Corporal punishment in schools is perceived to correct certain negative habits in unruly students however experts suggest the setting up of an active disciplinary committee to include a trained school counsellor and getting the right balance in enforcing discipline on students, rather than taking extreme measures that could do more harm than good. Funmi Ogundare and Esther Akintade write
Miss Mary Adeleke, 13, has been fighting sickle-cell anaemia since childhood, but as she grew up she no longer had to frequent the hospital as she used to because her mother who is a nurse had to manage the crises for her, so anyone who saw her wouldn’t suspect she was a victim. Being an only child, her parents avoided punishing her or even flogging her. They also made it clear to her teachers that she must not be flogged or punished as instructed by the doctor. This was followed until a new teacher, Mrs. Ann Akpan (not real name) was recruited to teach in her school.
Being a disciplinarian, she wouldn’t accept any bad behavior from the students. Unfortunately for Mary she was punished along with some of her classmates for unruly behaviour, she fainted due to the pressure from the punishment and was rushed to the hospital. Days later, she was confirmed dead and this landed Akpan in prison.
Master Daniel Adewale, 7, was in class one day reading a book quietly when his class teacher punished the whole class for noise making. He then began to complain that he did nothing wrong to be punished alongside his other classmates. The teacher became furious at this and, taking a cane, she began flogging him all over his body leaving red bloody marks. Meanwhile the school had made a rule that on no condition must a teacher flog a pupil. When Daniel got home that day and narrated the incident in school to his mother, she had to follow him to the school the following day to see the proprietress.
The teacher was invited to her office to narrate her side of the story, but rather than narrate her own part, she betrayed her emotions and began to cry. She was sacked thereafter.
These two scenarios reflect the happenings in schools today. However, different people have different reasons for applying corporal punish on students. While some believe punishing or flogging a child will make him more responsible and strong enough to take responsibilities, others think that punishing a child will guide him from making further mistakes.
A secondary school teacher identified as Mr. Sunday Adeshina was reported to have landed in Kirikiri prison after flogging a senior secondary three student, Miss Oyinye Nwakaeme, 14, who was asked to answer a question in the class, but was not paying attention. She was flogged to the point that she started bleeding on her head.
Corporal punishment in school is said to be a disciplinary action that is physical in nature and delivered by teachers or school administrators as punishment for some types of student misbehavior. Examples of corporal punishment include: spanking (usually with an object such as a paddle or stick), slapping (on the face or hands is most common) and pinching (anywhere on the body).
However, corporal punishment might be applied in the classroom in front of other students or privately in the principal’s office. Though some abhor the use of corporal punishment in schools, there are still many people who believe that corporal punishment has a rightful place in the education system.
A parent, Mr. Emeka Ifeanyi sees corporal punishment as an important aspect of life, saying that it aids correction, discipline and home training. “Though this is common among those in the western world, this is why most children who come from homes where corporal punishment is often applied are always disciplined.”
The proprietor of a private school in Lagos explained that corporal punishment should be seen as a necessity since students from diverse tribes, background, race and religion are coming together under one umbrella with different characters which need to be controlled.
The school owner argued that there are some high income schools that do not apply the punishment on students for a number of reasons like illness, asthma, autism, and sickle cell, adding that some parents don’t flog because they too had experienced child abuse at a young age and decided to spare their children the trauma.
“These kinds of parents enroll their children in schools that treat them like royalty. Punishing a child no matter how big or small is beneficial to their lives for if you spare the rod, you will spoil the child and if you spoil the child, you spoil his future.”
She advised that parents should adopt the habit of punishing their wards no matter how little their offense is.
The Proprietress of Motenna Private School, Lagos, Mrs. Chioma Nwonzo, said her school does not believe in scolding children when they disobey, adding that it might result in unforeseen incidents that may cause the image of the school to be tarnished in one way or the other.
“In moderation, rather than flogging our students, we adopt a way of reporting the daily behavior of our students, for some could be punished and go and tell their parents that they committed no offence but was punished.”
She said a communication book is also available to monitor the daily behavior of students, adding that the teacher’s duty is to tick one daily behavior so that the parents could mete out the right punishments.
A teacher, Mr. Uche Johnson said he loves disciplining children whenever they disobey but not to the point where they will get injured, adding that gone are the days when a teacher will flog a student and his parents will thank the teacher even with a gift.
He advised school owners to make it clear to teachers even before employing them that they should not be very aggressive while punishing a child.
“Any punishment that will show physical marks on the skin or draw blood or any punishment that affects the child and makes him/her completely distressed physically or emotionally should be avoided. School authorities should learn the difference between discipline and torture.”
An educator, Mrs. Kikelomo Olawuni, stressed that parents and teachers need to find the right balance in enforcing discipline on children, saying that this is significant especially in a religious, multi-ethnic and traditional society like Nigeria, where many believe that the best way to discipline a child is through physical punishment.
She further explained that the major causes of teachers being brutal is centered around four factors: a harsh culture that imposes such views that a child has to be battered as a way of moulding him or her into a fine character; social-economic pressure on teachers which compel them to transfer aggression on innocent children; and the culture of impunity, especially in public schools where teachers feel they can get away with such.
“The parents of such children are most likely poor, have little or no education or are not aware of their children’s rights. When you tell some parents that you want to flog their children as a form of discipline, they tell the teachers to flog the child well. They would quote the bible that they don’t spare the rod and spoil the child, but when the teacher flogs them to an extreme it becomes a problem.”
A teacher at Anthony Village Senior High School, Lagos, Miss Moyo Lasisi, argued that corporal punishment is often misused/misinterpreted by most teachers and parents in the society.
“The challenge is that we are adopting western culture into our system which is not working for our society. For instance a student that disobeys in the UK/USA will be asked to either sweep the streets or work as a public servant for a short time which will enable him/her to have a rethink or change of heart about negative behaviour.
“It is against the European laws to spank or slap a child, but in the African settings, it is part of our culture and tradition. It is not necessarily to cause pain when given, but for the child to have a positive attitude and character.”
Rather than prohibit corporal punishment like some schools do, she said it should be replaced with certain measures of discipline in order to curb moral decadence already infiltrating the society.
“Even the Holy Bible states that, ‘evil is in the heart of the child and with the rod, one drives it out’. The older a child gets, the more exposed he is to the society to learn/imbibe behaviors that can either be good or bad.”
She added that if a child recognises at an early age that he/she will be punished for certain negative behaviours because of the feeling of discomfort attached to it, such negative behaviours will be curbed early.
Lasisi affirmed that African culture demands respect, obedience and less expression of children’s ideas or thoughts which is in contrast to European culture.
She suggested the setting up of an active disciplinary committee in schools which should always include a trained school counsellor who can always be objective about the measures to be meted out to the students according to the bad behaviour such as truancy, stealing, lying, not doing assignments or disobeying school rules and regulations, among others.