By Raj Gonsalkorale –
Corporal punishment is banned in Sri Lankan schools and therefore teachers and others in authority like school prefects who inflict corporal punishment on students are doing something against the law of the land. Corporal punishment cannot be justified in any way as it is a violation of a child’s human rights. Contrary to the belief that “controlled” corporal punishment is effective as an indiscipline deterrent, overwhelming scientific evidence does not support such a view. On the contrary, many studies point out that the opposite is true and many children can become even more aggressive in their behaviour when subject to corporal punishment. A discussion on the merits or otherwise of corporal punishment however is academic as it is illegal in Sri Lanka as it is in most countries in the world. The issue for all now is to enforce the ban and ensure children are given love, respect and dignity rather than creating environments in schools that are not conducive to moulding good citizens out of children.
While the media would go overboard, rightly one might add, if and when a remand prisoner’ human rights are violated by someone in authority in a prison, human rights abuses of school children do not attract the same degree of media attention.
While abuses on adults no doubt has psychological affects, and consequent behavioural issues, the long term effects on children and their behavioural issues do not seem to have had the attention it rightly and richly deserves from the media. The media is singled out here as it is the medium that can highlight attacks on vulnerable children who are our future and who should be brought up with love and dignity rather than indignity and cruelty.
The long term impact that child cruelty in the form of corporal punishment has on children is not considered by those who believe that some form of corporal punishment is needed to discipline children. Many studies have been done on the long term effects by experts in several countries and the general consensus is that it can have lasting psychological effects on children
“Corporal punishment can be traumatizing to a child,” says Mojdeh Bayat, a professor of early childhood education at DePaul University. The degree of trauma and its long-term effects, she adds, vary by the child’s psychological and developmental capacities — which present unique challenges among the students most likely to be physically punished. Corporal punishment is used disproportionately on certain students: more often on boys than girls, and frequently on individuals with disabilities and children of color, groups that typically have lower-quality educational options than their peers to begin with.
In Sri Lanka little or no attention is given by the advocates of corporal punishment in schools to the underlying causes that make some children behave in a particular manner. While the colour of a child’s skin has no relevance in Sri Lanka, the station in life of a child does matter when it comes to corporal punishment. One never hears of a child with rich parents, a child of a powerful politician or a child of someone in a high position of authority being meted corporal punishment.
Children with some brain related conditions such as autism, intermittent explosive disorder, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and similar conditions are likely to be punished because those in authority like teachers, or at least most of them, have no idea what these disorders are, and they regard children with such conditions as playing games with teachers and being miscreants and they need to be punished. In studies done in the USA, the Society for Research in Child Development reported in 2016 that in States still using corporal punishment, students with disabilities can be up to five times more likely to experience corporal punishment than students without disabilities And while white students in Kentucky are about seven times more likely to attend to school that uses corporal punishment, black students are substantially more likely to receive it
This same study also reported that children who are likely to be exposed to corporal punishment in schools are also more likely to see that kind of punishment at home. For such students, the researchers write, “It may be the case that neither home nor school provides an environment free from the threat of violence.” There is no doubt this is a common thread that weaves across in all Nations, and probably the least thought of reason for behavioural issues amongst children.
More recent research has pointed toward other negative long-term effects, including, in response to severe physical punishment, symptoms in line with post-traumatic stress disorder: frequent memories or discussion of the incidents, loss of interest in activities, difficulty concentrating, and anxiety. Regular use of the practice has also been associated with increased rates of antisocial behaviour, achievement issues, and a damaged sense of self.
Students with disabilities face corporal punishment in public schools at disproportionately high rates, says a report released by the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch. The physical discipline, which often includes beatings, can worsen these students’ medical conditions and undermine their education, says the report, which calls for an immediate moratorium on corporal punishment in US public schools.
“Students with disabilities already face extra challenges, and being hit by teachers only makes it worse,” said Alice Farmer, Aryeh Neier fellow with the ACLU and Human Rights Watch and author of the report. “Corporal punishment is abuse, any way you look at it, and it violates students’ rights to a decent education.”
