Children cannot learn effectively where there is a fear of ‘licks’

Dear Editor,

Last week, my Grade 1 niece asked for some help to do her homework. I patiently guided her to the answers which she actually worked out herself, showing that she knew the work, only that she needed some guidance and confidence-boosting to arrive at the answers. The last question required two words that have the ‘e’ sound. I asked her for such a word, she immediately said, “Egg,” and wrote it down. She couldn’t think of another, so I sent her to look at the alphabet chart for a word. I suggested ‘key’ as I sounded the ‘e’ in it and explained that it has the ‘e’ sound. As she wrote the word, to my surprise she said, “If this is wrong, I hope Miss doesn’t give me licks.”

Children are still beaten in Guyana for learning mistakes. This is a clear breach of the regulations that govern the use of corporal punishment. I heard the trepidation in my niece’s voice as she uttered those words. Children cannot learn effectively in an atmosphere of fear of licks. It is not right. It is barbarism.

Furthermore, I learned that the children have to pay the teacher $20 for the photocopied homework sheet, earning the teacher a tidy profit of at least $4 per sheet. As the body responsible for education policy in Guyana, it is the Ministry of Education that must supply the funds for teachers to photocopy homework, not for parents to do so. It is the Ministry of Education that must see that teachers are properly trained in non-violent pedagogy at education workshops, at the Cyril Potter College of Education and at the University of Guyana. These are the systemic deficiencies that fuel Guyana’s present state of societal violence that we all bewail.

Recently, local religious leaders indicated their desire to be more vocal and proactive against domestic violence. This is a good move and it begins the long road of atonement for centuries of religiously-inspired violence against women and children. However, I note they were silent on one issue which is the elephant in the room.

In their movement against domestic violence they must include the foundational violence, that is, the institutionalized violence against children that goes under the euphemism of corporal punishment. If not, then they cannot see the inconsistency in their well-meant and much-needed crusade, actually just a half crusade, if they ignore the burning issue of corporal punishment.

Meanwhile, during July-August, 2010, three more nations de-institutionalized all forms of corporal punishment of children: Tunisia in July, and Poland and Kenya in August, bringing the total number of countries that have banished this barbarity to the dustbin of history to twenty-nine.

In the 25 years from 1979 to 2004, fourteen nations achieved full prohibition of corporal punishment in all settings. In the last six years, the total has more than doubled to twenty-nine. Corporal punishment in schools has been abolished in 110 countries, including 37 European states, 22 African nations, China and India.

Yours faithfully,
Michael Xiu Quan-Balgobind-Hackett

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