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School CP - July 2003
Inter Press Service English News Wire, 24 July 2003
Education - Trinidad
Support For Corporal Punishment Grows
By Peter Richards
PORT OF SPAIN, Jul. 23 (IPS/GIN) -- Less than three years after the government of this twin-island state banned corporal punishment in schools, a new study has found widespread support among parents, teachers and students for strong measures to stem rising indiscipline.
The newly released study, entitled "Benchmarking Violence and Delinquency in the Secondary School: Towards a Culture of Peace and Civility", was conducted last October and November by noted Caribbean criminologist Ramesh Deosaran and a team of researchers. They held consultations with principals, teachers, parents and students at 10 secondary schools, including government and denominational institutions.
Although the study does not give figures, local newspapers and education authorities, including the Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers Association (TTUTA), have been reporting almost daily of attacks on teachers by students -- in some cases by parents.
The study identified 21 measures of school violence and delinquency and six measures of classroom disruption. These included unruly behaviour in class, skipping classes, damaging school property, stealing, cheating, being rude to teachers and parents, using obscene language, getting into trouble with the police, using illegal drugs, drinking alcohol, threatening and bullying other students and carrying weapons to school.
The Trinidad and Tobago government has established a six-member team to devise a plan of action on the study, which found support among teachers, parents and students themselves "in strong favour of some form of corporal punishment in schools". "In view of these strong views, especially from teachers and even parents, we suggest that the Education Ministry review the policy on corporal punishment," the study said, recommending that this be done "in full consultations with the teachers, parents and even students."
But the prospect of re-introducing corporal punishment in schools has not been embraced by everyone. The TTUTA and the National Parent Teachers Association (NPTA) say they believe that corporal punishment should be used only as a "last resort". "We are not either corporal or non-corporal and I do not want to get into a controversy about the issue. We are not pro- or anti-corporal punishment, we are humanistic, rehabilitative and holistic," TTUTA president Trevor Oliver said, noting that the indiscipline in schools was caused by a number of factors, including curriculum and student involvement. "The curriculum must be challenging and relative, so that it doesn't lead to frustration. Students must be part of the process. We have to activate student councils because when you are part of the rule-making process you will tend to honour it," he added.
NPTA public relations officer Maureen Taylor-Ryan said her organisation "would like to know what the interventions are and whether they are working, but we don't want corporal punishment back in the school now at all".
Another non-governmental group, Women Working for Social Progress (WWSP), has called on the education authorities here to redouble their efforts to adequately train teachers instead of re-introducing corporal punishment. In a statement, WWSP said that teachers should be given knowledge and skills -- not sticks and straps -- to deal with indiscipline in schools. It said that the "bring back the licks" strategy was weak, and failed to address the disciplinary and developmental needs of students. "How can violence against a young person who already believes in violence convince him or her that there are alternatives to violence?" the statement said.
WWSP said that the study failed to link students' inappropriate behaviour to their developmental and emotional needs, and also failed to highlight the frustration that so many young people feel because "school cannot cater to their learning needs". The organisation noted that teachers were trained in the areas of child development, classroom management and instruction, but were unable to put such training into practice.
Others took a somewhat harsher view. Citizens for a Better Trinidad and Tobago (CBTT) said that it was important for the stakeholders to deal urgently with "the many cancers" that were preventing the schools from producing "more God-fearing, patriotic and law-abiding citizens". "Some of our classrooms look worse than dirty rum shops with cigarette butts, cards and empty bottles thrown all over the place. There are some students who write obscenities on the walls and blackboards and even urinate in the classrooms. There is a shortage of desks and chairs in many schools because delinquent children destroy them," says CBTT president Harrack Balramsingh.
Not surprisingly, the study found that teachers overwhelmingly cited parental neglect as the main cause of violence and indiscipline at schools, even as parents and guardians accuse the teachers of incompetence. During school hours, the study found that the problem of unsupervised students appeared to contribute greatly to the level of delinquency and classroom disruptions. "It is not so much that teachers are absent or unpunctual, though the rates do appear high, but there are no proper substitute arrangements to have the students behave or work in school," the study found.
The study also found that teachers appeared to be "a very demoralised lot, with bitter complaints against the parents and guardians of the students". "Even when they seek their cooperation in matters of discipline or academic work, there is little or no proper response from the parents/guardians," the researchers reported. "Teachers complained heavily about students' disrespect for them, including open defiance, threats and rudeness," they added.
Ultimately, the study found plenty of blame to go around. "Caught in the middle, the students told us that too many teachers miss classes or show no care or concern for them. It now appears that without the all round cooperation of teachers and parents, there will be no sure march towards a school culture of peace and security," the study noted.
The findings of the study have found favour with some citizens like Michelle Harding, a former teacher, who wrote a letter to local newspaper here saying that parents were to blame for the situation confronting their children. "You did not teach discipline at home. When the children complete the entire five years at school and emerge without a full certificate because they refuse to focus, who is responsible? Yes, parents it is you," she wrote. "You are to blame because you refuse to act as the teacher in your home, failing to discipline, to outline acceptable standards for your children. You refuse to teach them to have ambitions and to dream. You created a home without rules where anything goes," she wrote.
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