What values does corporal punishment teach?

A recent incident that led to the death of a student in one of the schools in Trashigang has left us in great consternation. After hearing this awful news, two questions crossed my mind: Did those two boys think that violence was the only solution leading to peace? Had they been exposed to a hostile home and school environments?

According to a study on violence against children in Bhutan, conducted by the National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC), the government and UNICEF Bhutan in 2016, more than six out of ten children aged between 13 and 17 years have experienced at least one incident of physical violence.

The practice of corporal punishment has prevailed in schools since the inception of education in Bhutan. It is deeply rooted in our society and I am a product of this system. It was rampant during my school days. It is the physical infliction of pain on the body as a retribution to an offense.

Slapping, hitting, whipping, twisting and pinching are the prevalent manifestations of corporal punishment in our schools. But the gravity of implementation has declined drastically due to a ban, a couple of years back.

Many educationists are of the view that it is not a valid method to shape the child’s behaviour. Some argue that it jeopardises the child’s development as a whole while some others take it as a breach of a child’s right.

Though I haven’t conducted any research on the issue, here are my observations gained during my five years of service. Corporal punishment is viewed through the lens of three categories of people: anti-corporal, pro-corporal and conditioned-corporal.

I was a pro-corporal advocate. I administered corporal punishment in the initial two years of my service. For every negative action, physical punishment was the reward. As a result, there were huge rates of truancies.

When elder students were asked to control younger peers, they immediately grabbed a stick. When I asked a group of pre-primary children to draw a picture of a teacher, they drew a figure with a stick.  I was once approached by a boy of class III with a problem: an elderly boy of class six irritated him time and again. When asked what he would do if a child weaker than himself did the same thing to him, he told me that he would hit that child.

A couple of lessons one might learn here: resorting to corporal punishment is a temporary measure. It did not deter children from committing the same offenses again. The child develops fear and eventually creates a distance between the teacher and child. Thus, absenteeism soared.

Elder students wielding a stick to control younger students conveys the message that aggression is fair to handle a conflict. Having a mental image of a teacher with a stick in innocent minds defeats the concept of the 21st century teacher. The complaint lodged by the little boy above demonstrates that it is appropriate especially for stronger people to hit vulnerable ones.

Experience is the teacher of everything. After much analysis and reflection, I have become an anti-corporal advocate now. A school which is an abode of learning, where a child’s personality is moulded into what they become later in life, should never allow corporal punishment. Teachers who are role models should constantly be reminded that children are never good at listening to elders but never fail to imitate them.

Corporal punishment is an act of sheer anger, having devastating repercussions.  It fails to pass the test of logical reasoning. It does not teach anything useful. On the other hand, it only triggers resentment, anti-social behaviour and physical injury. It creates a hostile environment. It is invariably degrading.

No school should stand to uphold such violent education.

Contributed by

Kuenzang Dorji

Teacher

Pangserpo PS, Dagana

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