for it is in the minds of men and women that the defences of peace and the conditions for sustainable development must be built. ~UNESCO

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

On Corporal Punishment...a teacher’s view

Debates exist between educators, students, parents, and policy makers on the inclusion or exclusion of corporal punishment. Is suing a teacher the solution? Should we spare the cane? Should we remain with our eyes shut and ears closed? What alternative is there to shape the future of our nation? 
Corporal punishment is the use of force to discipline students or, in reality, hitting a child. Research shows that corporal punishment negatively affects the child in many ways. It demoralizes students and many suffer mental pain in addition to physical pain. Some say it is ‘rustic’ way of disciplining a child.
Bhutan learned of the effects of corporal punishment and subsequently banned it, through its GNH policies, in Bhutanese schools.
I am a teacher and yet, I have a limited knowledge on this topic. To my knowledge, there is feedback, reinforcement, punishment, reward, and remedy. My framework for this topic will focus on positive reinforcement and punishment.

Positive reinforcement means strengthening, an action that amplifies the frequency of a desired behavior.
Punishment, on the other hand, is an attempt to decrease the occurrences of an undesirable behavior. It is the use of an aversive event or action, subject upon the occurrence of the unsuitable behavior.
We can study the following incidents and consider the difference between positive reinforcement and punishment.
Class 1:
In a particular class, a teacher says, “Well done. I’m really proud of your behavior”. The student works harder and behaves. 
Class 2:
A teacher makes a child stand up for 2 minutes for talking in the class. The particular student’s talking decreases.
As per my understanding, the praise in the first incident strengthened the child’s desired behavior. I can call this positive reinforcement. In the second incident, standing up stopped the child from doing something undesirable again. I prefer to tag this as a punishment.
Positive reinforcement has great impacts on the minds of our developing students as does punishment have. This is where corporal punishment comes to mind. It is used as a form of punishment in many countries but is quickly losing its popularity in this modern world. Bhutan is no exception.
We must clearly understand the intention and context of punishment. If you fail to do this, the punishment will not produce the desired outcome. In most cases, students receive punishment when they breach school rules or exhibit undesired and inappropriate behavior. As concerned educators, we must be able to understand the consequences that arise with punishment, especially the ones that we are responsible for. We intend to bring out better behaviors from students by deploying punishment. Students must be told the reason for the punishment and simultaneously let them understand what unacceptable behavior is exhibited.  A portion of this understanding should come from the allocated punishment. How does this punishment serve the student to learn from the mistake? Corporal punishment may be a good way of reaching an immediate outcome but its long term affects have more damaging results.
If I may outline just a few outcomes: Fear is inflicted on the impressionable minds of students and a student may begin to associate fear with education, thereby detrimentally affecting the student’s development. In addition, one responsibility of a teacher is to set a good example.  Students learn through example.  As a result, students may mimic this action.
Considering the negative impacts, Bhutan has done a great thing by banning corporal punishment. We must have better ways of dealing with problems. Counselling can be a good alternative. Civilised forms of punishment can also be a good replacement for corporal punishment.But again, like anything under the sun, there are two sides. A portion of educators, students, parents, and policy makers believe that corporal punishment should be present in Bhutanese schools. They strongly believe in- Spare the cane, spoil the child. Some parents request (personally) to enforce corporal punishment on their kids. This group believes that a child can be disciplined only by corporal punishment and often, this is the discipline practice in the home (this is true for most Bhutanese households as well).  I experienced it is true to few students that I came across. Some say that it was too early for Bhutan to ban corporal punishment. They justify their argument by stating that, punishment, exclusive of corporal punishment can be successful only in developed countries. They note that Bhutan is still developing and students in Bhutan will not be able to understand the modern way of punishment.  I both agree and disagree with this last belief. They are right because sometimes I think like them. Children in Bhutan are usually not brought up through counseling (not generalized). Therefore, they will not really understand when they grow up and when they are disciplined through positive punishment. Moreover, when I consider the impact (unpleasant) of corporal punishment in the lives of our future nation builders, they are wrong. A student shivers when he is made to answer in the class if that particular teacher has caned him/her before. Even when the student has the answer, he/she will not be able to answer. Learning experience would be bitterly affected if this kind of situation occurs in the class rooms of the country. 

As an educator, I would   prefer not using corporal punishment. While I agree with those who banned corporal punishment, I may still use corporal punishment when I have exhausted all other forms of punishment and still there is no change. Managing human beings can be the most difficult task. Parents and the society should understand this and support the system in concern. It would not be a solution to drag a teacher to court for using corporal punishment. Context must be taken into account.  The scenario now is that, a teacher canes a child for some reason of misbehavior; the parents blow up the issue and news spreads (Bhutan has many papers). The court is involved so is the concerned offices and the particular teacher becomes the big bad picture. The teacher is demoralized; the classes are empty because the teacher needs to attend court procedures. The teacher curses himself and thinks many thoughts. The teacher decides to resign or stop disciplining students can be some decisions from the hundreds. Obviously, the parents are satisfied. In addition, in some other contexts, few teachers resort to corporal punishment before trying out other positive types of punishment. It would be wise of a teacher to practice positive punishment which is safe to the child and also to the teacher. This can be a solution. Should there be a better alternative? This question is not set against my stand on the fine ban of corporal punishment but concerned people should study the contexts before jumping into the conclusion. Teachers are of different kind like all human being. This is a concern from a teacher.  If teachers are dragged to court at this rate, it will further discourage new professionals, and educated ones from joining the teaching profession. Students can do their bit by following rules and becoming sincere students. It is actually a very simple thing students can do. As teachers, we carry a huge responsibility of shaping lives. We should and can do what is best for the lives of our students. Think twice before raising the cane…


  1. just like the two sides of a coin

  2. i strongly believe in in the sunshine, a better melts, the child can become good but how about those who are like a clay? Who can help them not turning into a solid earth? In a way, it kind of makes other go worse from bad, of course few can also become you mentioned, its time we approach things with a new glass....i am sure, there are millions and millions of ways to educated the children...

  3. thanks for the view. Some srudents are really haed nuts to crack. we relally face great difficulty as teachers... but sometimes it is easy to go non-corporal