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Boarding schools innocent, bring back the cane

The recent kneejerk reaction to the wave of arson in schools is the call to ban boarding secondary schools. It seems like stakeholders in the education sector do not want to confront the elephant in the room — growing indiscipline and the need to make hard choices.

Unless this is resolved, initiatives to solve the problem will fail. Stakeholders keep wringing their hands and looking for solutions everywhere but where they need to focus — how to bring back discipline in schools. Taskforce after taskforce has made wide-ranging recommendations on how to stop students burning schools, but very little focus is on indiscipline. Where did the rain start beating us?

The government accepted ideas about disciplining students from civil society groups driving so-called human rights agenda and threw out the cane 17 years ago. Nothing replaced this.

As a consequence, the teacher in secondary schools is completely disempowered. Without the sanction of the cane, the teacher has no power over students. The average student in secondary school is probably one who has few sanctions, as most come from homes where parenting is relaxed or absent.

Without the capacity to enforce their authority, teachers leave the students to their own devices with disastrous results both from a discipline and academic perspective.

That’s why mass failure is now a matter of course in schools. So much has been said about the so-called “alternative corrective” measures like counselling. You can “counsel” until you are blue in the face but for mischievous students, it’s a waste of time.

This is the nexus between the cane and school fires. Strangely, Education CS Amina Mohamed is apparently ready to debate the doing away with boarding schools, but dismisses any discussion on restoring the cane.

The same hackneyed reasoning keeps being flogged again and again to curtail any discussion about caning. But nobody holds a sober analysis of how the alternative methods have fared.

Those methods have had zero effect on the group of students on whom the cane needs to be applied. Indiscipline is worsening as the ministry sticks to its stand. Worse, there has been no training for teachers on how to use “counselling” to discipline. Clearly, nobody takes this narrative seriously. Students can choose to accept counseling or not, but the cane is compulsive.

That’s why the cane is most effective in buttressing discipline. The cane is for a small group of learners who operate as “outlaws,” and see rules and regulations as a nuisance. Return power and authority to the teacher. Now let us turn to the proposed banning of secondary schools.

On such an emotive issue, any public debate is likely to be a highly charged, hysterical exchange with little clarity on the issues. Boarding schools play a critical role in growth of teenagers, who learn to be independent, how to be team players, human interactions, interdependency and respect for authority and other cultures. Without boarding schools, the country will grow a generation of youth who are self indulgent and spoilt and know only their estate or village.

The dismal parenting standards will not improve simply because children are day scholars. Where will bright children from areas with no “good” secondary schools go? Does the government have resources to build “good” secondary schools to cater for all learners? The answer is no.

And what will happen to boarding facilities in which billions have been invested over the years? The schools being cited as examples of successful day secondary schools are private, expensive schools with a fraction of the student population. And because the issue of indiscipline will still not have been solved, students will now have many “options” to express their displeasure.

The country must not rush into another new-fangled idea to relieve a short-term pressure. The first step to unravel the crisis in secondary schools is to ask the question: How can the indiscipline be tackled in a decisive and sustainable way? We cannot continue to pretend that “counselling” can work in restoring discipline in schools. Reinstate the cane, boarding schools are innocent. —