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‘It’s my classroom!’ - Unruly teachers continuing to administer corporal punishment to students despite warnings of possible criminal charges

Published:Thursday | January 17, 2019 | 12:00 AMNadine Wilson-Harris
Students making their way home from school last Thursday.
Primary school students in Cross Road, St Andrew last week.

Some of the nation's children are still experiencing, and witnessing, cases of child abuse in the classroom daily despite the Government's directive that corporal punishment is prohibited in schools.

One grade four primary school student told The Sunday Gleaner recently that it is customary for his class teacher to pinch him and other students with her long nails until they bleed.

"She pinch us and then sometimes she lick us with an iron ruler," said the 10-year-old with innocence in his voice.

"She don't pay the girls them any mind, she only pay the boys them mind, and she will pinch us if she say quiet and we still a talk," added the young boy who attends a Corporate Area primary school.

He charged that the teacher has declared that she has control of her classroom and will enforce discipline as she sees fit.

"She tell we say is her classroom and not even the police or the ministry can tell her how to deal with we. She all tell the parents that she will 'sort we out' if we nah behave," alleged the student.

Similar encounters were shared by other students when our news team went on the roads of the Corporate Area. Oftentimes, the stories surrounded the boys, who it seems receive the brunt of the lashings.

"One of our class teachers beat us with a long ruler, or a board, or a hose," claimed one grade four student in Cross Roads, St Andrew.

"She beat a little boy in our class with a hose. She cut it (hose) long," said the female student.

Her classmate said that in the case of girls, they are often asked to hold four heavy books in their hands for long periods. More books are added if a child fidgets or drop the ones that were already given.

One grade two student who was seen playing in Cross Roads, St Andrew, said that his teacher often beat them with her hands.

His friend, who attends the same school but is in a higher grade, said the punishment was much harsher for his classmates and himself, as his teacher had a makeshift strap which she would use whenever a student was caught playing in her classroom.

President of the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA), Dr Garth Anderson, told The Sunday Gleaner that his organisation has been encouraging teachers to desist from utilising corporal punishment in the classroom.

"In more recent times, we have been using all the forums we have with teachers to tell them to desist from using corporal punishment or any other form of punishment that is deemed abusive," said Anderson.

"The policy in the Ministry of Education is that it is not supposed to be used, even though it is still on the books," added Anderson.

He said the teachers generally seem to understand the implications for not adhering to the policy.

"I think those we talk with understand fully what it is and what can be the consequences, because there have in fact been teachers who have been taken to court and before their own board of management for that. So we have to take a strong action in resisting the urge to use it; we have to find alternative ways of treating with students behaviour," said Anderson.

General ban

Prime Minister Andrew Holness has said that his Government is committed to eventually banning corporal punishment in the general society.

"I think the modern society that we are striving for must make a decision that public institutions must not use violence as a means of correction, discipline or righting wrongs," Holness declared during his contribution to the 2017-18 Budget Debate.

While there were signs that the use of beatings in the classroom was not as widespread as in previous years, it was obvious that teachers were finding other tactful but painful methods to punish their young charges.

Students from one primary school pointed to a male teacher who would often use his knuckles to 'conk' (hit) them on their foreheads, or sink his fingers in their shoulders.

"When they are on the corridor and he is running them in, he would conk them if they are taking too long," said one from the group of five students seen at a bus park last week.

Another said her physical education teacher slapped her with her hand because she did not warm up before playing netball.

Getting out of hand

But Anderson has warned teachers that although schools have become a very hostile environment, there are different ways to discipline children.

"The behaviour of our students is really getting out of hand, and in some ways sometimes prevents normal activities at the school and for teachers to carry out their main duty, that is to engage them in teaching and learning," said Anderson, as he endorsed the need for timeout facilities for disruptive students.

Corporal punishment is prohibited in early childhood institutions (ECIs), which would include infant and basic schools while the education ministry's policy position is for it to be banned in all schools.

At common law, a teacher is justified in using moderate and reasonable corporal punishment to discipline a child, except as restricted or abolished by legislation (either expressed or by necessary implication). What is reasonable and moderate depends on the factual circumstances.

In addition to the prohibition in ECIs, the common-law position is subject to the provisions of the Child Care and Protection Act, which essentially criminalises child abuse.

Teachers are bound by their workplace policies and are obligated by the terms of their employment to adhere to the instructions of the principal and board regarding, among other things, their interaction with students.

A joint select committee of Parliament has recommended that the Child Care and Protection Act be amended to make corporal punishment prohibited in all public institutions, places of safety and other institutions.

The report was tabled by Minister of Justice Delroy Chuck last December.