Corporal punishment still rampant in schools, and boys are main targets

A new study says corporal punishment is still prevalent in schools more than 20 years after it was outlawed.
A new study says corporal punishment is still prevalent in schools more than 20 years after it was outlawed.
Image: Mark Andrews

Corporal punishment continues to be widely used in SA schools more than 20 years after it was outlawed.

Boys and pupils from poor families are most likely to experience corporal punishment, according to a study published in PLOS One.

“Boys are perceived as naughty and mischievous compared to girls, which explains why they are more likely to experience (corporal punishment),” it says.

Researchers polled 3,743 grade 8 pupils from 24 public schools in Tshwane. Of these,1 625 were boys.

Just over half the pupils said they had experienced corporate punishment at school in the last six months. “It was higher among boys compared to girls,” the study found.

“Experience of (corporal punishment) at school amongst learners was associated with learner behaviour, home environment, and school environment,” said a team led by Pinky Mahlangu from the SA Medical Research Council gender and health unit.

“Learners from households with low socio-economic status had an increased risk of (corporal punishment) experience at school. Amongst boys, low family socio-economic status was associated with a negative home environment and had a direct negative impact on a learner’s mental health, directly associated with misbehaviour.”

Despite laws preventing corporal punishment, researchers found that it is thriving.

“While addressing learner behaviour is critical, evidence-based interventions addressing home and school environment are needed to change the culture among teachers of using corporal punishment to discipline adolescents and inculcate one that promotes positive discipline,” the researchers said.

Some of the transgressions that lead to corporate punishment include “not doing school or homework, coming late from break, not listening to teachers, giving wrong answers in class and making noise”.

Mahlangu's team said: “Learners who perform poorly at school are likely to be beaten by their teachers and by parents and caregivers at home with the aim to encourage improved academic performance.”

According to the study, pupils who are subjected to corporal punishment are likely to be more aggressive than those who are not.

Meanwhile, teachers who are overwhelmed by personal problems and believe corporal punishment is effective in managing classroom behaviour are likely to use it.

“There is an urgent need to break this cycle of violence, through use of (corporal punishment), by enforcing the law, and holding accountable those who continue to use (corporal punishment) despite legislation prohibiting its use, but also supporting the children in their home environment, and their parents to positively partner with their children,” the study says.

“Furthermore, there is a need to provide services to meet learners' mental health needs. Evidence-based interventions are needed to support both parents and teachers in managing learner behaviour.

“Use of positive disciplining strategies, developing democratic relationships and consciousness about image of a child can positively inform how parents and teachers relate with children, critical for raising responsible children, and to curb future perpetration of violence in society.”

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