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School CP - October 2016

Corpun file 26494 at

The Island, Colombo, 13 October 2016

President on corporal punishment in schools

"President Maithripala Sirisena has broached a topic which has an importance of CIVILISATIONAL proportions no less.... he was right in everything he said at the Guru Prathibha Pranama Ulela last week about the plight of teachers."

By C.A. Chandraprema


Certain comments on corporal punishment in schools made by President Maithripala Sirisena at the Guru Prathibha Pranama Ulela held last week at the Nelum Pokuna have given rise to much controversy. What the President said was as follows:

"My mother was a teacher. On occasion due to problems in school, I remember seeing her in tears after she returns home. I know that there are teachers who go home and weep today as well. When I was studying in the Thopawewa Maha Vidyalaya, one day my class was restless and noisy, and the principal who had been observing this behaviour singled me out and caned me until the cane broke ... Even though my mother was a teacher and my father the village headman I did not tell them that I had been punished by the principal. If I had told them that I had been caned, they would have said that I must have done something wrong and that was why I was punished and that they too should punish me."

"I am astounded at what is happening today. Human rights, fundamental rights freedom and democracy are good things. These things are given to make a society better not to render a society helpless... When a teacher in a school tweaks student's ear or administers a light knock on the head (tokka) or a slap, the teacher is taken to the police and to courts and action is filed against him... Both sides can argue about whether this is right or wrong, justified or unjustified. But as fathers we know how difficult it is to bring up two or three children at home. As a father I know how difficult it was to bring up my three children ... If such is the case, we have to consider reasonably how much more difficult it is to control 40 to 50 students in a classroom or four to five thousand in a school... We must be mindful of the effort and the responsibility that goes into this. We must look at this reasonably. The parents of school going children should therefore consider the true meaning of the terms human rights, and freedom etc."

President Maithripala Sirisena has broached a topic which has an importance of CIVILISATIONAL proportions no less. Civilisations can rise or fall on this issue of disciplining the younger generation. Changes that took place in Western thinking after the 1980s resulted in a complete and sudden loss of common sense relating to marriage, family and child rearing. The white populations in Western countries are now in decline, their educational levels are dropping and the whites are increasingly becoming poor white thrash in their own countries. One of the changes that has sent Western civilisation into this tail spin has been the so called 'child rights' regime in their schools which has made it impossible for teachers to maintain order in schools. In such a situation educational levels can decline precipitously in less than a decade and that is what has been happening to the white populations in all western nations.

This canker has been spreading in Sri Lanka as well over the past two decades through Western funded NGOs. But unlike in the West, this has not had a noticeable effect on our educational levels thanks to our all pervasive private tuition culture. Real learning in this country is done outside school and the feral minority will not be accommodated in the tuition classes. But the schools are badly affected with teachers facing an uphill struggle to maintain discipline and order in the classroom. The most disastrous period in this respect was the tenure of President Chandrika Kumaratunga when most of these ideas that had already sent the West into a tailspin were introduced to Sri Lanka.


But what took matters to the next level were two circulars No: 2001/11 and 2005/17 both titled 'Maintaining Discipline within the School' issued during the Chandrika Kumaratunga era as the years of the circulars indicate. These circulars warned teachers that if a teacher applies 'demeaning corporal or psychological pressure' on a student even with the intention of maintaining school discipline, that could give rise to a breach of fundamental rights enshrined in the constitution and to an offence relating to cruelty to children under Section 308(A) of the Penal Code.


The other alternative punishments are even worse. It is recommended that in cases of a serious breach of discipline, the students be suspended for two weeks or with the permission of the Education Department for even longer periods of time. The average school term is about ten weeks. When a student misses lessons for two weeks or more, what would that do to the education he was supposed to be receiving? And what happens if he gets suspended several times a year? In the era when commonsense prevailed in schools, students would be caned and sent right back to class to follow their lessons. Another alternative punishment recommended is to transfer the offending student to another school. This assumes that the principal in the neighbouring school will be waiting with open arms to accept all the incorrigibles from the other school and also that there will be room in our already jam packed classrooms for schools to exchange incorrigibles with one another.

These are the stock alternative methods of disciplining students recommended in Western schools systems which have all failed miserably and sent Western schools systems into a tail spin. One of the most strident critics of what President Sirisena said about corporal punishment in schools has been a website editor, who currently living in Britain should know better. British schools are among the worst affected by the child rights nightmare.


An early circular issued by a Ceylon schools inspector on 2 March 1907 on 'Canings' stated that canings should be administered only when a grave infringement of discipline has been committed or when students are lazy and slothful all the time and in the latter instance, canings should be administered only when all other expedients have been tried and proved unsuccessful. Only the head teacher should administer canings. In a mixed school, if a girl has to be caned, it has to be done by a lady teacher. For a male teacher to cane a female student is strictly forbidden. On every occasion that a child is caned, the reason for the caning, and the number of strokes administered should be entered in a book maintained for the purpose. Punishment should be administered with a cane. No more than six strokes should be administered at a time. Very young children and children with weak constitutions should not be caned. Slapping a child or tying up children should never be practised.

Thus, we see that even a century ago, the way corporal punishment was administered in schools was strictly regulated. A subsequent circular issued by the Education Department in 1927 reconfirmed those rules while stipulating that corporal punishment should be administered with a cane to the palm and the number of strokes should never exceed four and that the cane should never be kept on the table but should be kept in the staff room and brought out only when necessary. At that time, people had the commonsense to realise that while every effort would be made to avoid administering corporal punishment, it would be used only as a last resort. Those of who grew up in an era when corporal punishment in schools was the norm know that most teachers would avoid it and use it only when they absolutely had to. Of course there were instances when the restrictions on corporal punishment were exceeded and such things occur even today. If a student has been beaten senseless with a wooden pole, or kicked or punched viciously, that amounts to assault and not chastisement and such instances can be dealt with differently.


A teachers' trade union official told the present writer that when teachers get remanded for administering corporal punishment to a student, the advice they routinely give the teacher is to approach the parents of the student concerned through the village monk or some other authoritative figure and somehow try to get them to withdraw the complaint. The teachers' unions say that since the law is what it is, there is nothing to be done but to worship the parents of the students and try to get out of the mess they find themselves in. President Maithripala Sirisena was right in everything he said last Wednesday about the plight of teachers.

If he wants to do something to stop our schools system from going down the drainpipe just like the schools systems across the Western world, he can take steps to establish guidelines whereby Section 308A to the Penal Code will be applied only to serious cases of deliberate ill treatment or assault and not to routine cases of chastisement in schools within the long established limits recounted above. If Section 308A is read together with Sections 341 and 82 of the Penal Code mentioned earlier its effect can be mitigated and it may be useful to get a Supreme Court ruling on the interpretation of these sections in the Penal Code in relation to the chastisement of children and young persons below the age of 18 by parents, teachers or other guardians. Tara de Mel's circulars mentioned above should also be withdrawn.


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