MEMORY MANINGA, Lusaka
BEFORE corporal punishment was banned in Zambia, schoolchildren were chastised by the stroke of the cane and sometimes dehumanised with slaps and fists at the hand of teachers.
The digging of trenches, ploughing of school fields and cleaning surroundings was also a common form of punishment in those days.
After strong activism against the practice worldwide, Zambia abolished corporal punishment in schools in 2003 in line with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The convention prohibits any form of violations against children, including the use of corporal punishment in schools.
While youths and human rights activists welcomed the ban, teachers and other stakeholders in the education sector felt the move would encourage bad behaviour among learners.
Recently, the National Action for Quality Education in Zambia (NAQEZ) raised concern at the high level of misconduct among pupils.
Executive director, Aaron Chansa said the abolishment of corporal punishment has made school going children to become unruly and disrespectful towards teachers.
He said untold indiscipline behaviour has crept into both private and public schools since the ban of corporal punishment.
Mr Chansa feels the re-introduction of corporal punishment in schools can help to restore harmony between teachers and pupils.
“After the abolishment of corporal punishment in schools, we have observed that indiscipline behaviour has crept into our schools. This is affecting the learning standards as children no longer listen to teachers and they do whatever they feel like doing,” Mr Chansa said.
According to Mr Chansa, Zambia is a Christian nation and should abide by the biblical standard of correcting children with the rod.
Proverbs 23:13 says “Withhold not correction from a child for if thou not beatest him with a rod, he shall not die.”
Similarly, Proverbs 13:24 says, “Whoever spares the rod hates their children but whoever loves their children is careful to discipline them.”
Undoubtedly, scripture allows a parent to beat a child as a way of correcting them when they err.
But away from home, and sometimes in boarding schools, children are placed under the custody of teachers who automatically take up the role of parenting.
It is against this background that Mr Chansa is calling for the re-enforcement of corporal punishment in both public and private schools.
He feels that there is nothing wrong in using a rod to discipline a child as long as it is done in good faith.
“There is nothing wrong with flogging a child when they do wrong in school. Nowadays, pupils have become so rebellious because teachers cannot do anything to them.
“But if we were given the mandate to at least spank them, they would be afraid of misbehaving,” he noted.
Even though beating a child with intent to correct them is recommended in the Bible, it is important to note that some people get carried away in the act.
For example, during the days of corporal punishment, some teachers were cited for assaulting and injuring pupils for contravening school rules.
In a fit of rage, other teachers used excessive force, kicking and whacking pupils all over the body. Where manual work was preferred as a form of reprimand, other teachers still failed to draw a line between corrective and retributive punishment. For instance, some pupils were kept away from class for about week while digging trenches at school.
In such instances, corporal punishment does not serve its intended purpose, but only traumatises pupils.
However, some teachers hold that with the complete ban of corporal punishment, notorious pupils have gone out of control while teacher watch helplessly.
They see this form of punishment as a necessary evil that teachers cannot do without to keep pupils in check.
Iris Mwamba, a grade nine teacher in Lusaka is for the idea of bringing back corporal punishment.
She says some pupils have gone wayward and are now out of control. According to Ms Mwamba, the lighter form of punishment has made pupils lose respect for teachers.
“Pupils are now taking us for granted; we now get booed when we are trying to correct them. It is frustrating and most of the time, we let them get away with it,” Ms Mwamba said.
Such concerns by teachers prompted the University of Zambia decided to conduct a study on the effect of the corporal punishment ban in schools.
Findings revealed that the ban had been implemented without the provision of alternative forms of punishment which automatically encouraged unruly behaviour among learners.
In this vein, abiding by school regulations has become a challenge for some pupils.
Recommendations were therefore made to the Ministry of Education (currently General Education) to engage all stakeholders to come up with alternative positive practices of punishment for learners.
That consultative process recommended the need to introduce non-violent means of instilling discipline such as counselling and guidance in schools.
Suggestions also bordered on the use of manual work as a means of punishment and the need to keep parents of erring pupils aware of their children’s conduct in school.
However, the Basic Education Teachers Union of Zambia (BETUZ) is against the call to bring back corporal punishment in schools.
Director workers education, public & international relations, Kakunta Kabika says corporal punishment is not a good method of instilling discipline in pupils.
He is convinced that the re-introduction of corporal punishment will traumatise pupils and negatively affect their academic performance.
Instead, Mr Kabika feels school authorities should be able to suspend or expel a pupil from school depending on the nature of the offence.
He said parents should take a leading role in instilling discipline in children because ‘charity begins at home’.
“As long as a child comes from an indiscipline home, teachers cannot control the situation even when they beat that child in school. What we as teachers can do maybe is to suspend or even expel the unruly child to serve as a deterrent to other pupils,” Mr Kabika said.
But Jackson Phiri, a grade eight teacher at a Government school in Lusaka also feels pupils need a much stronger mode of punishment.
Mr Phiri says it is unbelievable that pupils can now answer back to teachers when they are being reprimanded.
“It is unbelievable how these pupils are behaving in school. They fear nobody and they just answer anyhow. They are very disrespectful but we need to stop that behaviour otherwise physical fights might emerge between teachers and pupils,” Mr Phiri says.
Saint Mary’s Secondary School Parent Teacher Association (PTA) is against the call to re-introduce corporal punishment in schools.
PTA chairperson, Stein Mkandawire says it is not necessary to go back to the old practice of disciplining pupils that failed.
Mr Mkandawire noted that during the time when corporal punishment was in force, some pupils still found a way of violating school rules.
He proposed that schools should instead strengthen the alternative forms of punishment that are currently in use.
“Schools should work on ways of strengthening alternative forms of punishment such as manual work. Let’s say, you give a pupil a 5 meters deep pit to dig, as a teacher, you must make sure that the pupil does the punishment before you can allow him to attend classes,” Mr Mkandawire noted.