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Disciplining children at home and schools- to beat or not beat?

OPINION
By John Harrington Ndeta | February 4th 2021

Some students who were arrested drinking alcohol and engaging in sexual activities. [Mose Sammy, Standard]

The recent spate of indiscipline cases in Kenyan schools has led many to ask questions in relation to the Government's decision to ban corporal punishment in Schools. Assault cases involving students and teachers and arson attacks on school property since reopening in January are worrisome.

Corporal punishment is believed by many Kenyans to be a biblically approved mode of raising children because it serves as a deterrent to bad behavior.  But in 2001, The Kenyan government outlawed punishment in schools when the Children's Act (Government of Kenya, 2001) was enacted. The Act entitles children to protection from all forms of abuse and violence. Kenya is also a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (United Nations, 1990) states where discipline involving violence is unacceptable.

The Ministry of Education over the years has moved to scale down the use of corporal punishment in schools, limiting its usage to the disciplinary master who only administers it in highly restricted circumstances.

Proponents of corporal punishments have argued ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’. They view corporal punishment as a quick, simple, and easily understood method of reinforcing social norms. Through punishment, it has been observed that some form of conditioning happens in children- directly associating pain with the behavior to be avoided. If the punishment is inflicted immediately after the wrongdoing, then the person who is being punished learns to associate the two and refrain from the behavior in order to avoid the pain.

They further argue that corporal punishment is quick and relatively inexpensive to administer, hence transmitting the message that the offending behavior is unacceptable and helps to keep other children in line as they do not want the same punishment to happen to them.

But others aver that corporal punishment is an archaic way of raising children and with the world changing rapidly, society needs to find new solutions to new problems instead of regressing to past methods. Diversification of education and training needs to be critically thought of and implemented to help children who are struggling to fit in the current heavily theoretical education administered in Kenya.

So the recent mayhem in schools is a perfect time to evaluate how the whole school system is lacking, and what can be done to improve it.

A comparative study with countries that banned corporal punishment many years back and do not experience such outbursts would greatly help our education system at such a time as this. In Sweden for instance, the Government banned corporal punishment in schools over 50 years ago and their students don’t riot. Why? A Swedish child has been given a voice in discussions of how to improve their education system. Involving them in decision making teaches them to be part of problem-solving.
The number of boarding schools in Europe, in general, is very minimal as a child below 18 years is the sole responsibility of the parents. Sex education and family planning has greatly reduced the number of children per family which translates to a manageable number of students per class- the ratio of teacher to student in Sweden is as low as 1:12. Manageable classrooms help the teachers to be effective in their work as well as administer discipline to those not following rules. Instead of corporal punishment, the deviants in Swedish schools are given timeout from something important, given extra workload and may be made to skip a meal or other privileges, and in worst-case scenario sent home for not following rules.

It is time the Kenyan Ministry of Education thought of addressing systemic issues by investing more money in the school system. It is evident that to curb indiscipline in schools, the Government of Kenya should strive to employ more teachers to reduce the teacher-student ratio that currently stands at 1:100. Investments in proper educational equipment, playgrounds, Computers, instruments, arts and crafts, sports equipment as had been proposed in the current regimes manifesto would have helped meet the needs of today’s child in Kenya.

Intentional investment is counseling programs for children in learning institutions and parent outreach programs to educate them on how best to be involved in the life and education of their children will also bear fruit in the long run. The decision to initiate public day secondary schools in the majority of primary schools should be embraced by parents even as the Government moves to scale down the number of Boarding schools in the country.

In conclusion, the reintroduction of corporal punishment in schools may be temporary but not the ultimate solution. Over time, we have witnessed indiscipline cases in schools and the root cause of the indiscipline is never dug out and addressed. Listening to students grievances and coming to the most favorable agreement would go a long way in putting to rest the issues causing mayhem in schools. The ministry of education should encourage interactive sessions with students in an open and free environment to forestall eventualities.

The use of positive reinforcements and motivation as opposed to negative reinforcement and punishment will inspire students to remain disciplined. Appreciating disciplined students by rewarding them, giving them special recognition will also help achieve the desired result in our learning institutions.

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