Mr Thomas Mugabo (not real name), an English language teacher often gets frustrated while teaching and storms out of the classroom for a while. Last Thursday was one such day. He was embarking on the rather difficult topic of phonetics when he noticed that three boys at the back of the class were just looking on as the rest took notes. Their excuse being that they had forgotten their exercise books in the dormitory.
Mugabo’s frustration comes from the fact that the law bars him from punishing such students by beating or any other form that may see them missing class even for a minute. Mugabo intimates that during ‘his days’ a teacher would simply beat such a child and you would not hear of such cases again. He argues that back them there was no compromise on discipline as is the case today.
There is often a debate among education practitioners on how discipline can be enforced in schools. Who is responsible for enforcing what the school rules say? Has the prohibition of harsh punishments made students more unruly? Are we adopting western standards at the expense of the traditional ways that are mentioned in the Bible – spare the rod and spoil the child?
Some argue that since students are given punishments that never prevent them from any school activity, they tend to ignore the teachers’ instructions something that has weakened the authority of the teachers.
This they argue has made the process of raising disciplined children a much tougher task since many parents have already surrendered these matters to the school. Parents are known to play the ‘busy’ card with many leaving for work before the children wake up, only to return when they are fast asleep.
Josée Kampire, a civil servant with a child at a secondary school said, “For those who are in boarding schools, we try to know about them during the visiting day when their responsible teachers share with us details of the children’s behaviours and we take the matter from there.”
“In education, parents and students have to work hand in hand, otherwise we would not succeed. But the parents’ vigilence is very important because sometimes children exploit our weaknesses,” said Kampire whose child studies at Lycée Mayaga in Nyanza district.
Josée Uwanyirigira says that children these days do not want to listen to parents’ or teachers’ advice.
She recalls an example of her neighbours whose daughter showed up at past 1am and the family opted to take her to the police station since they could not manage this situation.
“If we are not allowed to beat our children in fear of facing criminal cases, we may as well take them to the security people to help us when we fear to handle the situation ourselves,” she said.
Who to blame?
In Gisozi Primary school, Gisozi sector, Gasabo district, a teacher recalls a recent case when her colleague in primary 3 asked students to give an example of a Kinyarwanda word with a phoneme “bw”.
One boy who is nine answered, ‘ibiyobyabwenge’ (drugs). The teacher was interested to know how the kid knew about the word and even gave the example of ‘urumogi’ (a narcotic drug). The teacher couldn’t believe his mind when the child said he abuses narcotics after having been introduced to them by older street boys.
He revealed where he finds drugs and was sent to bring them. The father of the child, a pastor, was called to witness the scenario but could not believe his eyes.
“For most of the cases, we deduct some marks for discipline, and when it is about issues like not taking notes in class we compel them to do so. However you may find that the following day they are not taking notes again and when you keep telling them until you get tired,” said Nadine Mushimiyimana, an English teacher in Rugando.
In other extreme situations a child is sent home to return with a parent so that the case can be discussed further with the school authorities. Even then some children return without a parent claiming that the parent was so busy to come to school.
“In such circumstances, you have no choice but to leave the student alone since it is their right to attend class. The ministerial order stipulates that a child should not be a victim of a parent’s disobedience,” says Immaculé Mukagatete, teacher in primary three.
“I was sent home to bring my parent because I had nail polish. Why don’t they punish us without always involving our parents since we make mistakes without them knowing,” says Alyce Niyigena, a senior five student.
The biggest concern for us the teachers is that “Sometimes parents themselves do not agree with us on the children’s indiscipline and yet we actually spend a lot of time with these children at school,” Alyce Uwera.
A Ugandan teacher in one of the local schools who prefers anonymity said that before signing a contract with any school, the director warns you on punishments given to the students.
“I know in Uganda beating or giving heavy punishments to student’s shows that you are working hard and deserve payment, but you will still get your salary here without beating them”, she narrates.
REB to formalize comprehensive rules and regulations
The Rwanda Education Board is working on a comprehensive rules and regulations document where all the schools will be seeking guidance as they go about disciplining the students they have.
According to Janvier Gasana, the deputy director general in charge of quality and standards, ‘it will not only be about student’s punishments but the management of the whole school in general; it will include issues to do with items to be used in school, the decent attire at school, canteen issues, etc”.
In the meantime, Gasana warns that schools should not give students harsh punishments as they were warned on several occasions.
“Instead of beating up a student and injuring them, why not give him some work in the school garden or to summarise a big book to keep him busy? Dismissal of a student should really be the very last option. Why would you dismiss a student because he has shouted in the dormitory?”
However, Gasana agrees that in some extreme cases, a student can even end up in a correctional centre or in jail. He cited a recent case of Byimana students who burnt up their school and were sentenced to spend time in jail.
“With such cases you cannot send a student to the community with the fear that he would contaminate it. It is the same case with those found spreading Genocide ideology.”
The best way to discipline errant school children
Eric Shema, student
The best way to discipline a student should be the everyday approach from both parents and teachers, advising them when they do anything wrong. But the school or parents alone cannot put a student in order because students can change behaviours depending on where they are, so joining hands is the best solution.
Cindy Ange Uwase, student
There is a Kinyarwanda saying, “The stick can break bone and never cure the behaviors”, but other psychological punishment can be applied and the parents can only intervene when one fails to change.
Jean D’Amour Twamugize, teacher
The best way to discipline a student is to first of all know what he/she dislikes or fears and when he is in any misconduct you just deprive them of that. If a student likes to play football you can order him/her to remain in the class studying while others are playing.
Jean Paul Ndayishimiye
It depends on the age of a child. Children less than 10 years can only know they are wrong when they are beaten but this should not be all the time. Those aged 15 years and above can understand when you simply talk to them.
Jeanette Uwitonze, a tailor from Kimironko
Only small children should be beaten because it helps to show them the difference between right and wrong. It is useless to beat those in secondary because they should be mature enough to know the difference between right and wrong.
Olivier Munyaneza, university student
For me the punishment should depend on the gravity of the case and on what the school rules say. However, counseling students or any other moral and psychological punishment has to come before the physical punishment.