In the 70-page report, “Impairing Education: Corporal Punishment of Students with Disabilities in US Public Schools,” the ACLU and Human Rights Watch found that students with disabilities made up 18.8 percent of students who suffered corporal punishment at school during the 2006-2007 school year, although they constituted just 13.7 percent of the total nationwide student population. The report found that some students were physically abused for conduct related to their disabilities, including students with Tourette syndrome being punished for exhibiting involuntary tics and students with autism being punished for repetitive behaviour such as rocking. In some cases, corporal punishment against students with disabilities led to a worsening of their conditions. For instance, some parents reported that students with autism became violent toward themselves or others following corporal punishment.
“Corporal punishment can leave students feeling helpless, humiliated, and reluctant to return to school,” says the report “Physical force is ineffective, violates children’s rights, and is especially egregious when used to punish students for their disabilities. More effective discipline, including positive behavioural supports, creates safe classrooms where children are able to learn.”
Amongst many advocates of cruelty against children in Sri Lanka and enforcing the ban on corporal punishment, an article published in the TRED magazine on the 24th August 2018 outlines in detail an aspect that many advocates appear to have overlooked, and that is the void in teacher training and preparing them to face the modern day challenges associated with managing children in schools.
This report clearly outlines the conclusions drawn by several experts that use of corporal punishment as a means of imparting discipline would not only provide a negative model for children but also affect young minds, making them aggressive adults in the future.
From the findings outlined in this report, it is clear that Sri Lankan preschools and schools would benefit immensely from an efficient, organized and standardized pre-school / school teacher training program to eliminate corporal punishment from Sri Lankan schools and pre-schools.
It is also interesting to note, though a surfeit of research indicates the importance of teaching/ learning models of preventing early violence in children, few educational programmes seem to recognize the significance of addressing this phenomenon in Sri Lanka in an appropriate and sustainable manner.
Research also reveals that teachers direct children in both positive and negative developmental pathways. In addition, prevention/ intervention literature conveys that the latter may be due to varied reasons such as poor classroom management skills, deficits in attachment styles of the teacher, miscommunication and misperceptions of the teachers.
Therefore, it can be assumed that if teachers are provided with skills and competencies required to address disruptive behaviour, significant positive changes could be attained in this domain.
It is disconcerting to note that teacher training is a somewhat neglected aspect in the violence prevention/ intervention programs.
The comments cited in this report and in many other reports available nationally and internationally, rightly and clearly identifies the need for teacher training so that they are given an insight into different reasons for behavioural issues amongst children.
However, as aspect that is not mentioned, whether it is to do with children or with teachers, is the state of the minds of children and teachers, often on account of environmental factors that lead to stress amongst children and teachers. Children from broken homes, often exposed to domestic violence, livelihood pressures of parents, many who are trying hard to make ends meet, can make a child’s life a very traumatic one at home. When such a child is not treated with kindness and love in a school, where he or she desperately looks for such care and affection, and instead is subject to corporal punishment and at times extremes of it which could be labelled as cruelty, the trauma is doubled, and could lead to permanent mental scars in a child.
There is also ignorance of the fact that many teachers are themselves parents and some of them could be the party to broken homes, domestic violence, and consequently, child abuses.
The situation could be very complex but such broader issues are within the realm of a much wider social dimension that requires political, economic, and cultural interventions.
Teacher training is not within such a dimension and it is something that educationists and political leaders of the country should recognise and take urgent, appropriate measures to address the void that exists. Such measures need to be consistent and on-going and not one off exercises.
Another issue that several reports have highlighted as leading to corporal punishment is the inability of some teachers to manage class rooms, and the impact that large class sizes have on teachers, and the actions such as corporal punishment they take to handle what are at times unruly, but expected, behaviour of children.
However, enforcing the ban on child cruelty and corporal punishment is not a chicken or the egg situation issue. Children are highly vulnerable, helpless and unable to exercise some choices due to their status as minors. The State must take all steps to enforce the ban on corporal punishment and at the same time embark on a rolling plan to ensure teachers, particularly pre and primary school teachers, are given training on behavioural issues associated with children and how they could be managed with more humane methods.