Monday, September 3, 2007

Corporeal Punishment for School Children Banned in India

Government has recently banned corporeal punishment including threats for school children as there were reports of gross abuse of students by teachers by beating and other physical threats resulting in some cases grievous injuries and even death or suicide.However many teachers are not happy with the ban as they feel that a powerful tool to discipline the pupil for his own as well as organisational and family benefits has been taken away just because of some stray cases of abuse.Debate, discussion and even protest is going on among the teachers and public.

There has been lot of research, mainly by Psychologists,on the effect of punishment including physical ones on behaviour.The effect of Punishment is found to be unpredictable and often unintended too.Use of external force to control can at best only suppress the undesirable behaviour but may not erase it.Even the suppression would be temporary as moment the external force is absent or away the negative behaviour surfaces.Continous external monitoring of behaviour without any let up is not only impracticable but also can damage the development of personality of the child.Further,the internalisation of values to guide behaviour on its own without external threat which alone is the stable and lasting solution to weed out the negative behaviour will not take place when punishment is resorted to control child's actions.Cognitive restructuring will not take place when values are not internalised,and hence,child belief in his action is unaltered however objectionable it may be for the world around him.

There are in fact many alternate ways of handling problematic behavior in the child than punishment.Giving reasons and explaining the need for eliminating undesirable and taking up desirable behaviour is not often not done by parents or teachers."I know everything,look at my age and experience, you just do what I tell you,it is for your good only,you will not understand these right now" is the song of many elders with the child.Letting child know the reason behind prescription and exploring with the child the pros and con's outcomes, of different actions on oneself, on the people around as well as on going about realising one's aspirations will go a long way in internalising values that nurtures life and also in cognitive restructuring in the child.It does require little patience and time with the child but it is a small price to pay for a lasting beneficial effect on the development of child's personality. It also enhances child's feeling of autonomy and self governance.Opening the channels of communication by teachers among the child's "significant others"such as parents,heads of institutions and other teachers including even child's friends whenever problem behaviour occurs so that the real meaning of each others behaviour and intentions get explored and clarified is yet another approach one can employ.

Entering into a behavioral contract with the child that "if you do this(e.g.homework)now, you can do that("is yet another way of handling child's behaviour.Child,then, gets a feeling that people are not against him and he will get what he wants,generally, if he does what is required from him by the elders.

Punishment may have some value after all but it is a delicate mechanism to be handled with utmost care.Punishment for the undesirable behaviour should always go hand in hand with fully encouraging the good behaviour.There are some elders who always make it a point to punish negative behaviour in the child which in itself is not bad ,but when the child does some positive actions(- no one is totally bad or totally good, both would be there in all in varying degrees-)they keep quiet thinking that praising him would go to his head and be spoiled.In such a situation the child will only know what is 'bad', but not what is good expected of him. Mere punishment for bad behaviour and ignoring the good that he does would create hardened negativism in the child.There are other elders who always pat and praise when the child does something good,which is fine , but when the child does bad they keep quite let the child feel hurt and their love /popularity with the child would diminish.This too is equally damaging as the child would not know what to give up.When praise for the good and punishment for the bad is practiced simultaneously the child will not feel that he is lost and think that people are against him when punished as he is also taken sky high when good is done by him.Child finds that he need not throw tantrums or indulge in aggressive or negligent behaviour as he would be getting 'what he wants'by being in the prescribed behaviour

There is an urgent need,therfore,to train teachers in behavioral management of child in the classroom as well as in the school on the one hand and counselling the parents of the problem children in handling the child at home and society on the other, for the good of all.

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