignity’.
Situation in India and Nepal
However in India, the courts have left room for moderate punishment in schools, according to the circumstances of each case. But this too must now be reconsidered in the light of the United
Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which India has ratified.”In any case, corporal punishment is on the way out all over the world. In January 2005, the Supreme Court of Nepal declared that parents, other family members and teachers no longer have a defence for “minor beating” of a child under the Children’s Act 1992. The court issued a directive order to the office of the Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers, asking them “to pursue appropriate and effective measures to prevent physical punishment as well as other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment or abuse being imposed or inflicted on, or likely to be imposed or inflicted on children”. The decision followed an application made by the Centre for Victims of Torture. Section 7 of the 1992 Act, protecting children from cruelty and abuse, stated that “any act by the mother, father, family member, guardian or teacher to scold the child or give him/her minor beating for the sake of his or her interests shall not be deemed to violate this section.” The words “or give him/her minor beating” were declared null and void by the court, as being inappropriate and contrary to the constitution.
Sri Lanka Position
According to the Education and Higher Education Ministry’s first circular (E.36) on corporal punishment issued in December 1927 to school principals and head teachers corporal punishment must be inflicted with a cane on the palm of the hand and the cuts must never exceed four. It must never be inflicted on children who are very young or delicate in constitution. Children must never be struck with the hand or tied up. In 1939, the Education Ordinance to the same effect came into being, with reminders of the first circular going out to schools in July 1961 and 1991. “The regulations in the 1927 circular are still valid. No proposals have been made to revise them”. Section 71(1) of the Children and Young Persons’ Ordinance states that if any person over 16 who has the ‘custody, charge or care of a child or young person’, ‘willfully assaults’ or ‘ill-treats’ him is guilty of an offence. However section 71(6) of the same Act says that ‘nothing in this section shall be construed as affecting the right of any parent, teacher or other person having lawful control or charge of a child or young person to administer punishment to him’.
"The Ministry of Education has banned corporal punishment in schools. Yet, the practice continues to be ‘tolerated’ due to arguments by principals, teachers, and parents themselves that such forms of punishment are the best way to control indiscipline among students"
On the other hand, Section 308A(1) of the Penal Code, as amended in 1995 states, “Whoever, having the custody, charge or care of any person under eighteen years of age, willfully assaults, ill-treats, neglects or abandons such person... in a manner likely to cause him suffering or injury to health (including injury to or loss of sight or hearing or limb or organ of the body or causes any mental derangement) commits the offence of cruelty to children.” Such an offence is punishable in the High Court with a minimum sentence of two years. There is no conflict between Section 308A(1) of the Penal Code, the Education Ordinance or the Children and Young Persons Ordinance. The Penal Code (which is the general criminal law) is self-sufficient, and other laws are not applicable as defences. Action is filed under section 308A. With regard to Section 308(A)1 it is stated that, “There are no exceptions to these provisions. There is also no precedent for us to follow in regard to corporal punishment in schools under this section.
Under Sri Lanka’s CAT Act of 1999, torture is defined as any severe pain, mental or physical, inflicted by a public officer as a means of punishment. Furthermore according to the secretary of the Ministry of Education (in Ministerial Circular No. 25/17) in 2005 and the Corporal Punishment (Repeal) Act No. 23 of the same year, such punishment is illegal in schools. The rights of children require the utmost respect and protection, as acknowledged by the Sri Lanka government when it ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Article 27(2) (h) of the Sri Lankan Constitution states that an objective of the state is “the complete eradication of illiteracy and the assurance to all persons of the right to universal and equal access to education at all levels.” Article 27(5) also states, “the state shall strengthen national unity by promoting co-operation and mutual confidence among all sections of the People of Sri Lanka, including the racial, religious, linguistic and other groups, and shall take effective steps in the fields of teaching, education and information in order to eliminate prejudice.”
Furthermore, article 11 of the Sri Lankan Constitution also points out that everyone has the right not to be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Section 308 A of the Sri Lankan Penal Code (amendment) also states that cruelty against children causing hurt, grievous or simple as well as torture, is a criminal offence. Moreover, Circular No. ED/01/12/01/04/24, issued by the Education Department on 11 May 2005 to all local schools, regulates corporal punishment and assault of schoolchildren in Sri Lanka.
"In the very early days, the teacher-student relationship was well maintained beginning from the Guru Disapamok era, that contributed to our cultural values"
It is very difficult to control some students, and there have been occasions when students have assaulted teachers. In such instances, physical punishment is bound to occur. Although the education authorities don’t encourage corporal punishment in any form, all aspects of the situation must be taken into consideration. Today, such forms of punishment are largely seen to be outdated. The Ministry of Education has banned the use of corporal punishment in schools. Yet, the practice continues to be ‘tolerated’ due to arguments by principals, teachers, and parents themselves that such forms of punishment are the best way to control indiscipline among the student community.
Alternatives to corporal punishment
Bad behaviour of children needs to be controlled. But that does not mean children are hurt physically. There should be a genuine effort to explore alternatives. Most schools have stopped corporal punishment. But we should look at alternative ways to correct students without physically harming them.
The best way of dealing with school misbehavior is by preventing it. Schools with good discipline not only correct misbehavior but also teach appropriate behaviour and coping skills.
Prevention strategies include:
Establishing clear behaviour expectations and guidelines.
Focusing on student success and self-esteem.
Seeking student input on discipline rules.
Using a “systems approach” for prevention, intervention, resolution and developing levels of favourable consequences.
Enforcing rules with consistency, fairness, and calmness.
Planning lessons that provide realistic opportunities for the success of all students.
Monitoring the classroom environment continuously to prevent off-task behaviour, student disruptions, providing help to students who have difficulty and providing supplemental tasks to students who finish work early.
There are a number of programs that have proven effective:
Instruction on social skills
There are many commercially available programmess that teach social skills. These programmes help students to learn how to make good choices and teach them social skills and appropriate behaviour such as attentive listening, asking questions politely, cooperation and sharing. Social skills are described in behavioural terms. The skills are modelled and practised. Students are provided reinforcement and feedback and are taught self-monitoring skills.
Character education programme
The curriculum includes teaching children to think how their actions affect others, how to manage anger and how to make good choices.
Student recognition programme
Commonly held values are taught and recognised including pride, respect, responsibility, caring and honesty. An awards assembly is held periodically to honour students who demonstrate these values and an attempt is made to make sure all students are honoured sometime during the year.
Students are given specific instruction in active listening, restating problematic situations from their own and disputants’ perspectives, anger management, identifying feelings, brainstorming and developing solutions to problems. Peer mediators are trained to help disputants solve problems that might otherwise escalate into conflict and result in punitive actions against the disputants.
Other alternatives and punishments
Restorative justice conferences
This is part of a process developed by the Colorado School Mediation Project which helps students learn to be accountable for their actions. These often involve conferences of the offender, persons offended, parents and school representatives who have an opportunity to tell the offender how they were affected and what they need to happen to go on. The object is for the offender to act to correct the situation: restore relationships, apologise, pay back, clean up, do community service etc.
Other alternatives include:
The use of discipline codes which are fair and consistently enforced, emphasising positive behaviour of students, use of school psychologists and school counsellors and use of community mental health professionals and agencies.
In-school and out-of-school suspension programmes, expulsion, Saturday schools, restitution, detention and parent pick-up programmes.