Corporal punishment is widespread in Indian schools and has been affecting millions of schoolchildren every day with long-term repercussions on their future. The Government of India has recently recognised that as many as 65% of all schoolchildren suffer corporal punishment. There are several social groups working actively to do away with corporal punishment with methods to bring about positive behavioural changes in students. The primary challenge they face is the lack of awareness about the adverse impact of punishment on students.
The Child Rights Charter, 2003, specifically states: All children have a right to be protected against neglect, maltreatment and corporal punishment. Additionally, in 2007, the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights issued a set of guidelines on corporal punishment and the efforts needed to abolish it from the educational system in the country.
However, guidelines or laws are not enough to tackle the problem of corporal punishment. It is important that we are well aware of what amounts to corporal punishment. Corporal punishment is not just what you see as punishments and physical abuse inside or outside the classroom, it encompasses physical as well as mental abuse in schools. Typically, physical forms of punishment involve slapping, punching students, twisting ears, hitting anywhere on the body, etc. Physical punishment not only causes embarrassment and fear in students but also has adverse effects on their health and performance.
Another form of punishment is the mental harassment of students by abuse, ridiculing someone over academic performance, family background, learning difficulty, physical weakness or disability. This form of punishment greatly impacts the well-being of students and scars them permanently.
Unfortunately, the practices mentioned above are not considered any “big deal” by most school principals and teachers. And there are primarily a few reasons behind this callous outlook towards punishment: one, most school principals, teachers and even parents are unaware of the short-term and long-term consequences of punishment on students.
Another reason for the neglect is the limited period of the student-teacher relationship; and, teachers claim that they do not know of alternatives to corporal punishment. Many teachers, when asked why they carry sticks to their class, answer, “We don’t use it. It’s just there to instil fear and discipline.” A few consider it part of schooling as they had experienced the same in their school days.
Let us look at it from the teachers’ perspective. There are nearly 13 lakh schools in India, and most of these institutions have a very poor teacher to student ratio. Teachers face daily challenges, such as overcrowded and noisy classrooms, huge syllabi to complete, multiple lectures per day and a large number of notebooks/test papers for correction. Teachers do not know how to handle this pressure and resort to hitting children as the easiest targets. They don’t ask themselves the all-important question: “is it really the students’ fault?” It is important for teachers to pause and reflect on this.
The immediate impact of punishment on students can be seen in the form of physical harm, embarrassment, disinterest towards learning, and negative impact on their well-being (bruises, fever, fear of going to school). A child can lose his/her confidence and suffer from poor self-esteem. Studies have shown that students subjected to punishment on a regular basis develop aggressive or destructive behaviour.
The students start believing that if you are angry or someone is not listening to your instructions, it is okay to hit them. They may see similar incidents happening in their families as well, and this affects their value system, which eventually shapes the society at large. Another consequence could be in the form of cowardice, as children learn to obey without asking questions. This hampers their independent and free-thinking ability.
There is an alternative approach to corporal punishment. The first step is to set up agreements within the teachers-staff team to enable this change. This is a commitment the staff have to make to themselves and others and can be initiated during a staff meeting.
The school principal or head must be well aware of incidences of punishment at their school and should strive to promote a safe learning culture for students at all times. They should conduct regular discussions with the teaching staff and motivate teachers to refrain from hitting or abusing children.
Many social groups and NGOs conduct seminars and training to spread awareness on the need to abolish corporal punishment. At one such seminar conducted in Mumbai recently, school principals gathered to share their experiences and successful efforts towards eliminating corporal punishment in their schools.
A wake-up call for all
It is now high time for all of us to commit to this cause. After all, schools are the nurturing grounds for students to learn and adapt. Schools play a vital role in the cognitive and creative development of children. Hence, it is imperative for children to grow up and learn in schools which have a safe, secure and healthy environment that stimulates positive behaviour.
And as teachers, principals or even as parents, it is everyone’s collective responsibility to generate awareness and prevent future incidence of corporal punishment in schools.
(The writer is Marketing Manager, India School Leadership Institute (ISLI))