In 1997, when the American school teacher Mary Kay Letourneau was arrested for bearing the child of her 13-year-old student, she took the world by storm. The confidence of every parent was jolted and it was felt that the only safe path was to triangulate, to split the difference between the traditional teacher who is looked up to and that of an institution which could throw a surprise as bitter as this and leave scars for life.
Bangalore recently witnessed the shocking arrest of Trio World School Principal Paul Meekins, who was arrested for sending lewd messages to his students and for forging certificates. Last month Mohammed Jeelan, a 15-year-old boy and a student of Shri Guru Vidyapeetha Residential High School in Gulbarga died and his parents have blamed the teachers for his death saying it was as a result of corporal punishment.
Teaching used be in the hands of brutally honest people, but today a miniscule set has taken it into too much, given to deception. There has been a series of minor and serious corporal punishment and molestation cases filed against certain lecherous, strait-laced and prima donna teachers in Bangalore and across the country. Concomitantly, a reverse trend was seen when revenge became a dish best served cold. A teacher was stabbed to death in the classroom of a private school in Chennai, allegedly by a 15-year-old student who was upset at being repeatedly reprimanded by her for not doing well in studies.
What is it that drives corporal punishment and why is it still prevalent? According to Shankar Upadhyaya, a psychologist practicing in the city, punishing children is regarded as normal and acceptable in all settings, whether in the family or in institutions.
“It is often considered necessary in order that children grow up to be competent and responsible individuals. It is widely used by teachers and parents regardless of its evident lack of effectiveness, and potentially deleterious side-effects. Its very ineffectiveness tends to result in an escalation spiral which then leads to both a culture of rationalisation by those in authority and passive acceptance of the situation as evidence of caring by children.”
Corporal punishment: According to the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), so pervasive is the justification of corporal punishment that a child may not think her/his rights have been infringed upon. Even if the punishment hurts, the child does not feel the importance of reporting the incident. Therefore, there are layers of beliefs and practices that cloak corporal punishment under the guise of love, care and protection, when it is actually an abuse of authority that harms the child.
This follows from the belief that those in whose care children are entrusted in school or other institutions are ‘in loco parentis’ and will therefore, always act in the interests of the child. This notion needs to be reviewed in the light of the widespread violence that exists in all institutions occupied by children. It is now globally recognised that punishment in any form or kind in school comes in the way of the development of the full potential of children.
“When adults use corporal punishment it teaches their children that hitting is an acceptable means of dealing with conflict. The more children are hit, the more is the anger they report as adults and consequently the more they hit their own children when they are parents, and the more likely they approve of hitting. Corporal punishment leads to adverse physical, psychological and educational outcomes including increased aggressive and destructive behaviour, increased disruptive behaviour in the classroom, vandalism, poor school achievement, poor attention span, increased drop-out rate, school avoidance and school phobia, low self-esteem, anxiety, somatic complaints, depression, suicide and retaliation against teachers. All these emotionally scar the children for life,” says Upadhyaya.
When City Express spoke to a few principals in Bangalore, all had one view — teacher training should be given priority, corporal punishment should be banned and severe punishment should be meted out to molesters.
While discharging their responsibilities, teachers should engage as individuals with a high degree of moral purpose and responsibility. It is in the balanced mix of ethical understanding and professional knowledge that the belief of good teaching is to be found, says Krishnacharan Swamy, Principal, Shree Swaminarayan Gurukul International School.
“We are missing the guru-shishya parampara these days. The commitment towards teaching by teachers has gone down. Those days, teachers used to focus on holistic development and there was more respect for culture. Today, while development and modernity are necessary, we should be safeguarding our culture. The teachers can build it among the new generation right from their childhood. They can change the world. But these days, because of no proper training to teachers, their weakness is indirectly being directed at the students resulting in a very unhealthy mix,” he said.
According to Pradip K. Das, the Principal of Candor International, “The teacher plays a significant role in the life of a student and that should be recognised. But definitely, several aspects has changed. Previously, the guru was the giver and the shishya was the receiver. Now the teacher has become a facilitator. But during this transformation, there are times when the student needs to face certain consequences to his action and it should be redemptive. Punishment as a word and practice should be banned. It is an old school thought. Abuse of power should be dealt with severely and teachers should understand that they are dealing with human beings. Even verbal abuse is condemnable.”
According to Maqsood Ali Khan, member, board of management, Delhi Public School, Bangalore North, South, East and Mysore, teaching should not be reduced to a set of discrete skills to be mastered in some mechanical process of assimilation. To adopt such a reductionist approach would be to deny the intellectual basis of the profession and learning that enhances professional practice. “Today the teacher-student ratio has reduced and the interaction between them is much more. Teachers come to their responsibilities and discharge them by virtue of the trust placed in them by parents and by society at large. This trust, and the professional autonomy associated with it, is predicated upon an understanding that teachers are committed to excellence and that they will promote the health and well-being of those in their care. But according to me, in government schools the selection process needs to be reinvented. The school should send teachers to seminars and inform them of the rules and regulations which are in place,” he said.
