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CORPORAL PUNISHMENT

Spare the cane, sign the bond?

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Spare the rod, but in its place, insist on an undertaking of a child's good behaviour from the parents. This is what private schools in Kerala are now doing. The institutions are asking parents to put their signature on a code of good conduct which promises that their children will maintain discipline in school. This is the school's attempt at keeping order at a time when caning and other forms of physical punishment have been banned by the Centre. 

"We are making parents sign a code of good behaviour. It is an alternative to corporal punishment. Children have to abide by the rules set by schools till the time they are in uniform. It acts as a deterrent, as parents play an important role in the education of their children by supporting the school staff in maintaining a good learning environment for all students, " says T P M Ibrahim Khan, president of the Kerala CBSE School Management Association.

The ministry of women and child development issued guidelines banning physical punishment of students in 2010. A first violation could lead to up to one year in jail, or a fine of Rs 50, 000, or both. For subsequent violations, imprisonment could extend to three years with an additional fine of Rs 25, 000. The ministry guidelines put the onus of preventing corporal punishment on the heads of schools. Teachers found guilty of imposing physical penalties could be denied promotion and increments. But there is no statutory definition of corporal punishment. The Right to Education Act, 2009, merely states: "No child shall be subjected to physical punishment or mental harassment. "

"School is a place where the transformation of a child takes place, and the grooming of children is the joint effort of the school and parents. Also, parents are now keenly interested in their children's development and behaviour. It helps both parties, and children benefit, " says N M George, principal of Toc H Public School in Ernakulam.

Parents are made to sign the bond either at the time of their ward joining school or every year at the annual parent-teacher meet, or during open house. In it, they are asked to ensure that their children don't disrupt school or violate its rules. They have to promise that their children will not damage or steal school property, assault fellow students, rise up in insubordination, indulge in any disgraceful act, use obscene language or possess dangerous weapons, tobacco, narcotic drugs and alcohol. The students must stick to a proper dress code in school and are prohibited from using cell phones inside the institution or in school buses.

Repeated violations of the code by children may lead to immediate suspension, expulsion or permanent exclusion from the school. "This document comes in handy if the school authorities have to take harsh steps against a student for misbehaving in school, " says K Unnikrishnan, president of the Confederation of Kerala Sahodaya Complexes. A Sahodaya school complex is a group of neighbourhood CBSE schools that share innovative education practices.

Psychiatrists, though, do not endorse the idea and believe that both corporal punishment and getting parents to endorse a code of good conduct are signs of laziness. They say these are short cuts that schools adopt instead of identifying a child's real problem and working to correct it. "Discipline is a dedicated and committed mission and it should be the joint effort of the teacher and parent. By putting the onus on parents for their child breaking rules, schools are indulging in blame-game, " says Dr C J John, a psychiatrist.

Though corporal punishment is banned in schools, it usually exists in one form or the other. The Kerala government has in the past issued a circular banning corporal punishment using class representatives and monitors.

Making it clear that no class should remain without a teacher, the state has asked schools to stop "the system of using monitors and leaders for preparing the list of students and punishing them in the absence of a teacher in the class. "
"We want to ensure that schools don't indulge in corporal punishment in any form and therefore issued the circular, " says the director of public instruction, A Shahjahan.

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