Long demanded by child rights advocates, corporal punishment has been dropped as a method of discipline in schools under the Education Bill 2014 which was tabled in the National Assembly by Minister of Education Priya Manickchand yesterday.
Section 49 of the Bill deals with Maintenance of Order and Discipline in Schools and it says that the principal and staff of a public school shall ensure that order and discipline prevail in accordance with the Manual.
The document referred to, the Manual of Guidelines for the Maintenance of Order and Discipline in Schools, speaks to the right of the schools to maintain order and discipline. It provides detailed provisions dealing with unacceptable behaviour or offences, suspension, expulsion and education in a special school for expelled students.
It says that it is the responsibility of the administrative and non-administrative staff of every school to ensure that its climate is one in which order and discipline prevail and every school has the right to institute measures or take appropriate action to ensure that order and discipline are not compromised by any student.
The Manual makes provisions for the suspension of a student but says that no school has the authority to expel a student from its rolls but it may recommend the expulsion of a student for consideration by the Head of the Education Department and the Chief Education Officer. “The students are expected to respect and follow all lawful directives of the administrative and non-administrative staff of the school and any deliberate failure on the part of a student to comply with the same will subject the student liable to disciplinary action,” it says.
According to the Manual, disciplinary action against a student shall be determined by the competent authority having due regard to the age of the student; the physical and mental health of the student; the nature and seriousness of the unacceptable behaviour or offence; the frequency of the misdemeanour on the climate of the school; and the compelling circumstances and family background of the student.
The document says that in the maintenance of order and discipline in a school, the Head Teacher shall lead in the formulation and implementation of a Code of Conduct and Disciplinary Policy for the school. Teachers as well as parents have the right to participate in the drafting and reviewing of the Code of Conduct and Disciplinary Policy of the school.
A student may be penalised for unacceptable behaviour under four categories with the sternest being expulsion. Detention, is one of the methods of discipline and the Manual says that when repeated detentions fail, then the student should be referred to the Head Teacher for any other disciplinary action or sanction.
A provision in a previous draft of the Bill which said that subject to the Manual, corporal punishment would be administered “only when no other punishment is considered suitable or effective in the particular case,” and it may only be administered by the principal, deputy principal or a teacher specifically designated by the principal for the purpose, is no longer in the Bill. Corporal punishment was a prominent feature of the debate during the period of consultation and when the country was reviewed at the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in 2010, Guyana had committed to public consultations on corporal punishment.
Repeal and replace
The Education Bill 2014 seeks to repeal and replace the Education Act and it reforms the legal framework of education in Guyana and provides “an effective system of education related to the needs of the people.”
Article 149H (1) of the Constitution mandates that every child is entitled to free primary and secondary education in schools owned or funded by the State and the Bill makes provision for giving effect to this Article subject to available resources of the State and the availability of educational facilities to all persons in Guyana.
The Bill contains provisions for ensuring free education to all persons. It relates to quality education at all levels both in public as well as private schools and other educational institutions in Guyana. According to the Explana-tory Memorandum, the existing school management system is being strengthened giving maximum participation of parents and teachers in the management of schools.
Discipline of students in schools is provided for and the Bill says that these measures will enure to the benefit of children, enhancing their talents, mental and physical and ensuring a rounded education in all schools.
Part II of the Bill, which relates to the administration of the education system, provides for the establishment of a decentralized education system of management and a National Advisory Committee on Education.
It also empowers the Minister to appoint Special Committees to advise the Minister on various matters relating to education.
Part III mainly deals with the rights and responsibilities of students and parents and the procedure relating to admission and attendance of students in schools, compulsory school attendance of children of compulsory school age and maintenance of order and discipline in public schools in accordance with the Manual.
Clause 15 provides that, subject to available resources, all persons in Guyana are entitled to receive education appropriate to their age and needs. Clause 16 envisages compulsory education to all persons of compulsory school age. Clause 25 provides for formation of Parent Teacher Associa-tions and a National Parent Teacher Association. Clause 26 provides for the establishment of a School Committee in the absence of a Parent Teacher Association. Clauses 28 to 38 deal with school admissions and school attendance. Clause 39 provides that an academic school year shall not be more than forty weeks. Clauses 39 to 48 deal with enforcement of compulsory school attendance programme.
Part IV deals with the categories of schools and the stages of school education. Primary education, secondary education and tertiary education are the stages of public education. However, the Minister may, by order, include as part of the system of public education pre-primary education, education to meet the requirements of students who are gifted or have exceptional ability, special education in accordance with Part VI, adult and continuing education and distance education.
Clause 53 provides for the establishment of public pre-primary and primary schools. These schools shall be managed and controlled by the Minister. The pre-primary schools established under the existing Education Act shall continue to function. Clause 54 provides for establishment and maintenance of public secondary schools by the Minister. Clause 54 empowers the Minister to establish a board of governors for every public school whenever the Minister considers it necessary for the economy, efficiency and participation of the community in the management of education.
Clauses 65 to 87 deal with the establishment and administration of private educational institutions and private schools providing pre-primary, primary, special and secondary education in instructional services in general at the tertiary level and in vocational education and training at the secondary, tertiary and adult levels. Clause 67 makes it mandatory that for operating a private educational institution or private school a permit is required to be obtained from the Minister.
Further, provisions in this part deal with the matters relating to the grant or refusal of a permit and the maintenance of a Private Schools Register by the Chief Education Officer.
Part V – Management of Public Educational Institutions – contains provisions relating to the establishment and management of public educational institutions, teachers colleges and technical colleges as the Minister may determine. Clause 91 provides for the establishment of publicly funded branches of the Teachers’ Colleges in the regions of Guyana and Clause 92 applies the Act to President’s College and the Industrial Training Schools.
Part VI – Other Types of Education – deals with special education programmes for students of compulsory school age and certain students beyond the compulsory school age who by virtue of intellectual, communicative, behavioural, physical or multiple exceptionalities are in need of special education. The special education programme may take the form of individual education plan tailored to suit the specific or individual needs of the student concerned.
Part VII deals with employment of teachers, their age, qualifications, etc. while Part VIII – Curriculum Assessment of Students – provides detailed provisions relating to the establishment of a national curriculum, assessment of stages, determination of attainment targets and constitution of subject panels for creating and revising a national curriculum.
Inspection of public schools
Part IX deals with inspection of public schools at least three times in an academic year by the Regional Education Officer or any person authorised by the Regional Education Officer while Part X deals with various miscellaneous matters including the procedure for search of students in schools for possession of intoxicating liquor, drugs, firearms, stolen goods, etc., use of school premises by vendors of food, beverages, etc., power of Minister to make Regulations for properly carrying out the provisions of the Act and repeal of the former Education Act.
Clause 125 contains the transitional provisions.
The National Council for Education constituted under the former Act is dissolved. However, the board of management or a governing board established under the former Act is allowed to be continued until a board of management or governing board is constituted under this Act.
The Bill will become law when it is passed by the National Assembly and assented to by the President.