Dr Jyotsna Bhattacharjee
The schools are regarded as chambers of horror by most of the students. Hence it is often seen that young children are reluctant to enter the school campus. It is heart-rending to see little children crying their hearts out, while being dragged by their mothers to the school. Not only the small children even the older ones try to avoid as far as practicable. Some students come of their homes in proper uniform with school bags on their shoulders, but they do not enter the school premises. After loitering around for some hours they return home at the time the final school bell rings, signifying the closure. Some of the truants may be caught by the parents or the school authority though not all. But why are they so unwilling to attend their classes? They should love to meet their friends in the school and concentrate on their studies.
The reasons may be diverse. One of the reasons may be that they are not favourably impressed by the routine life of the school. Perhaps they are also disappointed with the environment where they do not get any scope to develop their inherent talent. No teacher seems to be interested in the welfare of the student community. They are merely doing their duty in a mechanical way to earn their monthly salary. Whether the students have understood the lessons is not apparently the concern of the teacher. His duty consists in going to the class room and read from the text books or perhaps dictate out dated notes, which may be full of errors. He is not the least interested in any student. It has also been heard that the teacher takes interest in only those students, who happen to go to him private tuition. I have no idea whether these allegations are justified or not. But such accusations, true or false,not onl damage the teacher’s reputation, but the whole system of education. Unless the teachers get due respect from the students, the teaching-learning process cannot be successful. For that the teachers have to exert themselves to gain the trust of the students with hard work and genuine interest for them.
For the students the school seems to be a gloomy place, where they are forced to go through a kind of joyless learning. Hence to get some relief from boredom they may indulge in some practices, which go against the rule laid down by the management, which in a way is their show of rebellion against the teachers and the authority concerned. They may also derive some irrational pleasure by their act of defiance. After all, they are immature children, who cannot distinguish between right and wrong actions. They may disobey the teacher, or may disturb the class, or perhaps damage some school property, just to irritate the teacher. That is their way of deriving fun at the cost of learning. In such a situation it is only natural that the teacher may lose his/her composure and take recourse to punishment, which at times might be too severe, drawing criticism and protests from one and all.
In recent times punishment in schools has becomes a very controversial topic. Often we hear of severe punishment meted out to small children by some unscrupulous teachers in certain schools. Sometimes punishment leads to disastrous consequences. Efficacy of punishment in schools is a matter of controversy. According to some punishment should not be allowed in schools and according to some others the cliched “Spare the rod and spoil the child”,should be followed They argue that for making the children behave properly, punishement is not only necessary, but it is indispensable. So it seems that people are not unanimous in their views regarding punishment. Some uphold it as a necessary measure for the well-being of the children and others condemn it as barbaric.
Though punishment has been legally banned, some schools have not yet prohibited it. Hence some students in certain schools are still being subjected to punishement. Actually corporal punishment is nothing new; it is as old as education itself. It has been traditionally used by the teachers to force the children to conform to our pre conceived notion of behavior. They justiy punishment and their logic is that punishment can have a deterrent effect and that is the view accepted by conventional wisdom. They believe that children, subjected to such punishment, are less likely to repeat the same kind of mistake again, which is debatable.
In justification of punishement, Ethics has advanced three theories: Preventive or Deterrent theory, Reformative theory and Retributive theory. The preventive theory is of the opinion that punishment is meant to correct the truant and prevent others and himself from committing the same kind of mistake. He is being used as a means to achieve the objective or the end. But this view is opposed by most of the moral thinkers, since a human being cannot be used as a means for achieving the end. Regarding the view that punishment is given for the correction of the offender, it has been proved wrong.
There is overwhelming evidence to suggest that corporal punishment is grossly ineffective as a method to impose discipline. Rather it often goes contrary to the desired objective. It can be seen that a student, who has been punished, often behaves in a more outrageous manner as a gesture of defiance against the concerned teacher. The punishment makes him more arrogant and disobedient. Hence punishment may have an adverse effect on his character. However, such punishment, verging on the physical, continues almost all over the world. Now it has been legally banned in some countries.
People did not protest against corporal punishment in earlier times. As a matter of fact, protests against corporal punishment began towards the end of the 19th century. Psychologists pointed out that far from acting as a deterrent, it might create behavioural problems among children both at home and in school. A child may not be physically injured by punishment, but it injures his self-esteem. He feels humiliated, which is a psychological problem. Unable to bear his disgrace with equanimity, the child may take some extremely dangerous steps or behave out of character.
Punishment cannot discipline children or curb their mischievous actions. Flogging does not help in developing character, self-reliance or courage. It is also a fact that punishment may have some impact on the teacher’s mind. If the student, whom he punished, takes his anger out on him or does something desperate, the teacher concerned will naturally feel guilty and that feeling of guilt may torment him till the end of his life. Any normal human being will feel sad, if one of his students did something horrible due to his fault.
Educational psychologists have stated on the basis of data, collected in the last century, that corporal punishment generally fails to attain the desired objective of education. Ironically enough, it can rather have a debilitating effect, one that can harm the child psychologically. Occasionally some young children even go for suicide after being punished physically or mentally tortured and humiliated in school.
The Indian scenario is alarming, to say the least. Despite that the National Police of Education, 1986 (revised in 1992), severely condemned corporal punishment, it has not yet been prohibited it in many schools in several states. The “Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009”, prohibits corporal punishment. It states: “No child shall be subjected to physical punishment or mental harassment. Whoever contravenes the provisions shall be liable to disciplinary action under the service rules applicable to such persons”. But this kind of crime is still going on and in most cases the offenders go scot-free.
The fact is that corporal punishment cannot be curbed or abolished by legal measures. The question is, “Why do teachers resort to corporal punishment or mental harassment, knowing fully well that such measures are not only cruel, but counter-productive as well. Do they merely wish to inflict pain on the children?”
I do think that the teachers should be patient enough to curb their temper in dealing with mischievous children. At the same time we should also note that teachers are human beings with feelings and emotions. They work under tremendous stress. At home parents often punish their own children for playing truant. Everyone thinks that it is only natural and parents have the right to punish their own children, but not the teacher. But we have to note that a teacher has to deal with a large number of children each day, some of whom may be very naughty and mischievous. Teachers are social beings just like other professionals and they have to work under a lot of pressure. They are not dealing with office files, but hundreds of children every day. It is not an easy task. Hence sometimes they resort to punishment to deal with some of the recalcitrant children. I think that it is not the intention of any teacher to inflict pain on the child; perhaps he does it at the heat of the moment. He gets terribly angry and the punishment is the outward expression of his anger But it does harm the child both physically and emotionally. Punishment does not benefit the child in any way. Rather it may lead to disastrous consequences. Hence the teachers too need psychological advice to curb their anger. If the student needs compassion and consideration from the teacher, he too needs some kind of consideration from the management and society. The parents are quick to condemn the teacher for punishing their children, but have they ever considered the teacher’s problems? They should realise that primarily the teachers are social beings, subject to stress and work pressure. The governments in various states have taken various steps for reformation and progress of school education. But their views are limited to pedagogic research and development in case of school education. They have taken diverse steps like free education, free uniforms and text book, mid day meal etc. to help the children. But nothing has been done to help the teachers from the psychological point of view. The teachers too need lots of considerations from the authority concerned. To make classrooms safe and pleasant, the problems faced by the teachers and the students cannot be ignored.
(The writer is a former Head, Department of Philosophy, Cotton College, Guwahati)