Corporal punishment is still a sad fact of school life. Isn't it time our teachers got a little more creative to control the class instead of resorting to the cane?

“It was the 2nd period for us; PT period. The teacher said since the exams were approaching there would be no PT and all kids need to be quiet. Then she went off. However she said that we could whisper. Then this teacher came from the other class because the boys were making a lot of noise. She asked our PT teacher to get a wooden stick, instead she got a ruler. We were then asked to stand on the benches facing the wall. She hit all of us on our legs,” says nine-year-old Deeksha haltingly.

Deeksha's mother is a worried woman today. Should I be sending my daughter to the next term is the dilemma being faced by this mother. These days, when parents slog day and night so that their kids get to study in the best of schools, the last thing they want to hear is their kid being beaten for trivial reasons.

Similar scenario

From Bengaluru to schools in a small town called Udupi. “The class monitor doesn't like me, so she often gives false complaints to my teacher and I am asked to stand out,” says Dhara indignantly.

“My teacher beats me everyday, because I am very talkative,” says six-year-old Sakshi grinning.

All these kids are barely 10 and they are already at the mercy of something cruel: Corporal Punishment.

Given the fact that controlling a class of 50-70 students is a herculean task, teachers often opt for shouting or, worse, caning. One thought corporal punishment was common only in rural government schools. But it happens even in the so-called good schools in cities like Bangalore. Did the teacher hit with a wooden ruler or with a pencil? Did she slap or did she pinch? The question is not how much it hurt the child; the question is was it necessary to hit the child in the first place? Do children really deserve being beaten? This is an ongoing debate: do we “spare the rod and spoil the child” or the reverse? Does even using the rod help the child become a better person?

We have all gone through this type of disciplining at school. We know that beating children has never disciplined them. The only thing it serves is quenching a power-hungry teacher's quest for control and a quick fix solution to quieten a noisy bunch of kids. But what about the impact it has on the kids? “Some parents and teachers resort to spanking or other means of corporal punishment as a way to discipline children; however, what messages are they sending to children whose view of the world and those in it is beginning to be formed?,” asks Dr. Helen Williams, Counsellor at the Keith Nicoll Medical Centre, Dubai. According to her, when we spank children as a form of discipline, we may well be teaching them that it is okay to hit someone. That people can dominate you. That one has to do what one is told and not think for oneself. That it is okay to act in anger.

Are these the messages that one would like one's children to have, especially when a child's self-concept and self-esteem is developing. “It is crucial that they are given guidance on ‘how' to behave and the way they are disciplined is a very big step in this process. The first step in creative discipline is to look at yourself rather than the child. What is it that you are doing or not doing that is perpetuating the problem or causing it?” says Helen.

Can't schools that take huge donations and fees to add floors after floors to the already existing building understand that the kids coming to their schools are the basic foundation? And they have to be nurtured well.

Isn't beating a child an example of a teacher who has literally given up on all other means of educating a child? Children at this age like going to school not because they love maths or geography but because their teacher teaches well and they like her. But it is sad that teachers have lost their sense of creativity. Teachers need to have a pool of creative ideas to control the class and inculcate good behaviour. Resorting to a cane every time you can't control the class is the worst thing to do.

Reaching out

Schools need to share their best practices with each other. And thanks to the Internet many parents have started blogging and discussing their concerns. Sadly, the so-called PTA (parent-teacher meetings) serve as a platform for the school to showcase its achievements but not for parents to raise their concern. If at all a parent raises a concern, the teachers quickly make a note and then begins the story of survival of the kid. “Though my daughter dances really well, she was not selected for the annual day dance programme, only because I had complained about her teacher to the principal,” says Madhavi, a mother of two.

Schools should ensure that the teachers meant for primary sections have to be the best. The selection criteria have to be made stricter. Degrees and qualifications are of no use if a teacher lacks patience in dealing with kids. Undoubtedly kids these days are smarter and teachers need to be equally smart in handling them.

Going to school has to be a memorable experience in itself. It is high time the teachers start realising that a noble profession like teaching requires not only degrees, but patience and a creative mindset. Talking to the kids, engaging them in creative activities, keeping them occupied, giving them small tasks that challenge them (not huge tasks which the mothers end up completing) are all means to make school what it is actually meant to do: transmit knowledge.

Controlling small kids is indeed a tough task, but by setting our expectations right and rewarding positive behaviour children learn to behave well. “I make sure that I either draw a smiley or a star everytime the kids behave well,” says Shantha Holla, a primary school teacher in one of the Indian Schools in Sharjah. “Disciplining kids is an ongoing process, not only in school but also at home. During our meeting with the parent we insist that even they use the golden words — sorry, please, thank you — as often as possible with the kid,” she adds.

Devising her own creative methodology to teach tiny tots — be it the lids of water cans collected to teach Maths, the breathing exercises before a class begins or the huge collection of stickers that she has to reward her students — she leaves no stone unturned to prove one thing: Kids learn if we set our expectations right and when we tell them their limits.

Due recognition

Teaching is indeed a draining job, one that keeps you on your toes all the time. Hence recognising the teacher's efforts does keep the morale of the teaching fraternity high. “We don't get much support from the principal, hence most of the time we end up resolving most of the disciplinary issues,” says Vanitha, a high school teacher in Udupi. “In addition none of the promises made during the PTA meetings is fulfilled hence, this leaves the parents also dissatisfied,” she adds. For a school to have a “happy” atmosphere, the problems faced by the teachers too need to be duly addressed. “A approachable and friendly supervisor plays a big role in the health of any organisation,” says Shantha.

The management has to ensure that the size of the class doesn't exceed 25 or 30. Teachers have to be paid reasonably well and on time. Incentives have to be given to keep the teachers focussed and motivated. Regular workshops to enhance their knowledge and clear career goals need to be set. With all this in place the classroom would be less of a stress-relieving podium (where the teacher goes on a hitting spree) and more of a place where lessons are learnt and not just taught.

The only hope that a developing country like India can have is the quality of students that it churns out year after year. Education is emancipation. These are the formative years for any child. The last nail in the coffin would be of course when the child says, “Amma I don't want to go to school, the teacher beats us.”