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School CP - March 2006
The National, Port Moresby, 10 March 2006
Spare the rod ....
OUR Prime Minister recently expressed his support for the return of corporal punishment in schools. It's interesting that two articles appeared in The National yesterday about similar subjects.
One told of a new move in Malaysia to ban public caning of students later this year. Teachers who persist in carrying out this punishment will be liable to severe penalties.
The other story told of a small settlement in the Solomon Islands which introduced corporal punishment last year to curb a crime wave. The people of Wagina say that drunkeness, sexual abuse and theft have plummeted as a result.
In the Western context, such punishment is today viewed with revulsion.
The “developed” nations now regard corporal punishment as a denial of human rights.
Those against the practice see caning as an admission of failure to instill discipline by persuasion and non-physical means.
That may be so; the fact remains that discipline in many Western societies, both among youths and adults, has never been lower.
It has become almost the norm for school teachers in big city schools to be harrassed by their students; in some cases, physical violence against teachers has reached significant proportions, and some teachers have been severely injured by their students.
Rape is also becoming more commonplace with increasing numbers of single women teachers being attacked by senior male students.
Whether that sharp decline in acceptable behaviour in schools and colleges reflects the now complete lack of corporal punishment, or is due to other causes, is debatable.
Certainly many parents, and even significant numbers of teachers believe that the two are virtually cause and effect.
Few people want to recreate the Dickensian school room, with its archaic and violent customs, and its regular class floggings.
Nor does there appear to be any move to reinstitute the discipline patterns formerly familiar in private boarding schools.
Within living memory, senior prefects, themselves students, meted out sanctioned thrashings with cane and strap on their juniors.
Then there is the question of motivation on the part of teachers who use corporal punishment to consider.
This form of discipline was not traditionally restricted to males, but was also used to supposedly encourage female students to exhibit self-control and self-discipline.
Whether such customs would now be acceptable in PNG schools seems doubtful.
Today's parents are less in awe of the school system than their parents were; we can predict real problems for teachers who administer corporal punishment to a student whose parents are likely to reciprocate in kind.
The Solomon islands situation is unusual in this day and age. While it appears to have lowered the crime rate in the small community, there are those who fear permanent damage could be caused to some of those who have faced flogging.
Corporal punishment appears to be meted out to anyone and everyone who transgresses in the village. The report referred to all sections of the Wagina community being liable to this punishment – “whether you're a chief, a priest, a tough guy, a mother, a child or a visitor”, the corporal punishment law apparently applies to all.
The floggings are carried out by whipping the guilty person across the back and thighs with a coconut plam frond; this leaves offenders “unable to walk for hours”, a report claims
The punishment is also public, and is carried out in front of as many as 2,000 villagers.
One of the problems associated with corporal punishment is the possibility that thrashings brutalise the recipients, in much the same way as harshly treated children will inflict the same attitudes upon their own children, once they become adults.
And in PNG, it could be argued that we have more than enough physical violence in the community without perpetuating it through the application of corporal punishment.
At the same time, whatever decisions our people reach must be those that come from within PNG.
Our disciplinary problems are neither those of Australia nor the United States, and it is unlikely that their solutions would be appropriate for our people.
It may yet be agreed that some carefully monitored form of corporal punishment has a place in our society.
And that is for Papua New Guineans alone to decide.
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