Each year, hundreds of thousands of students are subjected to corporal punishment in public and private schools even religious places of learning aren’t left out. Despite the lacerations, untold problems associated with the hitting, spanking, or paddling of students, corporal punishment is a form of school discipline and many educators have come to debate endlessly whether corporal punishment should be adopted or not.
Aside from the infliction of pain and the physical injuries which often result from the use of physical punishments, these violent disciplinary methods also impact students’ academic achievement and long-term well-being. Despite significant evidence that corporal punishment is detrimental to a productive learning environment, there is currently no uniform prohibition on the use of physical discipline against children and students across Nigeria.
According to the World Health Organisation, corporal or physical punishment is highly prevalent globally, both in homes and schools. Around 60 per cent of children aged 2–14 years regularly suffer physical punishment from their parents or other caregivers. In some countries, almost all students report being physically punished by school staff. The fact is there is no class or discrimination when it comes to corporal punishment, the risk of being physically punished is similar for boys and girls, and for children from wealthy and poor households.
Edugist findings show that corporal punishment increases children’s behavioural problems over time and has positive and negative outcomes. All corporal punishment, however mild or light, carries an inbuilt risk of escalation. Other Studies also suggest that parents, teachers, and guardians who used corporal punishment are at heightened risk of perpetrating severe maltreatment.
What classroom teachers say about corporal punishment
Awoyale Oluwafunmibi, Lagos school teacher and administrator, HighWay College, Ilupeju, Lagos State, shares that corporal punishment is a controversial topic among educators and it boils down to ethics, methods and practicalities. She said corporal punishment affects the psychology of a child and sometimes it makes them remorseful other times it makes them rigid and stubborn.
According to her “corporal punishment in schools is a controversial topic among many educators. The arguments for and against mainly revolve around the ethics and practicalities of using physical force as a way of maintaining students’ discipline, however, corporal punishment affect the psychological wellbeing of a child, instead of making the child remorseful.We don’t flog in my school,” she told Edugist.
Samuel Okunnuwa, a mathematics teacher at Peculiar Treasure School Osogbo, Osun State, told Edugist that he supports corporal punishment but should be done with moderation. According to him, “I flog students’ palms and I am always very careful when doing that. Where I teach there they don’t allow it in order to curb the excesses.”
Korede Olonade, a student teacher from Ekiti State pointed out that the only method of instilling order and enforcing discipline is through corporal punishment.
“When I was very young, my teachers beat me and that made me who I am today, so, as a teacher I beat my students and in fact, we do it here very well.”.
Another school teacher at Dammyville private school, Yaba,Blessing Ayomiotan, explains that in her school teachers take students to head teachers or the proprietor for decision on disciplinary measure as cane is totally disallowed. She claims that although teachers use their discretion to beat stubborn children and students by making use of rulers, beating is totally prohibited.
“We don’t beat our students, as flogging is not allowed, if a child misbehaves we take them to the head teachers or proprietress for disciplinary measures.”
Ben Otega, economics teacher, Dee Excellent Tutorial College, Mushin, Lagos State, agreed that schools should take caution with the way they react to corporal punishment but also shared that there are cases where lack of discipline in schools contribute to moral decadence.
He stated that while caution should be taken to curb excesses, teachers must find very suitable ways of instilling discipline rather than always beating a child as that can affect so many things.
“In my school here we don’t take the issue of discipline lightly but we frown at corporal punishment as it is very essential teachers show high level professionalism in dealing with students”.
Eniola James, Oyo state primary school teacher lamented how the issue of corporal punishment is making life miserable for students, educators and parents. She confessed that there are cases where students have been beaten to death by teachers and there will be cases because the education sector lacks enforcement.
While reacting to her stand on corporal punishment, she maintained that there should be modalities and not total eradication. She said “schools in my area today as I speak don’t have students who fear teachers because there is no room for discipline in these schools.I know teachers overdo this thing called discipline but do we have measures put in place by schools and the ministry of education to control discipline and the methods”.
Lagos state and corporal punishment
In Lagos,the Commissioner for Education, Folashade Adefisayo, says the state government has put a stop to all forms of corporal punishment in its public schools according to a publication in the media May 26,2022. She decried the prevalence of corporal punishment in schools and homes, as the effects in most cases result in negative outcomes.
According to her, there are instances where corporal punishment meted out to students have resulted in the death of the child or student involved. She said: “There had been occasions whereby corporal punishment given by a teacher to a child either in the form of flogging or bullying had eventually led to the death of the child, thereby implicating the teacher.”
