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Opinions of Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Columnist: Konadu, Dorothy

To Spank or Not to Smack: What Has Discipline Got To Do With it?

To Spank or Not to Smack: What Has Discipline Got To Do With it? (Pt 1)

Education is a right to all children and the school environment must be friendly enough to promote the holistic development of the child. For a long time however, the school environment in many communities in this country has been neither conducive nor friendly. While discipline is necessary to keep order and facilitate learning, it has not been delivered in acceptable ways. For instance, some people hold the view that the best way to discipline children is by corporal punishment, where physical pain of some sort is inflicted on the child. This pain, they claim, will make the child refrain from committing the same offence again and therefore be of good behavior.
The culture of punishing children corporally is common practice in many Ghanaian homes and educational institutions. It is also common for people to quote from the religious commandment, often inappropriately, to support their actions and positions. Some of the most common biblical quotations are: “Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them”, Proverbs 13:24. Another scripture is “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far away”, Proverbs 22:15. Proverbs 23:13 also states that “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish them with the rod, they will not die.” And from the Hadith, we read "instruct them at 7 (years of age) and beat them at 10…’ and also “Hang your whip where the members of the household can see it, for that will discipline them.”
Standing upon these scriptural prescriptions, parents and teachers have often whipped, pinched, slapped, kicked, and beaten children and made them do all kinds of unthinkable tasks, most which result in injury. Ghana is signatory to international protocols such as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), which prescribes that school discipline should be consistent with the child's rights and dignity. Our national laws and educational policies enjoin us to treat children with respect, yet children continue to be mistreated in our schools.
Discipline is defined as the training that produces self-control and obedience in the individual. The UNCRC (8, June 2006) defines corporal punishment as:
“any punishment in which physical force is used and intended to cause some degree of pain or discomfort, however light. Most involves hitting (“smacking”, “slapping”, “spanking”) children, with the hand or with an implement – whip, stick, belt, shoe, wooden spoon, etc. But it can also involve, for example, kicking, shaking or throwing children, scratching, pinching, biting, pulling hair or boxing ears, forcing children to stay in uncomfortable positions, burning, scalding or forced ingestion (for example, washing children’s mouths out with soap or forcing them to swallow hot spices)”
It continues that “corporal punishment is invariably degrading. In addition, there are other non-physical forms of punishment which are also cruel and degrading and thus incompatible with the Convention. These include, for example, punishment which belittles, humiliates, denigrates, scapegoats, threatens, scares or ridicules the child.”
If we insist on punishing children for mistakes they commit, we should not be surprised when a teacher administers an unusual corporal treatment on pupils as punishment for whatever offence, with the aim of causing pain. Why should we lump these two very different forms of treatment together and treat our children so degradingly. Who would want to subject themselves to any such treatment if they had the choice? Usually, children devise clever ways and means to escape this. It is not uncommon to hear someone say “I can’t speak French because my teacher used to beat us so much in class I dropped it at the first opportunity.” And this can be quoted with so many other subjects. This is how many great talents are killed because of the fear that the spanking and other such forms of punishment put in children.
Indeed, in some cases, the caning actually succeeds in causing children to drop out of school, completely denying the country the full wealth and benefit of its human resource. If we would make school attractive to children and be able to keep them in school when they enter, it is important for all to recognise that discipline is not punishment. There is the need to take the pain of punishment out of discipline.
How then can one maintain order in class to be able to teach the large numbers we tend to have in our schools? It is not too difficult to do that with the cane in hand, as the fear of the whip more often than not keeps the pupils seemingly attentive and portrays that there is some order in the classroom. However, can we not have some more humane means of reasoning with the children to see the need to keep that order, keep quiet and make use of the time, whether the teacher is in the classroom or not? If only we could help them develop this skill, this country will be richer because they will become better at managing themselves and their time and will not need teachers around to supervise them before they read or learn. The general attitude is that children only do the right thing when there is some supervision. However, children do better and learn effectively when positive discipline is deployed in instances when they would usually be spanked or smacked.
We are in 2015, the year set for the attainment of the Education for All goals as well as the Millennium Development Goals on education. Have we achieved any of them fully? Is the unfriendly school environment one of the reasons for which success has eluded us? In collaboration with the Ghana Education Service, ActionAid Ghana and partners have developed a Positive Discipline Pack to provide some alternatives to maintain discipline in the classroom and in the school environment without maltreating the pupils. It is anticipated that as teachers adopt these non-violent corrective measures, the results will encourage parents to do same. The effect is that our children would respond to discipline, instead of punishment, thus preparing and equipping them with the tools and resources necessary for a fulfilling life.

Dorothy Konadu
Programme Manager, Greater Accra and Volta Region
ActionAid Ghana