Spare the rod? Experts differ on student caning

Corporal punishment

Today, corporal punishment is illegal in schools.

Photo credit: Fotosearch

What you need to know:

  • The debate on corporal punishment has been revived as cases of school unrest go up.
  • Learners who faced the wrath of corporal punishment say it scarred them for life.
  • Teacher wants caning reintroduced but to be done in moderation.

Until 2001, the notion that a flogging a day keeps mischief away was real.

Today, corporal punishment is illegal in schools, outlawed after a UN convention on children’s rights that paved way for the enactment of a Children’s Act.

But, now the debate on corporal punishment has been revived as cases of school unrest go up.

Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha has called for the re-introduction of caning in schools, saying it will tame unrest. His remarks have triggered questions on whether the solution to rising school unrest is corporal punishment.

Dickson Aseri, an English teacher at Lirhanda Girls High Schools in Kakamega County, does not think so. “Since the ban on corporal punishment, the current generation of students and teachers have accepted the alternative,” he says. “If it is re-introduced, the cases of indiscipline are likely to go up.”

He blames drug abuse, peer pressure and change in societal norms for the rising unrest. “The rest of the society seems to have neglected its duties of bringing up children. Teachers have been left with most of those tasks,” he says.

Learners who faced the wrath of corporal punishment say it scarred them for life.

Slapped me

Noel Shumila, who got a taste of corporal punishment, does not think it helps in any way. She remembers the day a teacher slapped her five times on her cheek. She felt groggy. She had gone to the neighbouring class to for maths revision. That was almost a decade ago, but the stinging experience has lived on.

“I was walking out of my friend’s class at around 8pm, when the school principal confronted me,” Noel recalls. “She slapped me even before I could explain myself.”

Her head hit the wall. And then, blood oozed from her nose. “I feared seeking medication from the school dispensary for I thought the principal would find me at the sick bay and slap me again,” Noel tells HealthyNation.

After the slapping incident, she claims she started experiencing bouts of headaches, but never toldher parents about it. Noel says corporal punishment makes you live in fear because from then on she would always fear teachers.

Now she is a teacher and she has vowed never to treat a student like she was.

Moses Kinyua almost gave up on school. He admits being cheeky. But, when he was beaten by his teachers, he felt violated. “They could have done it in a less hurtful way,” he says.

“We were a group of six boys who used to operate like cartels,” narrates Kinyua. “But, we knew an encounter with some teachers was equal to a death sentence,” he says.

The boys would smuggle foodstuff into the school and sell it to their fellow students until a new principal was brought in. “He would wake us up at 3.30 in the morning with whips and kicks,” explains Kinyua.

When the students could not take it any more, they went on strike and the school was closed for a fortnight.

Health risk

When they resumed school, hell was waiting for them. “The discipline master would call us one at a time,” he says.

He remembers the beating. “My whole body was numb, my muscles were so weak that I could not turn my neck,” he recalls.

He was so badly off the school took him to hospital. He decided to drop out of school. “It took a lot of convincing for me to agree to a new school,”  he says.

A pre-print paper, Primary Socialization on The Formation of Child Behaviors in Kenya: Systematic Review, says corporal punishment in Sub-Saharan Africa could potentially have an effect on children’s mental health.

“Studies from other parts of the world show that corporal punishments have deleterious effects on mental health of children,” reads the paper written by Kenyan researchers last year.

Another research carried out by the Ministry of Social Development in New Zealand on the effects of physical punishment termed it a preventable health risk for children.

“Physical punishment is linked to insecure attachment and poorer relationships between children and parents, and to a variety of mental health problems, such as anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation,” said the researchers.

They also add that long-term effects of physical punishment are consistent and devastatingly negative for child development outcomes. “Children’s cognitive and intellectual development are also adversely affected as a result of physical punishment,” they said.

Psychologist Loice Noo says issues should be resolved through communication. “If a child is caned for every mistake they make without allowing for other alternatives of discipline, then they grow up without negotiation or dialogue skills,” she says.

She insists there should be moderation when punishing a child.

“If you are caning the legs, the hands, the hips to name just but a few, then, chances are that they can have certain negative perceptions about certain parts of their body,” says Noo. “That could lead to poor self-image or bitterness, anger or resentment.”

Jael Atieno, a youth minister at Citam Valley Road in Ngong, Nairobi, says biblically it is advisable to correct a child.

“It is good for corporal punishment to be re-introduced, but with some kind of moderation,” says Jael. “Those doing it should do so with the aim of correction not out of anger or revenge.”

Brighton Disi, a teacher at Cheptenye Boys High School in Kericho, backs the proposed re-introduction of corporal punishment.
“We have witnessed a rise in moral decadence, with students disrespecting their teachers and destroying property in schools,”  says Disi.

Even when he sees the need for caning, he is of the idea that it should be done in moderation.

He also sees the need to strengthen guidance and counselling departments in schools. “Parents should also play a key role in mentoring, bringing up and disciplining their children,” he says.