Former director of youth calls for reevaluation of the purpose of corporal punishment

Former director of youth Dr Cleon Athill has shared her disapproval of corporal punishment
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By Carlena Knight

The former director of youth affairs, Dr Cleon Athill, has added her voice to the ongoing debate about the effectiveness and use of corporal punishment in schools.

Discussions about the necessity of the measure have been ongoing for some time, but came to the fore again recently following two separate reports where parents came forward with photos of injuries apparently due to corporal punishment inflicted on their young children by school teachers.

The first was a 12-year-old girl who was left bleeding and bruised following disciplinary action by a teacher at the privately-run St Michael’s Primary School. According to the child’s account of the incident, she was hit with a belt because she was holding her lunch bag against the teacher’s direction while the class was preparing to recite prayers at the end of the school day.

Days later, another mother shared photographs of injuries suffered by her eight-year-old daughter after she was beaten by a male teacher at Parham Primary School. In her account, the child said she received five lashes after she was shoved onto another student in the assembly line.

Currently, it is lawful to physically discipline a child in public and private schools. However, there are guidelines that educators must follow, such as recognising that beating as a form of discipline is a last resort.

Principal of Ottos Comprehensive School, Foster Roberts weighed in earlier this week in favour of corporal punishment.

He claims that some students are not brought up properly at home and, as a result, they display “deviant behaviour” that must be stomped out with corporal punishment. He agreed that hitting a child without reason is wrong and unacceptable, added that his concern is that a large number of students who enter learning institutions are not prepared.

But Dr Athill did not agree with Roberts’ statements, and stated that corporal punishment “has no place in our school system”.

She told yesterday’s Observer AM show it is time for a detailed evaluation to be made to determine the true purpose of beating children and how effective it is in ensuring they are well disciplined.

“I cannot walk up to anybody and hit them, because there is a certain level of respect that is accorded to us, and it is very sad when we don’t accord that very same respect to children.

“We have to begin asking questions about why do we beat and what purpose does it serve. A lot of persons will say to me that it is to instill discipline. I think we got it all wrong because discipline does not mean corporal punishment; they are not one and the same thing,” Dr Athill said.

“If we want our children to be disciplined, then corporal punishment does not have any place in it. We like to go back to the Bible and use all kinds of fancy scriptures, but the slave masters could use scriptures to justify slavery, too.

“When I think of the Bible and how the shepherd took care of his sheep, the shepherd would gently guide the sheep back to the flock, and I think if we are really serious about raising our children, we need to have these discussions.”

She suggested that the time has come to restructure the school system on all levels if the nation hopes to produce disciplined children.

“It means that we are going to have greater discussions about the entire school structure. We are going to have questions about how do we inculcate the kind of values and skills in our students. That’s one level.

“Questions about how do teachers engage with students and let’s face it that’s very problematic and that’s another level. We ask the questions of the skills and values of the teachers as well because in this student management thing, the issue is the student, but teachers need to look at themselves too.

“The relationship between staff members and what sort of administrative structures are within the school system to ensure proper management and proper behaviour of everybody in that system. I am talking about a whole school approach,” Dr Athill explained.

The educator said that once that is in place, other facets of society will have to be restructured as well, because everyone has a responsibility in raising and training children in the correct manner.

Meanwhile, a parent, Michelle Longford, said that corporal punishment is not necessary as it only aids in teaching children that violence is the answer. 

“We all know that when you are upset and you raise your hand and discipline a child you tend to take your anger out on that child and, as a result — which has been seen in the past couple of days with these two incidents — the beatings end up being excessive.

“In 2021, nobody should be hitting anybody else’s child; there should be positive reinforcement [and] there’s so many other things you could do.

“Let’s say, for example, a child pushes another child and then you are going to beat the other child for that. Then, at the end of the day all we are teaching our children is that violence [begets] violence.

“You have done this — which is termed to be a violent act against somebody else — so I am going to hit you in response to that violent act. There has to be something else or another way to offer positive reinforcement to these children,” Longford added.

She admitted that some parents need to do a better job in disciplining their children at home rather than leaving all the work to schools.

On the other hand, Joshuanette Francis, a teacher who also weighed in on the discussion, was in favour of corporal punishment. She agreed that other measures such as positive behaviour management can and are used, but noted that these initiatives do not work for every child.

“I could agree with Foster Roberts, and the parent also that we are in a system where in any given day we are dealing with thousands of different personalities as some come from broken homes where there are no rules, no regulations and positive behaviour management is just not going to work for certain things. “I am not saying, and I am sure other educators can agree, that we are not saying [that] a child does one thing and them bam, we beat them; we should definitely find a positive way to get this behaviour out. However it just doesn’t work in all situations. There are some situations where we are going to need corporal punishment,” Francis added.

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