Ministry of Education accused of creating 'a policy to bang people pickney’

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By Elesha George

“A policy coming out of ministry guiding how to bang people pickney”, is how Dr Cleon Athill, an educator and a former director of youth described new guidelines to administer corporal punishment in schools in Antigua and Barbuda.

The Ministry of Education reportedly released the document, dated June 2019, which outlines and sanctions how corporal punishment is to be meted out to students attending schools on the island.

In speaking directly to the idea of the guidelines, Dr Athill said: “I’m very disheartened that to see in 2019, today, that there can be a policy coming out of Ministry [of Education] guiding how to bang people pickney. I just think it is so wrong.”

During an appearance on OBSERVER Radio’s Big Issues programme, she said it goes against what the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology says it wants to achieve in schools, explaining that “…With the new thrust of the Ministry [of Education] — positive behaviour management, healthy schools — all of these nice things that the ministry is saying that it is doing, and then embed in that, corporal punishment. I think people in the ministry need to really go back and begin to assess how they think about education, and how they think about our young people in the system, and also to begin to think about aligning their values to their professional training because we see a great disconnect. “

Also contributing to the discussion was counsellor and former principal of the Boys Training School, Patrick Byrne, who said that there are better alternatives and described corporal punishment as a “short cut to discipline … a quick fix; give two lashes and you figure that’s it”.

Byrne said he thinks the Ministry of Education can do a lot better that to even maintain corporal punishment in a new draft or an act.

“There are other factors that need to come into play and because we don’t want to be creative and go down that road of teaching and guiding; we do this quick fix of giving lashes,” he said.

Byrne suggested that the state could allow young people to find creative ways “in which they can do things better, and to allow them to come up with the answers, and to allow them, sometimes, to teach the other young people a better way of doing things, a better way of responding.”

Meanwhile, Dr Peter St Jean, a criminologist and sociologist said, in his opinion, corporal punishment is a way to teach students that it is okay to hit someone else as long as you believe the person who’s being hit is wrong

 “When you have no corporal punishment, what you do is that you force people, the discipliners, to find more creative ways of being able to teach and guide, and then you formulate a culture among people who may do wrong to find more creative ways other than the threat of physical harm on people to learn how to teach and guide people, so I am against corporal punishment for that reason.”

The guidelines, which reportedly has been released to school principals, speak to the use of a Punishment Book, which would indicate the name of the student, infraction by the student, the punishment administered and the person who administered the punishment.

As it relates to the administration of corporal punishment, the guidelines state that a principal/his or her designate shall use (a) a leather strap no longer than thirty (30) inches, one and a-half (1½) inches wide and not more than a quarter (1/4) inch thick in the case of secondary schools, and (b) in the case of a primary school, a leather strap no longer than 24 inches, one and a quarter (1¼) inches wide and no more than a quarter (1/4) inch thick. 

The student should be informed of the reason he/she is being punished and how many strokes they will receive on their buttocks; there must be a third person in the room (not a student) when punishment is being administered; there will be a maximum of six strokes (6) for secondary school students and no more than four (4) strokes for primary school students.

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