By The Nation
•School discipline must transcend corporal punishment
As Nigeria develops into a modern society, certain practices whose relevance has never been questioned are now being debated like never before. One of the best-known of these is corporal punishment in schools.
Routinely hailed as the main instrument for producing obedient and tractable students, corporal punishment has long been a mainstay of discipline in the country’s schools. Traditionally administered with canes and whips, it involved applying several strokes to the palms, back and buttocks of students who may be standing, kneeling or prostrate while being whipped.
The infliction of physical pain has conventionally been seen as the best way to punish infractions of school regulations and to dissuade others from attempting to do the same. Along with other punishments like kneeling down and forcing students to contort themselves into painful positions, corporal punishment is so ubiquitous as to seem natural.
Physical chastisement does seem to offer clear advantages as a means of discipline. It can be delivered quickly, is relatively cheap to administer, seems to meet with widespread societal approval, and is sanctioned by tradition, custom and religion.
But its perceived virtues have been vigorously challenged in the current era of human rights, strident social activism and the near-omniscience of social media. Gruesome cases of students maimed and severely injured as a result of corporal punishment have given rise to increasing calls for a rethink of the purpose and propriety of inflicting pain as a means of discipline.
Students have suffered ocular injuries when canes hit them in the eyes. Very young children have displayed severe lacerations from brutal beatings delivered by teachers. Some have lost consciousness as a consequence of corporal punishment, as was the case in a secondary school based in Ogun State recently.
While not all incidents of physical chastisement end so tragically, it is obvious that far too many teachers are incapable of the restraint and self-control that are vital to properly applying corporal punishment. The main aim is discipline, not cruelty, and it appears that not many instructors are aware of this important distinction.
Whatever the benefits of corporal punishment may be, it is clear that they are becoming increasingly irrelevant as advantages of a supposedly effective means of discipline. The fear of physical pain is simply not enough to ensure lasting obedience; it intimidates many students, hardens a few, and brutalises all, ultimately achieving far less than was intended.
Nor is it the only way to punish students. Grass-cutting, sweeping, cleaning washrooms and other forms of sustained labour are just as physical, but lack the dehumanisation inherent in being flogged like beasts of burden. Periodic suspension, additional homework and detention in school after closing hours are other forms of punishment which can serve to discipline students without physically maltreating them.
The experience of other nations has shown how corporal punishment has been eased out of disciplinary regimens over time to be replaced by more effective forms of discipline. Countries like Finland, Japan and Singapore, which are renowned for their educational effectiveness, have done away with physical chastisement while maintaining general discipline.
It is time for stakeholders in the education sector to reach a consensus on the future of corporal punishment in Nigeria’s schools. If it is to be maintained, clear guidelines governing its use should be spelt out: the maximum number of strokes to be applied, the kinds of cane to be used, parts of the body which should not be hit, specific procedures for girls. Where injury is inflicted, the offending teacher must be sanctioned; if the wounds are serious, the police must be informed.
If the ultimate goal is discipline rather than inflicting pain, however, new ways of enforcing discipline must be agreed on. Other forms of punishment can be just as effective and are much more likely to serve as a deterrent if they are enforced fairly and consistently.