The effect of corporal punishment in schools

Recently, a nursery three pupil in a school in Kigali was badly beaten up by her teacher for failing to draw the palm of her hand as instructed. The girl was taken to a medical health facility by her parents because of the injuries she sustained.

According to the girl’s parents, this was not the first time this particular teacher beat up a learner, and that this was her method of dealing with the pupils under her care. This time around the teacher was dismissed.

Despite regulations and rules set by the Ministry of Education concerning corporal punishment for children, there are still some schools and teachers that do not adhere to them, and they continue to use it as a way of disciplining learners.

What is corporal punishment?

Corporal or physical punishment is a discipline intended to cause physical pain on a person. It is most often practised on minors, especially in home and school settings. Common methods include spanking or paddling. It has also historically been used on adults, particularly on prisoners and enslaved people.

How is it supposed to be?

Theodore Mboneza, in charge of guidance and counselling at Rwanda Education Board (REB), says that in schools, there must be discipline and it should be respected by all students. However, he strongly condemns corporal punishment. In fact, he says it’s not allowed no matter the case.

He says that the Ministry of Education (MINEDUC) and REB advise schools to always have clear internal regulations devised in collaboration with all school stakeholders, teachers, parents and students.

“Here, for the kind of misbehaviour conducted by a student, the punishment should be stated and all members agree with it. This is how it’s supposed to be and there should be no kind of corporal punishment,” he says.

He adds that counselling should be provided for learners who still misbehave after the punishment, in line with their fault.               

When schools are monitored normally, Mboneza says such regulations should be checked.

He adds that if such punishment occurs despite these measures, the institution should be punished administratively and even brought to justice.

Claudien Nzitabakuze, the head of Teacher Education Management and Professionalism Department at REB, says adding to the rules and regulations regarding corporal punishment of children, is sensitisation regarding the issue.

Are schools aware of the measures?

Nzitabakuze says schools are aware of these measures and most of them have adhered to them. However, he says, unfortunately, a few schools have teachers that still practice this kind of punishment on children.

He adds that this is done against the rules, and they all know the repercussions, and that’s why it’s rare to find such cases.

Nzitabakuze says such punishment is no way to correct a learner. Instead, it manipulates their behaviour, especially with young children.

“When children are exposed to corporal punishment, they tend to avoid doing certain things even if they are right, simply because they are afraid to get punished,” he says.

He says that teachers and even parents should know that bad behaviour is corrected through good behaviour. And this could be by encouraging students who are in the wrong to emulate certain behaviour from their teachers or fellow students who are well mannered.

Jean d’Amour Niyigena, a language teacher at GS Rwiri, Ngororero District, Western Province, says that at their school, they usually have internal regulations that forbid a teacher or any other staff from caning children.

He says they believe, as a school, one way to promote good behaviour in young people is to ensure that they are brought up with good religious virtues and by finding out the problems such students have, why they have them and how to help.

“Where schools have failed, parents should come in and help their children.” This, he adds, can be used to guide and shape them into responsible persons not only at school or home, but also in society.

What the law says

Corporal punishment is illegal; children are legally protected from “severe” and “excessive” punishment by the Penal Code 2012 and Law No. 54/2011 relating to the Rights and Protection of the Child.

A draft Ministerial Decree on general regulation of preschool, primary and secondary education, states that punishment should be proportional to the age of the child and the severity of the misconduct, and aimed at educating the student.

It also states that the punishment is decided by the Discipline Board of the School and according to the Government’s report to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 2013 must not include “insults, expulsion, beating or other ill treatment of any kind”.

How to go about it

François Ngabonzima, a teacher currently working at European Institute for Educational and Psychological Research in Kigali, says harsh punishment for learners is unacceptable.

He says teachers should find out why a student behaved the way they did.

“By doing so, there will always be a solution for the situation, unlike when they are quick to punish, which in most cases leaves problems unsolved,” he says.

He says that the reason this should be used is that after identifying the motive behind a learner’s misconduct, knowing their problem and weakness, a teacher can go about it better.

He says that teachers who rush to use corporal punishment don’t know how to handle students, and they think such measures guarantee improvement, which is not the case.

He adds that, if possible, schools should be careful when employing teachers and know as much about their background as possible.

He says some could have psychological problems and trusting them with learners could pose a threat.

Thomas Ndahiro, a teacher in Kigali, says teachers already know the consequences of using corporal punishment but some turn a deaf ear.

However, he blames the school management that neglects their role.

“I believe if school leaders are strict and come up with clear rules on how teachers should handle students whenever they misbehave, there will be no cases like this in schools,” he says.

Ndahiro feels that it’s from this kind of punishment that learners start developing a bad attitude towards their instructors.

He says some even start hating the subjects being taught by such teachers, which in the long run affects their performance in general.

“In fact, parents should start looking into their children’s academic performance. If they detect a problem with a certain subject, they should also find out about teachers handling them,” he says.

Mary Umutoniwase, a parent in Kigali, says it’s not good to use corporal punishment for students, and that there should be close collaboration between parents and teachers.

She notes that sometimes parents are to blame because of the way they raise their children. A good parent, she says, should be able to instil good manners in their children, which means they should nurture this at an early age.

“I believe the collaboration will help in handling students, and this should be an agreement between both parties,” she says.