Corporal Punishment: A Permanent Feature in African Schools

Corporal Punishment: A Permanent Feature in African Schools


Despite progressive legislation against physical abuse of children in most African countries, corporal punishment remains widespread in the African classroom. There seem to be a silent and unwritten rule that the best and disciplined children are those who are, “raised by the hand”. This then begs the question: Is punishment the best form of education?
Corporal punishment entails the use of, “physical force causing pain”, not with the intention to harm but to enforce discipline. This may be done through different ways like spanking, slapping and knocking on the head. As for primary school teachers, their favorite is the pinching of the ear. It is a different way to tell the child to listen carefully during lessons. However, the most prevalent and extreme form of corporal punishment is canning .It is usually carried out in public for, “serious offenses” at school. What entails serious differs from school to school, depending with the school’s culture. In most cases, offences like being rude and disrespectful to teachers, drinking alcohol, smoking and indecent assault can result in heavy flogging.
Therein lies the problem! Who determines what a serious offence is? And at what stage will one not cross the line between enforcing discipline and physical abuse?
South Africa, which is lauded for its progressive Constitution after the Apartheid era, has outlawed corporal punishment. The Constitution calls for respect of everyone’s dignity which should not be debased by, “inhuman and degrading” punishment. The Convention on the Rights of the Child also cries out for African countries to legislate on educational and administrative measures that protect the child. This therefore calls out for other alternatives to corporal punishment. It is thus essential for teachers to be equipped with guidance and counselling skills to confront disciplinary problems at schools. Enforcing any form of corporal punishment will eventually mound learners into violent adult citizens. It must be noted that, if, “children are trained, they learn how to train others”. Simply put, violence begets violence.
Recent research has shown that corporal punishment has adverse consequences. In most cases where corporal punishment is used, the rate of violent crime is also high. Violent crimes amongst adolescents can be contributed to, “institutionalized violence” at schools which is aimed at, “constructive behavior change”. However children tend to internalize this form of training and end up meting it out on others as a way to establish “authority and order”. As a result, corporal punishment can lead to depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. There are students who are afraid to go to school just at the thought of being beaten for either being late or not completing their homework. Some children develop, “emotional scars” which seriously lowers their self-esteem. They lose a sense of belonging and are choked with shame for all their schooling days. This negatively impact on their learning and in the long run affects positive human development.
Much as teachers are seen as, “father figures”, and role models, it must be emphasized that punishment is not the best form of education. Teachers have an, “ethical duty”, to eradicate all forms of violence and the classroom is the best place to begin. For corporal punishment results in docile citizens who are cowed with fear and a diminished ego.

Written by Shepherd Mutsvara

Maphosa, C. and Shumba, A. (2010) “Educator’s disciplinary capabilities after the banning of corporal punishment in South African schools”. South African Journal of Education vol 30; 387-389

Mncube, V and Harber, C (2013) “The Dynamics of Violence in South African Schools: Report. University of South Africa, Muckleneuck, Pretoria.