BY GARFIELD MYERS Editor-at-Large, South/Central Bureau firstname.lastname@example.org
MANDEVILLE, Manchester — President of the Jamaica Teachers Association (JTA), Clayton Hall, believes flogging should be retained in schools as a form of punishment in specific circumstances.
Choosing his words carefully, Hall told the Rotary Club of Mandeville on Tuesday night that 18 years as an educator had taught him that corporal punishment was a useful disciplinary tool.
"I am not indicating that all children should be flogged and I am also not saying that flogging must be the solution to all the problems we have. I am merely indicating that flogging or corporal punishment is for me a great deterrent to unwanted behaviour," he said.
Hall told the Jamaica Observer following his speech at the Golf View Hotel that in his view "no child over 15" should be flogged and the punishment should not be carried out by the class teacher or anyone "emotionally involved in the situation". Also, he said it should not be carried out immediately but only after a "process" to determine the appropriate measure and also to explain to the student the reasons for the punishment.
In a question-and-answer session at the tail end of his presentation, Hall — who is principal of Spanish Town High in St Catherine — confirmed that he was voicing his personal views on corporal punishment.
He also made it clear that the Ministry of Education has a clear policy against flogging although the law still allows it in schools. He said the JTA has instructed its members to refrain from flogging children in order to avoid the possibility of legal action against them.
"Corporal punishment is still on our books in that (although) the child care and protection act outlawed corporal punishment in children's homes and places of safety, it is still legal in schools," said Hall.
He noted, however, that "there is illegality and then there is policy. The ministry's policy is to ban corporal punishment, so the association (JTA) has instructed its members not to perform corporal punishment because whenever it is done we recognise that whoever is the administrator ...could find him or herself on his own, without... legal backing".
While the Ministry of Education has turned its face against corporal punishment and the JTA has instructed teachers to desist from flogging, anecdotal evidence reaching the Observer suggests the practice remains in some schools.
Late last year the Kensington Primary School in St Catherine was shrouded in controversy following a complaint by a parent that her nine-year-old had suffered corporal punishment.
Down the years there have also been isolated reports of children suffering serious injury, as a result of accidents during flogging.
Three years ago, a child lost the use of his eye after the buckle of a belt being wielded by a teacher accidentally hit him. That case is before the courts.
Following the latter incident, then education minister in the Jamaica Labour Party Administration of the day, Andrew Holness, pledged that his Government would seek to pass legislation rendering corporal punishment illegal in schools. Holness and others noted that corporal punishment is in breach of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child to which Jamaica is signatory.
Current Education Minister Ronald Thwaites, who took over as education minister following the People's National Party's election victory in December 2011, has been less assertive on the issue.
In response to the case at Kensington Primary last year, Thwaites said: "A clear policy has been given to schools that corporal punishment is not allowed with the normal running of the school and this is consistent with the laws and regulations."
But, he was also quoted as saying: "I do accept that there will be very extreme cases of obstreperous conduct where a principal, having regard to age, circumstances and gender; may find it necessary to apply moderate corporal punishment. However, at no time should corporal punishment be used in order to enforce homework to be done or even work in a circumstance where a child has not done well in a test or in some exercise."
In seeking to explain his own views on the matter, Hall told Rotarians in Mandeville Tuesday that the formal removal of corporal punishment had left a "vacuum" in the system of administering discipline and had fuelled the practice of "reprisals" in schools. He appeared to suggest that children were socialised to accept flogging as legitimate when it is administered by "institutionalised authority" in a manner considered justified.
"The child who receives the punishment (flogging) bears no ill will for the teacher because in that child's socialised opinion the teacher was merely carrying out his or her duty. A good teacher would have explained to the child prior to the flogging what it is you are going to be flogged for," said Hall.
"What we have now is a removal of that method of punishment from our classroom. When child 'A' is slapped by Child 'B', he complains to the teacher.
The teacher then uses counselling or speaks to the child or some other form of penal action. But the child who was inflicted does not view that as a means of exacting justice.
"It therefore means that child B who was afflicted will seek to inflict his own form of justice at a time when it is convenient. It is this situation of reprisal that is causing most of the student-on-student violence we have in our institutions." said Hall.
Claiming he had first-hand experience of improved student behaviour because of the threat of corporal punishment, Hall said, "I have come to the recognition that the promise or threat of corporal punishment is a greater deterrent than the corporal punishment itself."
However, he said, he also recognised that "if you are forced to use corporal punishment regularly then you would also have misused it (and it would) not have the effect that it ought to have when used".
He suggested that the decision by the powers that be to ban corporal punishment in schools reflected a tendency to act without properly contemplating issues and the consequences of actions.
Citing an example of what he believed to be inadequate thought, Hall referred to a recommendation that police be called when a child is found with an offensive weapon.
"When corporal punishment was removed we were told that if a child comes to school with a knife or a weapon we should call the police," said Hall.
But according to him, "I will not report my 14-year-old to any police unless the situation becomes significantly troubling for that child or for other children".
He asked, "How could I look in the eyes of a 17-year-old, who would have passed five or six CSEC (Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate) subjects and know that I prevented his future advancement because when he was 14 I gave him a police record?"
"It is something teachers don't or won't do, and in that context the suggestion (from the Ministry of Education) was not feasible. We must now as educators look at education in terms of the development of the children, and anything that is going to enhance the student is what we must incorporate," he said.
Hall said the authorities should refrain from adopting policies "without giving it thought in our social and historical contexts..."
The JTA head said that as a teacher he was committed to protecting children and to always giving them a chance to correct mistakes.
"I am telling you that it is my fervent belief that I can reach each child, I was fortunate to have teachers who stood up for me and who guided me along the path, I was not always a very well behaved child," he said.
"It is out of that reality I am convinced that if I can't reach child 'A' then I must find someone on my staff to reach this child, and if I can't find someone on my staff then I must find some friend who will be able to reach this child. I believe that all our children require a second chance and a third and a fourth. Many of us who now make policies, if those policies were in place while we grew up, we would have been truants and prisoners," he said.