Corporal Punishment in Schools and teacher culture

While going through Right to Education act one comes across a relatively less talked about the provision which is corporal punishment. I have tried to share information and insights on the subject in this article based not only on what the act itself states but also how it is perceived and to what effect.

Right to Education act 2009 bans corporal punishment in all its forms in schools. Corporal punishment not only includes manhandling of a student by the teacher but also verbal and emotional abuse and reprimand bordering on humiliation. Fundamentally, it includes every act that predisposes the child to psychological trauma and/or physical injury. Administering corporal punishment invites serious consequences for the teacher or mentor involved including suspension or dismissal. The administration of the school where the incidence of corporal punishment takes place might also become liable for penal action



Response from the teachers and Intelligentsia

While reviewing the measures that have been instituted to discourage the practice of manhandling in the classrooms, many still wonder what has brought about these staunch measures and is the problem grave enough to be met with national level summary eradication, while it is a common knowledge that the practice is unfortunately deeply entrenched in the schooling system. Yes, there were sporadic incidents in the media that reflected the gross abuse of teacher’s authority and there were instances where the affected children were gravely injured, but suddenly physical disciplining announced as sinister challenged the reasoning of many.

There is a substantial number of members of the teaching fraternity who condone corporal punishment if not endorse it. It may be surprising to know that there are parents who are in favor of corporal punishment and given their way will not only endorse but advocate it. It can be inferred that there is a community that is not very enthusiastic about the ban on corporal punishment in schools.

The intelligentsia and academia have shown progressive stance and have praised the development. In fact, RTE 2009 has been drafted by the academicians themselves and critique of school education sector offered by intelligentsia led to the unfolding of the RTE 2009, an ambitious document when juxtaposed with the existing state of affairs. The measure of curbing corporal punishment in schools was accepted in unison, as per the reports.


Does unorthodox legislation undermine the authority of the teachers?

Teaching community has argued the propriety of the measure against the corporal punishment. They say that it presumes that teachers are uncontrollably impulsive or sadists.

Let us review the questions and comments regarding the provision-- Is it rational to equate corporal punishment with child abuse? Has its disciplinary use been a tragic mistake that our generation and those before us been a victim of? Do we bear scars or personality traits that resulted from corporal punishment at school or home? Does RTE reflect the opinion that corporal punishment a relic of pedagogical misjudgment or arbitrariness?

At any rate, the ubiquitous master’s stick that they yielded with pride and used ‘judiciously’ is now effectively ruled as an instrument of tyranny in the RTE 2009.


Corporal Punishment and the generation gap

The obtuse argument “we have been roughed up at schools and at home and we came out OK” springs partially from the generation gap that redefines pedagogy in view of changing needs and children’s’ psyche. We now know that what was judged as mischief or incorrigible disobedience and underperformance could likely be a manifestation of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and the truant kids misbehavior could be attention deficit hyperactivity (ADHD) and stick is primitive and totally ineffective in dealing with children with such conditions. There are several other emotional and psychological conditions that are not only recognized as such but are treated. Knowledge about the brain development has given us insight into the young minds. It has been found that violence, whatever the quantum thereof, is one of the worst ways of inducing behavior modification in children. Conditioning a child to the snap of the stick or the humiliation it accompanies is damaging. The degree of psychological damage may vary from one child to another.

The teachers whose cane were an extension of their person had to amputate that cane, a short-cut to exhibit discipline and relish the sense of control.


Trends that make corporal punishment dispensable for disciplinarians

The world has evolved ways to deal with indiscipline and even juvenile delinquency, of course, they do not come so handy, so to speak. They require perseverance, empathy, and training in child behavior. It takes more than intuition, even for the gifted teachers to understand what makes the ‘problem child’ do what he does.

The ruling that outlawed corporal punishment did not simply follow from the horrors visited by some teachers on their students, although they make for a strong case against the practice. The shift in the psyche of the children of the 21st century is phenomenal. Children are more ambitious and more informed about the world and opportunities. They are also more emotionally predisposed to the feeling of loneliness, inadequacy, attention-seeking behavior and many times victims of grave abuses including molestation.

The roles of mentor and rules of mentorship have changed which include Individual attention to children and identifying the problems of the problem child.


Implications on the classroom environment

The students that were in relatively higher grades before the promulgation against corporal punishment say that the corporal punishment is conspicuous by its absence. The inference is that such commonplace a practice has been in a way, surgically removed. Classrooms are much more interactive, and participation has gone up. Now, instilling ambition in a child can make the environment inclusive, interactive and confidence building.

Teachers were filled with the sense of insecurity as they interpreted the removal of corporal punishment as an undue imposition, they should understand that analogous to Human Rights is a convention on child rights. Physical safety and security, freedom to have and express opinions are few listed stipulates.

The concern that it will create a microcosm of anarchy out of the classrooms has not been found rational and valid. It’s a hypothesis that teachers take as an axiom.

Using fear to extract discipline or performance from children clearly reflects the lack of imagination and inability for pedagogical innovation.   The provisions of RTE are not stipulated to curtail the enthusiasm of teachers but it surely heralds a new era of imaginative methods of instruction.


Vinod Kakumanu

Vinod Kakumanu

Founder & Consultant - School Serv

Vinod Kakumanu heads a team of school services professionals and is an independent commentator on Indian school education scenario. Vinod has assisted school promoters establish 35+ schools besides providing ancillary services to over 1000 schools across India. He envisions a future where quality education is made available to every child of the country. The focus he places on the quality of the deliverables and customer satisfaction has made him renowned in the field of K-12 school education.

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