By PHOEBE RUGURU
They usually like to say that when you spare the rod, you spoil the child. If you experienced the full education spectrum in Kenya, without special privilege, there is little doubt that you experienced the rod at some point: because you were late to class; because you got 84% instead of 94% in Maths class; because you were the first in the class but not first in the whole school; because you forgot your textbook and had to share it with your desk-mate.
There seemed to be an endless pool of reasons as to why students were punished in school. And since being legally banned in 2001, though still being practised under the guide of “reasonable punishment”, corporal punishment is under review to be legalised and justified, an ambition headed by the Cabinet Secretary of Education, Professor. George Magoha.
The fact that corporal punishment can be proposed as a tool for advancing Kenya’s education sector is an embarrassingly backward proposition, ignorant, undermining the role of dialogue, and engraving colonial conditions in the minds of young children who need inspiration more than they need punishment.
One of the reasons why CS Magoha has called for the “return of the cane” is because, he claims, that students nowadays have “grown horns”, suggesting that the students of today are undisciplined and unruly. Perhaps his point of reference stems from the student strikes and protests that have been a prominent feature in many schools in Kenya.
However, to conclude that corporal punishment is a solution for lack of stability in some schools reveals another ambition to instil blind and manipulative conformity, an ambition that aims to hinder the ability and freedom for children to question, to challenge and to protest for their own rights.
Children growing to be controlled by the whip, might also be the ones growing up to inflict violence on their fellow citizens. It would be unsurprising, though under-researched, the correlation between corporal punishment and police brutality. It would also be unsurprising that the child who is corporally punished ends up being the one so afraid to stand up to injustice that they can graciously watch violence happen in front of their eyes and not even blink. Corporal punishment breeds a hardened conscience because the young minds are taught to conform, not to be conscious.
In reviewing corporal punishment, what does it mean when parents also back corporal punishment at home? According to endcorporatepunishment.org, a study revealed that 78% of parents agreed that teachers should use corporal punishment to modify deviant behaviour in pre-primary school.
It therefore becomes even more important for there to be solutions to indiscipline that consider other alternatives such as dialogue, and psychological counselling. Confirming corporal punishment has proven to have terrible, and sometimes fatal, consequences for students.
Only recently, a 12-year-old girl died as a result of blunt force trauma impacted by her teacher after she was allegedly beaten on the head by her teacher when fetching water. Perhaps instead of focusing on ending indiscipline, it is far more important to scrutinise the issues that cause these challenges in the first place, for both the teachers and the students, as well as the parents. What happens if a student is abused at home by their parents, then goes to school where they may struggle in class and are then punished by the teacher, by the whole staffroom?
What if the school is the only place a student can be free from abuse and pain? Corporal punishment is the guarantee that children and students will not be understood in a sector that should prioritise their needs. Corporal punishment reinforces schools as being avenues of punishment, instead of inspiration and refuge.
Many parents with children in primary and boarding schools rarely have consistent and meaningful interactions with their children due to the little time children have to spend at home, or for leisure, following heaps of homework and holiday revisions. As such, many of them can be absent from observing their children’s behaviour and understanding what they lack, and as such, many perhaps surrender this responsibility to teachers.
It is this reason that KNUT (Kenya National Union of Teachers)’s Secretary General Wilson Sossion used to back his renouncing of both boarding schools and corporal punishment, calling for parents to play a more active role in reviewing how they discipline their children.
Corporal punishment as a tool of discipline and order in school is one that is colonial in itself; it is a term that can also be substituted for violence and trauma, a character with rhetoric echoing that of slaves and criminals. Impacting corporal punishment on children therefore seeks to reinforce colonial attitudes of authority and domination, those that suggest the inferiority of the child, strips their individual self-efficacy and shames them into submission.
There are no benefits to corporal punishment, not if they leave traumatic footprints in the minds of young people; not if years after school, these students can close their eyes and see a staffroom of teachers hoarding around them, each with a whip, or a thick stick or a thick hand; each waiting their turn.