What experts say about corporal punishment
Gbonjubola Abiri, a consultant psychiatrist at the Lagos State Teaching Hospital (LASUTH) said of the findings “definitely there is a wild array of mental disorders that can happen from corporal punishment, anxiety is one of them. You tell the child I am going to hit you and the child is already shaking, fearful and worried.”
Abiri added, “A lot of children avoid going to schools where they are beaten because they think they will be beaten. If they are beaten, they are unhappy; they are worried. Even shouting at children, some even end up urinating on themselves. Aside from anxiety and depression, some children will have sleep problems; some will refuse to eat and interestingly some will actually take their own lives.” He stated that in some instances corporal punishment had caused physical health problems, including broken bones and damaged organs and seizures when some parents hit children or pushed their heads against walls.
Tolulope Bella-Awusah, head of department,Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, University College Hospital, Ibadan, said corporal punishment was not good for the mental health and brain functioning of a child. She listed corporal punishment to include slapping, spanking, bullying, flogging, striking and pinching. According to her: “In society, corporal punishment is used to train, discipline and correct misbehaviours among children.“Scientifically, using corporal punishment such as flogging or beating is not an effective way to correct children because it makes them to be aggressive, drug abusers or stubborn in life.
“So, there is no need to beat children with the intention to correct them because its effects will manifest later in their lives.” But in a preliminary study at the Centre for Child and Adolescent Mental Health, University of Ibadan on the perception of children on corporal punishment, 49 per cent of children interviewed said it made them dislike school and 48 per cent said that it made them hate their teachers. Still, 65 per cent said that it made them angry a lot. Only 60 per cent agreed that it helped to change their behaviour.
Meanwhile, many agree that corporal punishment is a violation of children’s rights to respect for physical integrity and human dignity, health, development, education and freedom from torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
“The elimination of violence against children is called for in several targets of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development but most explicitly in Target 16.2: “end abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against and torture of children”.
Corporal punishment and the associated harms are preventable through multisectoral and multifaceted approaches, including law reform, changing harmful norms around child rearing and punishment, parent and caregiver support, and school-based programming,” according to WHO
Global use of school corporal punishment
The U.S. is the only member of the United Nations that has not yet ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, an international treaty adopted in 1989 that, among other things, protects children “from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation.”
Somalia ratified the convention in 2015 — the 196th country to do so. Globally, about half of all children aged 6 to 17 years live in countries where school corporal punishment is “not fully prohibited,” according to the World Health Organisation. But legal bans do not necessarily mean corporal punishment ceases to exist, a team of researchers from the University of Cape Town learned after examining 53 peer-reviewed studies conducted in various parts of the planet and published between 1980 and 2017. In South Africa, for instance, half of students reported being corporally punished at school despite a ban instituted in 1996, the researchers note.
“There is also concern that school staff and administrators may underreport school corporal punishment even where it is legal,” the reports stated, adding that a study in Tanzania found that students tended to report twice as much corporal punishment as teachers.
While there’s limited research on corporal punishment in U.S. schools, numerous studies of corporal punishment in U.S. homes have determined it is associated with a range of harms. When Gershoff and fellow researcher Andrew Grogan-Kaylor combined and analyzed the results of 75 research studies on parental spanking published before June 1, 2014, they found no evidence it improves children’s behavior.
In fact, they discovered that kids spanked by their parents have a greater likelihood of experiencing 13 detrimental outcomes, including aggression, antisocial behavior, impaired cognitive ability and low self-esteem during childhood and antisocial behavior and mental health problems in adulthood. Gershoff says children who are physically disciplined at school likely are affected in similar ways.
“There’s nothing to make me think that wouldn’t hold for corporal punishment in schools,” she says. “In fact, I think it might be more problematic in schools because of the lack of a strong relationship in the schools between the children and the person who’s doing the paddling.”
Other research by Gershoff offers insights into the types of misbehavior that lead to corporal punishment. She found that public school principals, teachers and other staff members have used physical punishment for a range of offenses, including tardiness, disrespecting teachers, running in the hallways and receiving bad grades.
Some children have been disciplined so harshly they suffered injuries, “including bruises, hematomas, nerve and muscle damage, cuts, and broken bones,” Gershoff and colleague Sarah Font write in the journal Social Policy Report in 2016. The Society for Adolescent Medicine estimated in 2003 that 10,000 to 20,000 students require medical attention each year in the U.S. as a result of school corporal punishment. The organization has not updated its estimate since then, however.
In Sierra leone there is a ban on corporal punishment since 2021, According to a report by Strengthening Accountability Building Inclusion (SABI), 89 per cent of students report having been flogged in school; and a frequency of about 56 per cent reporting been flogged once a week is eminent. In a press release, the Ministry of Education said a comprehensive policy and strategy that includes training and support for teachers in positive discipline will be implemented.