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School CP - February 2003

Daily Nation, Barbados, 16 February 2003

Straight to the point

Corporal punishment

By John Blackman

I wish to respond to the article No More Corporal Punishment, by Dawne Bennett in another section of the Press last Sunday. [not available -- C.F.]

It highlights the concerns of an international charity, Save The Children, that listed Barbados among those countries where corporal punishment is widely used. It also recommended that governments take a number of steps to rapidly eliminate all forms of corporal punishment.

Its proposals which were submitted to the United Nations include:

1. a review of existing legislation to ensure the effective prohibition of corporal punishment;

2. exercising disciplinary procedures, dismissing or prosecuting teachers who inflict corporal punishment; and

3. ensuring teachers receive training on alternative methods to corporal punishment.

I am in agreement that it is not the best form of punishment. However, like the Common Entrance Examination, I am still searching for an alternative that is more efficacious. I would therefore caution my fellow Barbadians to be wary in dispensing with it too expeditiously.

The House of Assembly can effect Nos. 1 and 2 above almost immediately by passing a law prohibiting all forms of corporal punishment. But would this guarantee proper discipline in our schools? Would principals and teachers still maintain control in our institutions, or would they become targets of aggression and disrespect as in some countries that have "successfully" abolished the cane?

One of my Barbadian colleagues who now teaches in another Caribbean country that has banned the rod, shared with me some of the challenges facing teachers in that island. For example, some students look teachers straight in the face and tell them: "You can't touch me, nor the principal can't touch me." When a teacher sends a student to the principal's office he enters laughing and comes back out laughing.

He stated further that an older teacher informed him that there was proper discipline at the school, but things went haywire since the abolition of corporal punishment. The third recommendation calls for teachers to receive training on alternative methods to corporal punishment. This is the perfect solution, but what are these alternative methods?

Will some expert list them and send them to the teaching fraternity? And what guarantee is there that they will work effectively? The most serious sanctions available to schools are corporal punishment, suspension and expulsion. If the Save The Children charity is proposing the abolition of the cane, then only suspension and expulsion remain.

At this point I would like to remind readers of the British experience which I shared with them four years ago. In 1986 Britain introduced an Education Act, which abolished all forms of corporal punishment in schools. This was despite the timely warning of Paul Charmant who told the Professional Association of Teachers: "If you remove corporal punishment you remove the ultimate sanction." Almost from its inception, both parents and teachers found themselves under siege.

There was an upsurge in indiscipline and large numbers of children were suspended and expelled. For example, in 1995 there were 11 084 expulsions that rose to 12 476 in 1996 and to 12 668 in 1997. In addition, 1997 also accounted for 100 000 suspensions. Thirteen years after the abolition of the cane, the British seemed to have had second thoughts. In 1999 Steve Doughty, social affairs correspondent of the London Daily Mail wrote: "More than three out of four people think it reasonable to discipline a child with a smack, a poll revealed yesterday. The number who approve of smacking appears to be rising, despite a campaign led by children's charities to make it illegal."

The new survey also found that a third of parents think teachers, too, should have the right to smack children on the "bottom", indicating that many believe the banning of corporal punishment in schools in 1986 was a mistake that has led to discipline in classrooms getting worse.

The British experience has demonstrated that eliminating the rod so suddenly is not a viable policy. We in Barbados should take note. Our educational system is second to none, and is respected and envied beyond our shores. Our teachers and students perform well at colleges and the most prestigious universities in developed countries. The foundation of our system is our strong emphasis on discipline, and this includes corporal punishment.

From time immemorial, this sanction was used in all of our primary schools and secondary boys' schools, including Harrison College, Combermere and The Lodge. And for this we make no apology. We are proud of the boys and girls we send out into the world.

Of course, we are vehemently against child abuse. Consequently, over 20 years ago, the 1981 Education Act and the 1982 Education Regulations wisely restricted the sanction of corporal punishment to principals and senior teachers.

The lawmakers were making sure that only experienced, mature teachers should have recourse to the cane, and brought to a close its widespread use. Our teachers have exercised care and caution in administering this sanction.

In fact, I can only recall a single incident at a secondary school that reached the law courts. Let the New Age Movement describe us as being cruel, inhumane and degrading. In the meantime, we shall strive to preserve the modus operandi which best suits our educational system.

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