Print Edition - 2018-07-22  |  Free the Words

Spare the rod

  • There are better ways of disciplining unruly students than using physical punishment
- Umesh Raj Regmi, GEORGE W HOLDEN

Jul 22, 2018-

Teacher responses to disciplinary problems in Nepali schools are alarming. Discipline and learning go hand-in-hand and are integral parts of classroom instruction. How else can children learn manners as well as their lessons? But the widespread solution in Nepali schools of physically punishing children is misguided. However, till date no careful study has been conducted as to the extent of the problem or why our teachers continue to rely on physical force to get the children into the line of discipline. Nepal is one of the signatories to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and not using corporal punishment is one of the implications of that convention. Therefore, it is bizarre that the practice of disciplinary violence continues. 

There are other, and better, ways of disciplining students than using physical punishment. Calmly counselling, listening to the children’s problems and providing guidance will go a long way in establishing positive relationships with students. Hitting students can result in lasting psychological harm despite the apparent immediate improvement in a child’s behaviour. But such a disciplinary response does not teach a child how to behave, nor allow for self-reflection. Instead, children react to being hit with negative emotions, such as anger or perhaps sadness. 


Areas of alertness

Children’s safeguarding begins at their home. Parents, older siblings and close relatives should establish a positive and friendly culture inside the home. All too often, children get punished inappropriately. Sometimes it happens when there is quarrel between parents, or a step-mother is tired, or the family is stressed due to poverty or financial problems. If there is violence in the home, including physical punishment, it can have a lasting, negative impact. 

Another important area where children need safeguarding is the school. Children spend up to 220 days per year in school. To ensure a safe and secure learning environment, schools need to be child-friendly and compliant to all the policies and guidelines issued by the government. Morning prayer lines at schools, classrooms and playgrounds are also settings that need to be carefully examined. Punishment in school is often public, where the reprimanded students face teasing by peers. Most private schools in urban areas give their students written rules and regulations to follow while public schools are much more lax. 

Sometimes, parents or guardians themselves encourage school teachers to engage in harsh discipline of their children. How teachers punish students depends on a variety of factors, including their particular character, gender, family background, location and ethnicity. Some teachers engage in physical punishment while others, such as females, are more likely to embarrass or humiliate students as punishment. Harsh punishment is not just a problem in home and school. It is also found frequently in day-care centres, foster homes, hostel facilities and on sports fields. The problem is that adults demand immediate compliance, quick obedience, and have unrealistic expectations that fail to take into account the child’s developmental level. 

The way forward

Acts of physical force and other forms of harmful discipline are not only a violation of a child’s rights but are also a serious attack on the child’s intrinsic human dignity. Instead, children need warm and friendly school and home environments in order to thrive. They need positive role models, not teachers or parents who hit them. 

Steps should be forwarded towards respecting child rights, creating effective mentorship and eliminating all immoral activities with children (including child labour, early marriage, child rape and killing infants). Nepal needs to take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to safeguard the children from all forms of physical and mental violence. In addition, the government needs to focus on achieving the Sustainable Development Goal 16.2, especially aimed to end all forms of violence against children by 2030. 

The current, weak national policy regarding maltreatment of children needs to be updated and strengthened. Closer collaboration between the media, civil society, professional sectors, respective authorities and political parties is needed to promote positive discipline and practices. The time has come to abandon the saying ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’. Teachers need to be provided training on child-friendly teaching techniques and learning strategies. They need to learn about the role of motivation, importance of rewards, and the ways to promote the wellbeing of children. It is now time for initiatives from the central, provincial and local governments in coordination with non-governmental organisations to improve the status and treatment of children in Nepal. 


Regmi is associated with the Nepal Youth Foundation, and Holden is a professor of psychology at Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas, US

Published: 22-07-2018 07:55

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