Discipline among school children: what can be done?

2016-07-01 14:08

This week a friend of mine shared a video in which a teacher was being accosted by a student while he was in class in front of all the students. Another video emerged in the news showing footage of a teacher beating students.

Earlier this afternoon @AshrafGarda was discussing Corporal Punishment on  @SAfmRadio. As the conversation went on it reminded me of an article I wrote in 2013 addressing this same issue following some incidents which had occurred during that time.

I tweeted the article to Ashraf and I put the following line, "...people mistake discipline and disciplining..." this is a theme which I carried through the 2013 article and will echo today, as I repeat the article verbatim.

A raging debate which has been doing the rounds lately revolves around the issue of corporal punishment and discipline among high school learners. In the past few weeks there has been a case of a learner who attacked a teacher, a gang from a school who attacked a rival school gang and also of a pupil who sliced the ear of another learner.

Many reasons have been proffered as to potential causes of such delinquent behaviour among the learners. The removal of corporal punishment from the schooling system has been held up by some as being the harbinger of such behaviour- laying the blame on government. Teachers who have been involved in actions which have led them to a place of losing moral authority to address learner ill-discipline, has been given as another reason.  Others have been saying the lack of parental/guardian involvement in instilling discipline in their children is to blame.

I believe all these different viewpoints all have a contributing role to play in the level of ill-discipline which has besieged some of the children growing up in this period.

Discipline is defined as "...the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behaviour, using punishment to correct disobedience." Though at times people use the word ‘discipline’ as a synonym for ‘punish’; punishing is just but one element in the area of discipline. In fact punishing is a tool while discipline has to do more with a way of life (code of behaviour).

There are certain things which I was exposed to while in primary and high school which at the time seemed as torture :), yet I didn’t know all those things were actually working out for my good.  These elements helped to mold and shape me into the person I am today.

Lessons about discipline (home and school)

There is a verse in the Bible (Proverbs 22 v6) which says, ‘Train up a child in the way he should go and when he has grown up he will not depart from it.’ Training brings out the need for a deliberate application of effort on the behalf of the trainer. To train is to equip, empower, instill values etc and this is primarily the role of parents/guardians and then secondarily teachers and other role players in a child’s development process.

1.      Timetable

Timetables assist in helping a child to learn about the importance of structure, time management, planning and working according to the plan. When from an early age a child has set time to sleep and wake up, meal times, lesson time, break time etc... they begin to learn about structure and inherently how to be disciplined with their time.

2.      Uniform

A uniform is aimed at imbuing individuals with a sense of identity, patriotism and unity in diversity. Though children might be coming from different backgrounds, having one uniform brings them to a place of learning how to relate with others on the basis of their individuality, without being caught up with what is on the outside. The children learn discipline in the realm of relating with other people.

3.      Duties

A child who is given duties which they need to do from a young age get the opportunity to learn and develop a sense of responsibility and accountability i.e. knowing there is something you are meant to do and you are answerable to someone for it. Duties can start from basic things such as being required to clean up after themselves, pack away their toys, arrange their books etc. In primary school when I was in Grade 5 up to 7 we used to sit in groups (based on merit) and each Friday we would rotate in cleaning the classroom.

4.      Extra-curricular activities

Such activities have ingrained in them rules, codes of conduct, the need to do team work etc. In order to be able to be effective in these activities an individual gets to learn how to align their temperament and conduct to meet the objectives of the activity. This instills discipline in the individual.

5.      Punishment

This can be through corporal means, detention, being given a task to do, withholding of certain privileges etc. All this was (and is) aimed at ensuring one learns there are consequences for overstepping boundaries which are established. School is a microcosm of the greater society. Learning these lessons in a somewhat controlled environment goes a long way in equipping an individual to function in the society where there are many potential pitfalls.

These are but some of the ways in which discipline can be taught in the process of ‘training up a child’. The direction a tree should grow is easier to shape and direct at the sapling stage and not when the tree is deeply rooted and has established a strong trunk. In the same way, it is easier to start instilling certain values at the early stages of a child’s life instead of trying to bend them a certain way latter on in life. All that might be possible later in life if the child is already hard set on a particular way of living (roots deep set) and a certain stubbornness (strong trunk) might be trimming of branches- dealing with issues but not addressing the core matters.

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