Recently there have been disturbing reports pertaining to the issue of child abuse in our schools to the extent that some students ultimately got brutally abused by teachers. Any heinous and gruesome abuse of students by teachers and vice-versa is highly regrettable and should be rebuked in the strongest possible terms. Any form of violence directed at students as people in a lesser position of power in schools consequently affects the student both physically and emotionally and the end result is that the student will be impacted negatively.
As such, it is an open secret that any excessive use of force by teachers on students and or any brutal action directed towards teachers by students are crimes which are punishable before the applicable laws of Botswana. Schools are supposed to be safe platforms of social discourse where jovial and peaceful relations are supposed to be nurtured. Teachers on the other hand are parents by virtue of their position and are not only supposed to educate the children but also protect them from any danger which is likely to temper with their integrity, dignity or their life in general.
Here I am reminded of the words of a prominent progressive educator, John Dewey, who maintained the philosophy that schools are supposed to be platforms of democracy where through good relationships between teachers and students, we are likely to produce good citizens who will actively participate in the democratic process of a nation. From that democratic stand point, it goes without saying that the attitudes of teachers toward students and vice-versa should be attitudes which reflect great moral fibre within a school as a social institution. Therefore, brutality and humiliation of any of the parties within a school environment is beyond imaginable. BTU as a principled people’s organization has a mandate to protect both teachers and students as they engage within the teaching-learning process and therefore any form of deliberate action which is motivated by the evil brutal intent to harm or kill cannot be celebrated. Of course, we are aware that currently corporal punishment is legal within Botswana schools. However, the dicey issue is that corporal punishment should be administered within the stipulated regulations which include amongst others; ascertaining that the punishment has been authorized and or administered by the School Head who also has the supreme authority to delegate a teacher to administer it on his or her behalf.
Also, it is vital that the stick that is used to “correct behaviour” is within the recommended length of between 75cm-1m and the diameter of 1cm. The regulation is also clear that male teachers cannot administer corporal punishment on female students for obvious moral reasons. Among other things, let it also be noted that the number of sticks administered do not go beyond the recommended number of between 1-5 strokes depending on the gravity and magnitude of the offence. Above all, it is essential that the punishment be recorded as per the outlines of the regulations.
It is therefore important that both teachers and administrators religiously adhere to the regulations, lest they find themselves on the negative side of the law. On the basis of the above, let me categorically advance the point that as BTU we love both our teachers and students and we would not want to find any of this important stakeholders’ life or profession in jeopardy. Several researches on corporal punishment in schools have indicated that it is often abused to the extent that student are humiliated and brutally abused for minor offences such as arriving late for school, talking to a colleague in class, coming to school without having taken a shower, failing amongst others. Such offences in other people’s judgements could be labelled as serious but the scary issue is that should legal action be taken against a teacher who misused or abused corporal punishment along this lines, chances are their job will be on the line and a lawsuit is likely to drain them financially and lead to dire financial embarrassment.
One is consequently likely to lose their job which certainly is not a good thing. Should such a thing occur, we as BTU will be greatly disturbed because we want our teachers to work for their families as well as contribute positively-as they have always done towards the building of the nation by sharing their unique knowledge. Let me therefore appeal to all our beloved teachers out there to protect the rights of our children at the same time ascertaining that their rights are also protected. Of course there are instances where students have assaulted teachers and my plea with you teachers is that should such a scenario occur, make sure you take appropriate actions which are covered by the law. The same goes for the future leaders of our country-the students, please respect your teachers and also make sure that you do not go out of the line to create unnecessary crimes which might negatively affect your future. Our democracy needs both responsible teachers as well as dedicated students who respect themselves as well as others. To be found on the negative side of law is not a good thing-there is need to exercise caution and restraint in all that we do within the corridors of our schools.
*Ibo Nana Kenosi is the Secretary General of Botswana Teachers Union