banning corporal punishment has created tough challenges

Victor Mecoamere

Victor Mecoamere

The abolishment of corporal punishment, in line with the South African Schools Act, seems to have stymied most teachers' ability to enforce discipline in the classroom and schoolyard.

Thankfully, the Department of Education has introduced a most appropriate handbook - mostly for use and reference by teachers - although the distribution was reportedly not wide enough at the time it was launched in 2000.

Under the appropriate heading, "Alternatives to corporal punishment in the classroom", the manual says corporal punishment is against the law, it may contribute to growing social violence, it is harmful to children, and it is in essence anti-educational. But, bearing in mind that:

l Many teachers have to deal with disruptive pupils;

l Corporal punishment has been part of the history of many pupils and teachers;

l Change is in itself often a difficult process;

l Discipline is a recognised area of struggle for many teachers; and

l It is not surprising that there are teachers and even parents who find this a difficult shift to make.

There are also teachers who believe corporal punishment is wrong, but they don't always know what to use instead of physical force or the threat of it, to maintain discipline and a culture of learning in the classroom.

Discipline is a part of the daily life of pupils and teachers, but it is not a simple issue; it demands a great deal of time, creativity, commitment and resources.

Under the sub-heading: "Discipline versus Punishment", the handbook highlights several facts.

One of them is that corporal punishment was part of a bigger picture of an authoritarian approach to managing the school environment, which was based on the view that children needed to be controlled by adults.

Measures such as sarcasm and shouting were ways of teaching children a lesson or ensuring they never stepped out of line.