Teachers work in an environment characterised by change and uncertainty, where it might be said that change is paradoxically one of the few constants. According to Maqsood, specifically in government schools, teachers tend to get frustrated, more so because they are transferred to remote areas and the profession is definitely not lucriferous.
“They post them somewhere and they remain stuck for years together. It is the teacher with whom the student spends most of the time and it is essential that the teacher is happy. It is really a dangerous scenario. I feel, more and more ladies should be employed as teachers because they tend to be more compassionate. There should also be more and more counsellors and doctors with whom the student can interact openly. As a school, we have a lot of responsibilities and we cannot be complacent. With issues of corporal punishment and molestation in school, it is a eye-opener for us that there is still a lot more to learn,” he says.
The teacher should go on to confirm that a central part of their mission is to develop and sustain within their pupils a sense of self-worth, and to create for them an understanding as to present and future possibilities, according to Ravi Shankar T P, Chairman and managing trustee, Green Country Public School.
“If there is no passion in teaching then the whole idea of becoming a teacher collapses. There should be a passion among teachers that is beyond anything else and focussed only on imparting quality education to children. Age factor of the teacher is also important and their relationship with the student needs to be well balanced. If this happens then corporal punishment will not find any place in the system of education,” he says.
“Verbal correction should be the order of the day. Today students are more mature and they know the difference between what is being done that is good for them or harmful. The society has also got enough exposure and has a democratic mindset. So treatment of student in schools should be humane and there is no second thought about it,” says Dorothy Menezes, Principal, Carmel High School.
The irony is that the teachers are expected to develop in the young people the attributes, skills and capacities that will enable them to prosper and succeed in the knowledge society and, at the same time, they are expected to counteract and mitigate, to an extent, the problems emerging from an increasingly globalised economy.
The concept of teachers in the service of both the individual and society situates their work within an ethical framework and resonates readily with the notion of moral purpose as a defining feature of professional endeavour.
According to H R Umesh Aradhya, Chairperson, Karnataka State Commission for Protection of Child Rights, corporal punishment is a result of management pressure.
“I feel that it is the pressure factor that causes cases of corporal punishment. Pressure from the management on the teachers to ensure that their results are higher than other schools, leads to pressure on the teachers to resort to such methods. We as a commission have initiated workshops on awareness creation on this issue. We will be conducting one in Bangalore shortly. In the first phase, we want to create awareness among students, parents, schools and the public in general. Nobody knows about the commission especially in smaller towns. We are looking at posters and small booklet distribution across the state. Once awareness is created and the consequences come to fore, I am sure teachers will control themselves. Parents can also get the confidence to question. There are places like Bhadravati and Thirthahalli, where parents are scared of teachers.”
Therapeutic strategies: According to the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), documentary evidence points to the persistence of discrimination based on social, economic, linguistic and religious identities inside the school.
Discrimination based on disability and illness/disease has also been reported. It is also reported that psychological aggression (i.e., controlling or correcting behaviour that causes the child to experience psychological pain) is more pervasive than spanking and physical punishment.
The child and adolescent psychiatrist or counsellor should help children learn behaviours that help them develop a sense of self-discipline that leads to positive self-esteem. The school counsellor should have the skills to build trust. He/she should have constant interaction with the child, his/her parents and teachers for understanding the difficulties of the child.
The parents should be taken into confidence before sending a child to the counsellor. The school counsellor should be allowed to hold workshops with the students in different classes from time to time without the presence of teacher and staff. Besides having in-house counsellors, the students and their parents should have the liberty to approach reputed counsellors/mental health professionals to be empanelled by school.
How to Eliminate Corporal Punishment?
The following guidelines are based on therapeutic strategies based in turn on the principles discussed above that are commonly employed by mental health professionals in clinical settings for families with children with behaviour disorders. Though simple, these are effective strategies when implemented consistently:
■ Arriving at a consensus with children about expected behaviour and consequences
■ Framing rules and guidelines in consensus with children
■ Focussing on every child’s positives and appreciating good behaviour
■ Using different strategies to encourage and promote positive behaviour
■ Never comparing one child’s performance with another
■ Setting limits and developing clarity on boundaries
■ Providing children an opportunity to explain before any other response
■ Giving a warning or chance before any response
■ Actively listening, remaining calm and ensuring the safety of other children while handling troublesome or offensive behaviour
■ Addressing perceived ‘severe or problematic behaviour’ through consultation with parents, child and counsellor/psychiatrist
■ Discussing (with children) and adopting time-out strategy as the last resort with children