Six of the best keep children in line

12th January 1996 at 00:00
Volunteer teachers are concerned at the liberal use of corporal punishment overseas, reports Frances Rafferty

Beating children is no longer on the curriculum for teachers in Britain corporal punishment is outlawed in state schools and only a handful of private schools still wield the cane.

But teachers taking up jobs overseas, particularly in the developing countries, are expected to work in schools where corporal punishment is a regular feature.

"This is often a concern for teachers who come to our training sessions, " said Ann Childs, who gives pep talks to volunteers from Voluntary Service Overseas.

Most teachers who attend Ms Child's lessons are very much against the idea of hitting children and she reassures them that it is highly unlikely they will be expected to. It is usually the job of a senior member of staff, but if a teacher reports a child's misbehaviour then it is likely they will be beaten.

Ms Childs finds returning volunteer teachers have a different perspective: "When I went to work in Sierra Leone, I was against corporal punishment. But after six months my attitude was a little different. It was part of the school culture, accepted by staff and children and sanctioned by the parents.

"I have not been converted to the use of the cane, but, as I explain to the volunteers, these matters are often different when in another context. When abroad you often have to accept the way they do things."

She also explains to volunteers that detention is seen as a punishment for the teacher. Unlike their British counterparts who can get on with marking while they guard the recalcitrants, teachers in developing countries often have to supplement their wages. Many have a plot of land and after school hours need to tend it.

Louise Auchterlonie had problems when she was sent to a government school in south Tanzania to teach mathematics. As teacher on morning duty she had to check that pupils, aged 15 to 20, were punctual. But once they realised she was against physical punishment they became less disciplined. One morning, more than 30 were late.

"I tried to use other sorts of punishment but once they realised I would not cane them they started to abuse my authority. In the end I had to report them to another teacher who punished them," she said.

Ms Auchterlonie did discuss the issue with other members of staff who told her that children needed to be threatened with a beating to stay in line. It is legal in Tanzania to administer six strokes with a stick on the buttocks for boys and hands for girls.

"What I couldn't understand was that it seemed to be the only type of punishment. There was no gradation in relation to the seriousness of the misdemeanour," said Ms Auchterlonie.

Entrance to secondary school (which starts at 14) is determined by examination and parents are expected to make a contribution. Ms Auchterlonie found the pupils well motivated and behaved.

"It is a great contrast to some of the schools I've taught at in England. Classes of 40 or more sit and listen and copy down everything you say. It was also easier because you weren't expected to entertain them all the time. British children quickly complain that they are bored.

"But one problem with the teacher being a distant, authoritarian figure was that you had to work hard to make them interact and respond. In Britain you enjoy a much more relaxed relationship and can chat to your pupils."

She said the rights and wrongs of corporal punishment were beginning to be discussed in newspaper articles in the capital, but in rural areas it was just part of life. Teachers said it worked and did not see any reason to make changes.

Nick Burn is the VSO's field director in Tanzania. He said: "I tell the schools that it could compromise the volunteers professionally, when they return to England, if they beat children. And the volunteers are warned not to directly undermine the school's policy. But it is up to them if they want to discuss the issue in the staffroom.

"Finding an alternative is not always easy. Detention or extra work is actually enjoyed by the children. Instead, giving them a boring task, for example turning them into a copying machine, is more of a punishment.

"Another ploy is to make the boys carry water or other traditionally female tasks."

* UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Fund, has published a report, Karibu Tanzania, an introduction to Tanzania for schools.

The pack contains background information for teachers of child-ren of all ages, and it will be accompanied by a key stage 1 booklet. The report has been launched to co-incide with national non uniform day, February 7, and funds raised from the event will be sent to a Unicef scheme for disabled children in Zanzibar.

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