Increase in indiscipline cases in schools has further amplified the call for the reintroduction of corporal punishment in public schools. Such calls can now be heard from the Education docket with the Education CS, George Magoha arguing that corporal punishment would help reduce indiscipline in schools.
Undoubtedly, the rise in the number of indiscipline cases reported in 2021 is an issue of grave concern. Four weeks since schools reopened on Monday, January 4th 2021, four secondary schools have closed down indefinitely after students went on the rampage and torched property. Kollel High School in Gilgil, Nakuru, Kimulot Secondary in Bomet and Chesamisi Boys and St Luke’s Kimilili Boys, both in Bungoma, were closed after students went on strike. Beyond these, there have been cases where students attacked their colleagues, assaulted teachers and others reported to schools with crude weapons. The seriousness of this matter cannot be ignored but is the introduction of cane the path we should take?
The Government of Kenya banned corporal punishment back in 2001. This was aimed at aligning the country to global best practices when it comes to instilling discipline in children. The enactment of the Children’s Act entitles children to protection from all forms of abuse and violence. Kenya is also a signatory of the Convention on the Rights of the Child which states that discipline involving violence is unacceptable. In essence, children’s protection against corporal punishment is grounded in law.
Proponents for corporal punishment find legitimacy for use of the cane both in and outside religious texts. The bible has no less than 10 verses that support corporal punishment. These proponents argue that they were struck during their childhood and turned out okay, so they see no harm in corporal punishment. It is interesting to note that while corporal punishment is prohibited in law, its use continues in some schools. Their reason for using corporal punishment includes the belief that it was the most effective way to discipline children and that parents authorized it.
Research shows that corporal punishment, in the short term, indeed forces immediate compliance by the child. Students will continue to misbehave even after repeated spanking. For those of us who experienced corporal punishment, we were probably caned on several different occasions over the same mistakes. I recall being a notorious noise maker in class. No amount of spanking made me a silent kid in class. Beyond this is the long term effects on the psychological wellbeing of the child far into their adulthood. In many incidences, corporal punishment was absolutely ineffective and unnecessary. Beating pupils who performed poorly in exams didn’t necessarily result in improvement in their academic performance.
It is globally recognized that punishment in any form or kind in school stands in the way of the development of the full potential of children. According to the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, India, when adults use corporal punishment it teaches children that hitting is an acceptable means of dealing with conflict. The more children are caned, the more is the anger they report as adults and consequently the more they hit their own children when they are parents.
Reintroduction of corporal punishment as a means to counter the rise of aggressive behaviour by students is actually counterproductive. Evidence shows that corporal punishment leads to adverse physical, psychological and educational outcomes. This includes increased aggressive and destructive behaviour in classroom, vandalism, poor school achievement, poor attention span, increased drop-out rate, school avoidance and school phobia, low self-esteem, anxiety, somatic complaints, depression, suicide and retaliation against teachers. These emotional scars live all through a persons’ life.
There is an association between corporal punishment meted to children and maladaptive behaviour patterns later in life such as aggression and delinquency. It is argued by many local education specialists that some of the hostility experienced in society today are as a result of corporal punishment administered in the past.
The long term harmful consequences of corporal punishment on the child outweighs the short term immediate compliance. There is a need to embrace alternatives to corporal punishment. Positive reinforcement techniques can reduce the frequency and extent of student misbehaviour. This can include rewarding positive behaviour or achievements, providing guidance and counselling to students who have difficulty conforming and imposing non-physical disciplinary measures such as asking them to perform additional academic work. Many countries are moving away from corporal punishments and embracing these alternatives to corporal punishments. Reintroduction of corporal punishment in schools only serves to reverse the gains made in creating a safe learning environment for children.