OPINIONPeople Daily

Restoring the cane no solution to schools crisis

In an article published on Monday, People Daily columnist Gathu Kaara argues that the government should return corporal punishment in schools saying it would help end runaway indiscipline among secondary school students.

He argues that the teachers have no training in counselling, and it’s optional in the sense that students can accept counselling or not but the cane is compulsive.

“That is why the cane can be most effective in buttressing discipline,” Kaara argues.

Kenya’s education history is replete with violence and fatalities that happened when corporal punishment was entrenched in our laws.

The most frightening instances of student misbehaviour — St Kizito Mixed Secondary School (1991), Nyeri High School (1999) and Kyanguli Secondary School (2001) — in which students died, happened during the period when corporal punishment had not been banned.

Bringing back the cane, as Kaara advocates, cannot, therefore, strengthen discipline in our students.

Besides, corporal punishment had been unashamedly abused by some teachers. It led to serious injuries and even death of learners.

This happened notwithstanding clearly spelt out appropriate guidelines in the Education Act, 211, on the use of the cane.

The guidelines stressed moderation, caution and record keeping for instances in which it was applied. There was little moderation.

It was not uncommon to see staff- rooms of several schools stocked with strokes, bigger than the law provided for the purposes of caning students.

The law was, however, repealed of the corporal Punishment in early 2001 by the then Education minister Kalonzo Musyoka, after Kenya received umbrage at the World Conference on Education for All in Dakar in 2000, as having institutionalised violence and promoted child abuse by including corporal punishment in its statutes.

The thrust of this rebuttal is that corporal punishment is counterproductive in enforcing discipline. The Constitution outlaws it. The Children’s Act, 2001 outlaws it.

Kenya is signatory Convention on the Rights of the Child and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child which outlaws corporal punishment to children.

Behind legislations against corporal punishment is modern thinking about human psychology.  Degrading treatment of human beings—whether physical or psychological—is dehumanising. The long term effect of this degradation is dire.

The best example of the tragic response to inflicting pain in order to produce desired behaviour from students is illustrated by the Russian Novelist, Anton Chekhov about a kitten that was given to his uncle in a short story entitled, Who Was To Blame?

The uncle wanted the kitten a champion killer of mice, so while it was still young, it showed it a live mouse in a cage. Since the kitten’s hunting instinct had not yet developed, it examined the mouse curiously but without any hostility.

The uncle wanted to teach the mouse that such fraternising with the enemy was wrong, so he slapped the kitten, scolded it, and sent it away in disgrace.

The next day the same mouse was shown to the kitten again. This time the kitten regarded it rather fearfully, but without any aggressive intent. Again the uncle slapped it, scolded it, and sent it away.

This treatment went on day after day. After some time, as soon as the kitten saw or smelled that mouse, it screamed and tried to climb up the walls.

At some point, the uncle lost patience and gave the kitten away, saying it was stupid and would not learn.

Of course, the kitten had learned perfectly, and had learned exactly what it had been taught, but unfortunately not what the uncle intended to teach.

“I can sympathise with that kitten”, says Chekhov, “because that same uncle tried to teach me Latin.”—The writer is the communications officer, Ministry of Education

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