Corporal Punishment, Hunger and Learning

In last week’s workshops, the very sensitive and controversial subject of corporal punishment surfaced in many of the drawings. The pupils commented that the children in their pictures were either sad or angry because they had been scolded by the teachers. This cross over between these different feelings ‘she is angry because she is sad’ immediately suggests wrongdoing – anger should not be a product of sadness unless there has been an injustice.

When observing a maths lesson in a primary school last week, a member of Childreach Internationals staff observed a trainee teacher writing equations on the board and repeatedly caning after every wrong answer.  By the end of the lesson there were tears in every child’s eyes. This was a trainee.

Around 2005 the Ministry of Education in Tanzania set out new legal guidelines which stipulated the conditions and reasons why a child is to be caned, for behavioural discipline not learning difficulties.  This was a result of secondary school children starting councils and confiding in teachers and parents.  Finally, after enough complaints had been made about the constant, severe and inappropriate use of corporal punishment conducted by teachers, the Ministry of Education recognised that disciplinary councils should be set up in schools to designate the new ‘motivational punishments’. An example of this could be working in the library or planting a tree and ensuring it grows. This will enable students to recognise and learn from their mistakes rather than fearing them.  Caning is then only to be used in conjunction with a suspension and letter home explaining the behavioural disobedience.

This all sounds fantastic progress on paper but the reality, as shown above, is that these councils are only in place in the more fortunate secondary schools. Caning is still extremely prevalent  and constantly used as a socially excepted teaching strategy, to correct mistakes without explaining the answers.  In rural primary schools where children are unaware of their rights they are disempowered and much more vulnerable to violence. How are children supposed to learn, as opposed to being ‘taught’ if they are not able to understand and reflect on their mistakes.  I asked Lorna Yoyo, Childreach International’s Programme Manager to comment on this, she recalled her memories from school.

                Every time you are being caned, all you think about is the pain, how much your hand hurts. You don’t concentrate anymore. Emotionally I used to feel really low for being caned without reason, I used to cry for this.  You are either crying or hurting in silence during lessons and I don’t see how a child can continue concentrating on their studies after being caned in class.  If anything I’d rather the children’s were caned outside of the classrooms so it is not detrimental to their learning. If they have to be caned then the reasons should be explained, otherwise the children just end up hating the teacher or being afraid. Its fear, fear of the teacher which creates the dislike of the subject.

Lorna also commented on the social consequences that an increased pain threshold and a desensitisation of punishment may incite, children who are used to violence will of course grow up with anger and perpetuate a resentment to learn.  In extreme cases children will stuff exercise books or kanga’s underneath their clothes to protect them from the cane. So instead of the canes shaping their behaviour they become more radical and aggressive. A recent analysis of the physical punishement of children conducted  by the Canandian Medical Assosiation substantiates this, clearly indicating the damaging impact on chidlrens long term development.

The legal boundaries of corporal punishment in schools are incredibly blurred; there are lots of different laws saying lots of different things with no obvious accountability.  Under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), an international treaty to which Tanzania is signatory declares that

States Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child” (Article 19).

The Tanzanian Government therefore has an international obligation to protect and embed child rights within society. This is addressed in the Law of the Child Act (2009) which states that guardians ‘should protect children from all forms of violence (article 9). However, this article is undermined by article 13, allowing ‘justifiable correction’ which does not exclude all forms of corporal punishment.

Concentration in classrooms is already poor due to lack of food and hunger. The government says that schools should provide food for the pupils but fail to provide a budget for this. Parents are therefore asked to contribute maize and beans every quarter, but often struggle. Last year was particularly difficult due to the East African Drought there was barely a harvest.  Before Childreach International started their school farming project at Mgungani, many teachers thought children were being possessed, it was clear to a nutritionist that these children were malnourished.

There are many barriers to learning in place here.  For some, school is the only chance they get to eat and this hunger tests levels of concentration.   Combined with the pain and fear from caning and exhausting chores like cleaning and collecting firewood it is hardly astonishing that passing standard seven examinations appeared frequently in last week’s happy drawings.

In my final comment I would like to contest the justification of caning by educational professionals as ‘an African thing’, it isn’t. Tanzania inherited corporal punishment from Colonialism which was initially introduced by the Germans in 1886 and upheld by the British who replaced the strap with the cane. In 1952 the British proposed abolition which was reject by local opinion.

Making Art, Making Me will be introducing child rights into our forthcoming workshops, with particualr reference to Article 19.



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