I went to an extremely strict school for twelve years. The teachers were trying to raise perfect human beings, which, of course, is impossible. Yet, even with the extreme level of authoritarianism, we were never once caned. There were alternative forms of discipline, including detentions that lasted hours where you had to reflect on your mistakes. I would like to think that we turned out perfectly fine, without being caned.
There have been horror stories of people who experienced caning. Children have been bruised, both physically and emotionally, and they have ended up with serious trauma. Corporal punishment should never, in any situation, be a solution to disciplining someone.
In a report by the Human Rights Watch, it was found that teachers caned students for a wide range of infractions, some serious, some extraordinarily minor. As reasons for punishment, students, teachers, and headteachers frequently cited tardiness, making noise or talking in class, truancy or absenteeism, bullying, fighting, stealing, disobedience or rudeness, and leaving the classroom or school when the teacher is away. Less frequent grounds for punishment include selling or using drugs, smoking cigarettes, jumping on tables, not paying attention or falling asleep in class, and using profanity.
I cannot think of any reason or circumstance that would justify caning. Does it necessarily make the child more disciplined? Not at all. Dr. Robert Sege of Tufts Medical Center in Boston says, “There is no benefit of caning. Children who experience repeated use of corporal punishment tend to develop more aggressive behaviours, increased aggression in school, and an increased risk of mental health disorders and cognitive problems.”
It has been established that caning does not in fact make a child improve on their faults. So why do we still do it? I would argue that it is a way for adults to establish a power trip, and that’s just about it. Because even with all the proof of how dangerous caning is, people still stand up for it. It may be a case of ignorance, but it must have something to do with adults wanting to show that they are in charge.
Children are beaten for the silliest reasons, including when they answer questions wrong. As a teacher, your job is to educate the children. When they are unable to comprehend what you have taught, it’s not always entirely their fault. It could be the teacher’s fault, for failing to do their job. It takes a lot of humility to realise this, and when your ego and need to feel powerful come in the way, you might not accept the reality. Yet, even so, these are some of the reasons cited for children being caned in Kenyan schools.
So what if children are going to extreme cases where they burn down schools? Should we just watch them and not take any action? Not at all. But I believe the primary focus should be on finding out why they are behaving that way. Because very rarely does someone just wake up one day and choose to burn down a school. There is always a reason behind it, and that is what you need to address.
In a Twitter post, Bravin Yuri shares some thought-provoking words. “How do you send students to school back to back, with them closing for 2 weeks then back again to school? You then deny them even a chance to watch TV during the weekend to release some steam, then start classes at 4 am to 10 pm then wonder what the cause for School Unrest is.”
We could break down almost all the causes of caning in schools, and there is no given circumstance where the best solution is caning. The only thing that caning does is instil extreme fear in children. It crushes their souls and causes them trauma which is sometimes irreversible. Caning causes cycles of mental health issues which in the long run affect the productivity of the nation.
What are the alternatives to caning? There are many. You can establish logical consequences or take away some of their privileges for a while. Even so, we should remember that praising a child for their good behaviour goes a long way in preventing behaviour problems.
“Too often we forget that discipline really means to teach, not to punish. A disciple is a student, not a recipient of behavioural consequences.” ~Daniel Siegel