Some African parents will tell you that they believe that their children will not learn without the assistance of the cane.
They cite Proverbs 13:24 in the bible, 'whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him' to make their point. But as MOSES TALEMWA reports, there is a new tendency in town.
In 2012, Kampala-based Ngo, Raising Voices, sought to popularize what it called the Good School Initiative in schools, as their contribution to ending violence against children.
To underline their proposal, Raising Voices initially argued that corporal punishment was nothing more than violence against children. They also cited a 2006 Unicef report that concluded that violence against children carried lasting negative impacts on the physical and mental health of those it was intended to help.
For effect, Raising Voices also argued that high rates of violence contributed to high dropout rates and poor education performance, with girls the most affected.
In place of corporal punishment, Raising Voices developed the Good School kit, which was a set of procedures on how teachers and learners would relate, without having to resort to violence.
Explaining this, Katharina Anton-Erxleben, Raising Vioces' Violence against Children Prevention coordinator, said the kit was developed to enhance the learning environment.
“We know from studies that children learn better without the threat to violence and we sought to prove our doubters that the Good School kit would work in Uganda,” she said.
So, in June 2012, Raising Voices started a two-year randomized trial of the Good School kit in 42 primary schools (in the P5-P7 classes) in Luweero district. This was concluded and some 3,800 learners and 590 staff had participated.
Last week, Hassan Mulusi a programme officer with Raising Voices explained the results of the trial. He revealed that there was a 42 per cent reduction in violence against children in the schools under the trial. The trial also noted a reduction in injuries sustained by children as a result of the violence.
Interestingly, there was a major reduction in violence between learners. But for Mulusi, the more significant changes included a marked attitude change by both learners and teachers.
“The kit significantly promoted student participation at their school, improved feelings of safety and wellbeing at school [among learners],” he said. “The kit also influenced the attitudes of parents in communities, while encouraging teachers to pursue a less authoritarian approach to teaching.”
However, Mulusi was cautious. “The kit is dose responsive, which means that those with more exposure to the toolkit registered more impact,” he said. “The Good School Toolkit provides a holistic solution addressing the school operational culture.”
HOW THE KIT WORKS
The Good School Toolkit holds a series of procedures that enable teachers and learners to relate better, without resorting to violence. Aggrey Mukuwa, another programme officer at Raising Voices explained that teachers were taught to operate without the option of resorting to violence.
“They were taught that there are a series of punishments that a teacher can use to discipline a child that don’t involve violence,” he said. “In addition, there is a teachers’ disciplinary committee and a pupils’ court, where disputes can be resolved.”
And in some cases, the matter has attracted improved working relations in school.
“They used to cane us all the time, when you returned late after break they would cane you, if you performed poorly in a test they would cane, they used to cane us all the time for even small mistakes,” said a P7 pupil. “We used to live in fear all the time. But now our teachers are friendly, they are using positive discipline to help us.”
Two of the schools that implemented the Good School Initiative include Happy Hours PS and Nsaasi Umea PS in Luweero. Asked about its impact, the head teacher at Happy Hours, Mariam Nakiranda, was pleased with the outcome.
“Before this programme, we had a large failure levels … but things are getting better. Girls no longer get pregnant before P7 and the school dropout rate has reduced,” she said.
Her counterpart at Nsaasi Umea PS, Lameck Lukwago, had similar sentiments. “In Africa, we always feel the urge to resist new things, but this programme is improving things for us,” he said.
However, they admitted that there were challenges in embracing the programme in schools. According to Lukwago, several parents withdrew their children when they realised that they would not be beaten. “Parents would come to us and insist, mine must be beaten,” he said.
Lukwago and Nakiranda add that they still have challenges with teachers learning to operate under the Good School Initiative.
“It is no secret that teachers are uncomfortable operating in unfamiliar situations; so, it is a challenge getting the right attitude out of them,” Nakiranda added.
However, Lukwago thinks there is hope for the future. “I’m an example of a teacher who was well known for caning my children, but I realised that it was not improving their performance as much as I wanted,” he said.
Despite the cautious optimism by teachers and parents, the education ministry has indicated that it will take up the Good School Initiative.
At a function held at Metropole hotel in Kampala last week, the director for Basic and Secondary Education, Robinson Nsumba-Lyazi, explained that they were interested in spreading the programme across the country, following the successful pilot in Luweero.
“The ministry of education and sports has a zero-tolerance for violence against children … so, we need to take up this strategy. We urge you to join us in implementing this strategy,” he said.
The strategy has its roots in the Children (Amendment) Act of 2016. This law was spearheaded by the MP for Ayivu county, Bernard Atiku. The MP insists that the law will be implemented, regardless of opposition from some parents and students.
“By the end of the year the regulations will be out and by next year the law will be in place, so there will be no excuse for schools that insist on corporal punishment,” Atiku said.
His comment was in relation to concerns that some of the best performing schools in the country are reportedly still using corporal punishment to extract good performances.
While Nakiranda and Lukwago agree that the learning environment has improved due to the Good School initiative, they are undecided on whether it will reap the first-class academic performances that parents seek.