View from here - Does a cane make you more able?

5th March 2010 at 00:00
Corporal punishment has been banned for more than a decade in the UK, but it remains a hit in Tanzanian schools. Lizzy Fry reports

Being caned is a distant memory for many Britons. Therefore, it was rather a shock that, at Machame Primary School in the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro, corporal punishment remains a part of life. Almost every teacher carries a metre-long cane or rough-hewn stick to serve as a reminder of the consequences of bad behaviour, even if rarely put into practice.

One of the other volunteer teachers reported seeing a child being ordered to lie on the ground in his precious uniform before being whacked on the backs of his legs. Thankfully, the teacher did not seem to hit the boy with much force.

After two weeks of being at Machame, caning began to feel like the norm. I'm in no way tempted to try it, yet since being here, I understand the logic behind it. The children are immaculately behaved and polite, thus beatings are a rarity.

They hold the utmost respect for their teachers in a way that is unimaginable in UK schools. The difference here is that school offers an element of escape from the vast number of responsibilities of daily life that befall Tanzanian children from an early age.

At the beginning of lessons, the class chants "education is the key of life". This is not simply recited but wholeheartedly believed, as education offers each child the greatest hope for the future.

However, there are other aspects of Tanzanian schools that can make a western teacher uncomfortable. Pupils are expected to act as mini-servants to the teachers: it is not uncommon for a teacher to enter a classroom empty-handed, followed by a child of seven or eight carrying 40 exercise books.

The children are also responsible for the upkeep of the grounds, with Monday and Tuesday afternoons declared cleaning days where they wash floors, clean toilets and tidy classrooms.

Lessons can be repeated over and over again, and it can be disappointing how little information some children retain. The standard approach seems to be to push on and not worry much about pupils who get left behind. This may be one explanation for the low proportion of pupils who go on to secondary school (12 per cent) and to university (0.9 per cent).

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