Carrot is mightier than the stick

2011-09-17 09:36

If one was to do a simple national poll among the over-40 generations of today, my prediction is that more than 60% of the sample would recount incidents of being on the receiving end of corporal punishment at one point or another in their early childhood, be it at home or at school.

One often hears stories about how “today’s generation is too spoilt”, and lacks a sense of responsibility and direction because parents or teachers no longer employ that “essential pillar” of parenting – the stick.

Even though corporal punishment happens so often, very few people bother to question its validity or effectiveness.In business, education and everyday life, good leaders are respected, not feared.

The Catholic Institute of Education believes there is no room for the stick in the classroom. We believe that using it tends to promote an atmosphere of fear rather than building respect between teacher and learner, or even between parent and child.

The institute is concerned that corporal punishment continues to be extensively used in South African schools.

A recent study showed that 70% of primary school children had been beaten by teachers. JE Durrant, the author of Corporal Punishment:

Prevalence, Predictors and Implications for Child Behaviour and Development, argues that there is a strong correlation between corporal punishment and levels of student violence.

There are unfortunate misconceptions that continue to perpetuate the use of corporal punishment in many societies, including the belief that corporal punishment:

» Is effective;

» Prevents children from getting into trouble;

Teaches right from wrong;

» Instils respect; and

» Is conceptually and dynamically different from physical abuse.

None of these misconceptions are supported in the research.

Durrant argues that even in controlled laboratory studies, in which parents were systematically trained and carefully monitored, corporal punishment was shown to be unreliable in inducing immediate compliance.

In naturalistic, longitudinal and observational studies, corporal punishment has consistently been found to predict negative outcomes.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation argues that in order to reduce the prevalence of corporal punishment worldwide, a three-pronged initiative is necessary:

» Legal reforms must affirm children’s fundamental rights to fully respect their human dignity and physical integrity;

» Public education must ensure knowledge of the law and deliver a clear and consistent message that hurting children is not a constructive method of teaching them; and

» Public education strategies must be developed to increase parents’ and teachers’ knowledge of child development and steps towards behaviour change.

Both South Africa and the Vatican are signatories to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

State parties to the convention are obliged to develop and undertake all actions and policies in light of the best interests of the child.

Fortunately, South Africa has acted on the convention and legislation here makes corporal punishment illegal.

The institute will continue to implement measures to ensure that corporal punishment exists only in our history books by lobbying schools, society, state institutions and relevant non-governmental organisations.

» Potterton is director of the Catholic Institute of Education, a non-government organisation that delivers programmes to Catholic schools 

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