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Demand better schools, not licks

Last Monday’s “Parenting in Education” seminar, arranged by the Ministry of Education, revealed another aspect of the problem of delinquency in schools – the parents themselves. Far from coming with informed suggestions to nurture and protect all children, many parents in attendance seemed to agree with the proposition that punishment is the key to desirable behaviour. This, however, is not what the pedagogical research says. 

In 2001, then-education minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar introduced legislation in Parliament to ban corporal punishment in schools. Successive ministers, to their credit, have refused to lift this ban despite widespread calls from citizens, including teachers and principals, to do so. Indeed, this appears to be one of the few measures where politicians on both sides have listened to the experts and not kowtowed to populism.

An official statement on the Education Ministry’s website gives the reasons for the ban – that corporal punishment is an ineffective means for ensuring that children learn positive values; it causes hopelessness and depression in children; it makes children prone to anti-social behaviour, including violence; and it harms parent-child relations.

One would think that this last, at least, would cause parents to re-think their view on licks. Again, the research shows that the most effective parenting does not rely on physical punishment and, when children need to be disciplined, the reasons are explained to them.

Nonetheless, many proponents of licks even go so far as to argue that the removal of corporal punishment is the reason for the widespread violence in the country today, including murders. Needless to say, no evidence is ever offered in support of this claim. And, contrary to such assertions, a 2005 survey of principals done by the ministry found that school violence was declining. As for the murder rate, that started to rise in 2000, and it is unlikely that the removal of licks in schools trumped other factors such as the drug trade, gang warfare over URP monies, and low detection rates.

In short, while school discipline is important, there are effective and ineffective ways to discipline children, and licks does not improve behaviour, let alone facilitate learning, for most students. Instead, approaches which address cognitive disabilities and emotional traumas have been shown to be effective. 

This, however, means that schools must have counsellors to deal with problem pupils, specialist teachers for slow children, and better training for teachers. Such suggestions are decades old, but successive political administrations have been unwilling to allocate the necessary funding and time to institute these measures. Thus, schools and pupils continue to stagnate.

If parents are truly concerned about their children’s welfare, they should be lobbying for these reforms, rather than the return of the whip.

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